Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Augmented natural

In a little bit of rebellion against playing the same game all the time, I started off another Deus Ex Human Revolution (DXHR) run today with the promise that I'd not reload every time I made the slightest mistake. Skyrim's an awesome world to play in but the gameplay itself has its flaws.

(today was not a day for stepping outside)

DXHR is set in a future Earth, actually not too far away. The tech isn't that different to what we have today but one area it has advanced is in the field of prosthetics. The game itself continually asks questions around :

Lethal or non-lethal approaches
Just who is running the world
And whether it's right to augment people

And there's other questions too. The game steers you towards non-lethal resolutions of situations, through hefty experience bonuses for being unseen and less hefty ones for keeping bad guys alive. The biggest moral question though are those augmentations.

The augments are extensions of what we're aiming to achieve at the moment. They start as limbs grafted on to replace limbs lost by soldiers. We're getting towards fulfilling that aim, slowly ... It'll be great when it happens although it would be better if those limbs hadn't been lost in the first place.

But where the moral question comes in is the logical extension of those limb replacement prosthetics. The DXHR world includes augments for pretty much everything : radar, rebreathers for toxic gasses, personality modification, hacking, built in phone and deeper into the murky world of military grade augmentations. And by military grade they mean gatling guns or swords built into arms, super strength, stealth and even a personal suicide bomber jacket ...

So we're going past the soldier being able to use 4 limbs again into a domain where we have bionic supersoldiers. And further than that, we have people willingly having limbs amputated in order to fit prosthetic augmentations. That's where it hits very dodgy ground morally. One of the side missions highlights it by having you rescue a prostitude who has been kidnapped in order to have augmentation surgery to make her a better prostitute.

The central character is heavily injured during the game prologue, leading to him being fitted with augments. But they go too far. Good limbs are hacked away to make him a better attack dog. One character is almost totally "shifted", where almost all of him has been replaced by cybernetic.

That's the key tenet of the game - Augments are good but what is far enough ?

In my own case, my shoulder is too far gone now to allow me to bowl. A very good friend has knees that cause her continual pain. Another friend with an amazing spirit has struggled with extreme heart problems since birth.

Should we replace those troublesome bits and pieces with artificial replacements ? I don't think so. Leaving aside thoughts of "It's a machine, how long's it gonna last anyway ?", I don't think I'd trust an artificial arm. It's not Me. It would be some Thing bolted on to me. My friend with the heart has so much spirit and fight that she has already lived far longer than the doctors expected (may she live far longer!).

Yes - I'd be able to throw again. I'd be able to bowl again. But I would never know whether any success or otherwise was down to my own ability or raw software. Furthermore, there'd be the need for maintenance on the artificial device. Our own bodies do that themselves. We each already own one of the most remarkable machines on the planet, our own bodies. They're self maintaining, self repairing and although they're not perfect, I'd far rather trust biological than cybernetic.

I guess what I'm trying to say is :

It'd be wonderful to be able to run faster, throw further, think better but what's the cost. Artificial replacements of limbs lost would be an incredible technology to have available to us, hopefully it will come soon. But to replace good (or slightly damaged like my shoulder) limbs with an artificial replacement ? No thanks.

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