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The cyborg in a time of prolonged war

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A friend recently told me that the old TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, about a grievously-wounded astronaut fitted with human-looking but superpowered prosthetics, was being rebooted. I vented about this a while — I have issues with the constant readaptation of the recent pop-culture past, driven by the marketer’s fear of an unsure product — but a recent panel I had seen at the World Fantasy Convention put me in a kinder mindset.

The panel discussed the rise in European horror fiction after World War 1. Fiction helps us process the world (to a great degree, scientists now think), even the horrors of war, if it can address it. Even today, Outside the Wire’s Theater of War presents Sophocles’s Ajax to communities vulnerable to PTSD. In the US after the Civil War, and in Europe after World War I, horror stories helped society work out the true horrors they had seen and still saw, the desolation wrought around them, and the wounded disabled survivors.

Because of our improved ability to save the lives of the grievously-wounded, our 21st-Century wars are increasing both the number of young disabled people and the public’s frequency and depth of engagement with prosthetic devices. There’s things to say about that, well-suited for telling through a Steve Austin figure.

I hope they find a way. I hope they manage to inspire engineers. Prosthetics seems a growing and still untapped market. While there have been great improvements in materials science and ergonomics, the prosthetic of today is not as superior to its past as, say, the telephone. If computers can correct the courses of long-distance airplanes, they should be able to mimic the gait of a leg. If my phone can recognize me and listen to my spoken instructions, why can’t it substitute for lost sight and hearing?

How would one structure an X-Prize-style challenge to build a self-learning prosthetic leg? How long after that until it interacts, through some system, with our nervous system? How far is that from downloading into a machine? Is downloading assimilating the world or osmoting into it? One gear to rule them all or spreading thing-virus?

Starting to babble. Some things there to write, maybe.

Author: Anthony Dobranski

I'm a fiction writer, mostly.

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