A couple of weeks ago I went to a science conference called S.NET here in Boston. On the first day a film called Fixed was shown, followed by a discussion with the Director. The film was about commonly held beliefs about ‘disability’, and technological ‘fixes’ seen through the eyes of a series of people who use these fixes or work in the field. See the film website here.
My first post on Technology Bloggers was about elective amputation, and in that post I wanted to raise the idea that people may choose to replace parts of their body for better functioning prosthetic devices. This may seem far fetched, but today the US military are a leader in pioneering eye surgery. They operate on pilots with perfect vision in order to make it even better, see this article for a brief overview.
So this leads to questioning the entire idea of able bodied or not. And this is reflected in the title of the film. We are no longer able, now we can take drugs that enhance our learning, have the blemishes in our eyes touched up so that we see better than anyone else, and use body suits that give us super human strength.
It looks to me as if able just got better, but of course how far are we prepared to go? OK, once in a while I might think about helping my brain out a bit with a prescription drug, but of course not every day. Maybe just before my university exams though, and what when the other people in the office start using them every day? I will get left behind so I will have to join them, or should I stand by my ethical convictions and remain disabled?
But back to the film. The protagonists are an interesting lot. One makes bionic limbs, and uses a couple himself after a climbing accident. And he wouldn’t take our second rate skin and bone legs back for a moment! He can climb better, run up the stairs, doesn’t get cramp, can screw on a new foot when he needs different shaped toes, his legs are great.
Another follows one of my great interests, the implications of newly emerging technologies for prenatal screening. One is a test pilot, working for a company that is developing an exoskeleton that allows people with no leg use to walk, another at MIT working on human/machine collaborations, there is a biochemist and somebody who has had sensors fitted to his brain that allow him to use a robot arm through thought.
Not to mention the diving wheelchair.
The film speaks about ‘abelism’, an idea that leads to the possibility of using the dis prefix to describe somebody. The concept is obviously prejudicial and distinctly flawed, particularly today when our able state may not be as natural as we once thought.
There is a field called tranhumanism, more of a movement than a field, that celebrates the dynamic interplay between humanity and the acceleration of technology. There are many websites if you want to search the term. Practitioners see these developments as positive, a brave new future for an old model (the human).
There is a fine line here. Obviously helping someone who cannot walk is a great thing, but we might be moving towards improvement as a model, and no longer at fixing.
I would recommend the film to all. The website linked above has a trailer and list of upcoming screenings, and although it is not yet on general release, I think the film-makers would be pleased to receive contacts. Check out the Trailer here.