“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.”

June 6, 2007 at 8:04 pm (Comics, Computers, Horror)

I’m a little too young to have watched the original Six Million Dollar Man; I didn’t discover him until my teenage years, when reruns appeared (to my utter joy) on the Sci-Fi channel. I do remember seeing one episode (probably a rerun, since the show aired in ’77 and ’78) of The Bionic Woman on TV when I was a kid, although what I remember most is being scared. As I remember it, the Bionic Woman crashed her car at the beginning of the episode because she saw the apparition of a Native American shaman of some sort dancing in front of her, and that was close enough to ghosts for me to get absolutely terrified and turn it off, to the point that I’m still getting a bit of a chill remembering it, over twenty years later.

No, my first brush with super-powered artificial limbs, cybernetics, as we called it by then, was courtesy of Shadowrun, a role-playing game that crossed William Gibson’s exceedingly free-market cyberpunk future with the wizards and monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, essentially mental crack for any over-imaginative kids like my brother and me. (Granted, there was Luke Skywalker’s artificial hand, but it didn’t seem to give him any special powers, so I wasn’t too impressed. Now, lightsabers are another story entirely…) I mean, what wasn’t there to like about cyborgs? Super-human strength and speed, enough to make me faster than all of the athletes and bullies by whom I was surrounded on a daily basis, without the need for me to actually do any exercising or working out. It’s instant gratification at its best.

I haven’t gotten over that fascination in my old age, although I have given up on the hope of a quick payoff. I’m working out five days a week these days, an hour every morning from Monday through Friday, with about half an hour of weightlifting and the same of cardio. And it’s hard work: I’m pushing myself to run a seven minute mile before I hit thirty, which means I have to run and bike pretty hard during that half-hour window. The only reason I keep up with it is because I have a workout partner whose presence keeps me going. But I’m also starting to see results, after months and months: I’m slowly burning fat and building muscle, which is in turn dramatically improving my self-image. Which, I’m pretty sure, was the point of the cybernetic fantasies all along.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but get excited by this story from NPR. They’re finally doing it, my friends: The first fully-functional, cybernetic arms seem only a few years away. They’ve got some pictures there, too, which are worth checking out. It isn’t the musclebound coils of metal seen on Colossus and Cable in Marvel Comics (which I always figured was just a way to simplify the process of drawing the cybernetics for the comic), nor the chromed masses of pipes and pistons that I remember from Shadowrun, but it’s still cool enough. I wonder, though: Their goal is to make an arm that can pick up fifty pounds, a weight that I presume is linked in part to the strength of the harness that holds the prosthetic on the body. How long before they develop some sort of exoskeleton that will bear the weight of the prosthetic, letting the wearer lift significantly more than fifty pounds, perhaps more than any human could lift unassisted? I wait with bated breath, my friends, bated breath.

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