Human By Design Conference Explores What It Means To Be Human

Deus Ex: Human Revolution brought back the concepts of human augmentation and cognition back to the forefront and into new heights. With the next title in the series called Mankind Divided, they hope to push the ideas even further, but probably did not anticipate the real world technology catching up to them. Top minds in academia gathered in New York City to discuss what makes a human and how it relates to the fictional world of Deus Ex.

At E3, Deus Ex showed off a project made in collaboration with Open Bionics in human prosthetics. In the game, the main character Adam Jensen had his hand replaced by a militaristic robotic prosthetic; Open Bionics took that inspiration and created Adam’s arm that can be controlled remotely by mimicking the actions of the controlling glove. Instead of the current technology of using interchangeable arms that were described by one amputee as “something out of a horror film,” Open Biotics created an aestheticly pleasing fully functional arm and hand. The discussion that followed was one that explored why someone would want their body to be augmented, focusing on selective and therapeutic and how those lines blur.

Moderated by Anna Wexler, the panel is made up of the first government recognized cyborg Neil Harbisson, cochlear implant recipient and author Michael Chorost, co-creator of Open Bionics Samantha Payne, and founder of the exoskeleton creating company suitX and UC-Burkeley professor Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni. The idea of augmentation has slowly evolved along with the current limits of imagination. As Harbisson commented in reference to the antennae attached to his head, people thought it was everything from a reading light to a GoPro. His dream is that one year society will simply ask what his antennae does. In his case, the implant might be more selective by extending his vision from colorblindness to hearing colors around him, wheras Dr. Kazerooni’s products go towards allowing people to stand, lift, and work with independance when they otherwise could not. Essentially, people are asking can we accomplish *blank* with this technology, but then continuing to ask SHOULD we do *blank*.

Could we see Deus Ex style of augmentation in our lifetime? If society could not grasp what Harbisson has had done to his body in 12 years, could we accept massive changes to what defines a human in 50 years? Time will tell. For more information on the Open Biotics products and to see the other presentations, visit


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