Throughout time, people have been finding ways to augment, repair and improve their bodies with the help of machinery, going even as far back as the times of the ancient Egyptians: people have found mummies with wooden prosthetic toes. Not only did it exist in millennia past, but continues to exist to this day in forms many would not imagine.
Those without the means to afford complex and expensive prosthetic limbs come up with makeshift solutions that help them get by, such as peg legs, and incredible case of a young girl in China who, after losing both her legs at age three, got around by attaching a basketball to the bottom of her torso, and using two wooden paddles to hoist herself around.
You might be surprised to learn that prosthetic limbs are not just glorified peg-legs or hook hands. We’ve come a long way, technologically, and our ability to replace missing limbs with effective and lifelike prosthetics has advanced too. Paralympic athletes have prosthetic legs specially designed for running made, and there are even reported cases of swimmers who have mermaid-like tails designed to aid in watersports!
It’s not only humans who benefit from prosthetic appendages. There is the well-known tale (if you’ll excuse the pun) of a dolphin who had a prosthetic tail attached. Birds, too, have had beaks either reattached or artificially designed.
We’ve come a long way, with the onset of advanced machining and technological breakthroughs in recent decades, and now prosthetic limbs are starting to resemble visions only before realized in science fiction films. Alloy legs and chrome-plated prosthetic arms that now exist look so advanced that it shouldn’t be too long until people start to see prosthetic limbs not just as “2nd choices” for amputees, but as improvements for those of us that are able bodied. Olympic committees are already as a matter of fact already looking up whether or not highly advanced prosthetic limbs provide an unfair advantage in sporting fixtures.
So, where to from here? Humanity once feared the rise of the machine, and we need look no further than iconic films like Terminator, the Matrix and iRobot to know that this fear has anything but gone away. Even with this inherent fear of machines – whether it is because we are afraid that they may replace us as the dominant workforce, or because they may gain sentience and one day remove us altogether – people with physical impairments are forced to use them every day, and one day, people without them might be, too.
Jeff is a guest author for Hans von der Heyde, machine designers specialising in tool making.