Skip to main content
Move the World.
The Big Idea

Our Cyborg Future is Coming (And That’s Not a Bad Thing)

Thinking about cyborgs in real life typically conjures thoughts of pop culture works like The Matrix. Terminator. Bladerunner. Hollywood loves to sensationalize merging the body with advanced tech. But will it really be so bad? We sat down with Adam Piore, author of The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human to discuss why we should stop freaking out and embrace our cyborg future.

Spend any amount of time with popular futurist works of art and you'll find that the future is something to be feared, not embraced.

But when Adam Piore, a journalist and reporter who has spent decades covering just about everything, went looking for these stories of our fearful future, he found something he didn't expect: a future of possibilities—possibilities that just a few years ago seemed contrived at best, and dangerous at their worst.

When his research took him into the cyborg future of bodies with advanced tech like bionic arms, finger regrowth, and helmets that can read your thoughts, he learned that many futurists are actually trying to help people and humanity with their inventions and applications.

Inspired by the intersection of technology and humanity, one of Piore's focal points is the life and story of a “real life cyborg” Hugh Herr—a rock climber that lost both his legs below the knees to frostbite while he was still a teenager. His drive to continue climbing led him to engineer prostheses that were more suited to his climbing needs.

But Herr didn't stop there.

His pursued his interest in math and science at MIT, where he earned a PhD and began studying how the human body's limbs work. From there, he built himself bionic legs, which he could control neurologically, instead of mechanically.

The desire to augment the human body, Piore says, represents a shift in human understanding—from the unknown of the outside world to the unknown of the human body and mind. A new cyborg future, if you will. Today, he argues, the most talented minds are pointed inwards to hack, reverse engineer, improve, and upgrade our bodies and the lives of those in need.

But Piore didn't skirt on asking the important questions, such as whether these technologies could be weaponized or used against us, creating fear or heralding a wonderful new era.

As with most questions of this nature, it depends.

Tools are typically as useful as the person wielding it, and powerful tools can be used for nefarious means as well as for helping improve people's lives. Even something as simple as a hammer can be used to build and to destroy, depending on the intent of the person wielding it.

At the heart of the issue, Piore found that most of the inventions and hacks he discovered were being used to help people and could be classified more as human-interest stories than the stuff of post-apocalyptic conflict commonly depicted by Hollywood.

These heartwarming and inspirational stories, he found, illustrated human perseverance and the overcoming of challenges most of us could never imagine, such as the loss of limbs or mobility. Our cyborg future is a story about the resilience of people and the good that can be done, all in the name of helping others.

And that might just be the key. If we have good people trying to do good things with science and technology, the future looks like something that could be better for us all.

For more interesting news about the issues and topics that drive our world, keep it right here on Freethink. We're Freethink Media, and we move the world, one story at a time.

More About

Dispatches
Meet the 380 Trillion Viruses inside Your Body
Meet the 380 Trillion Viruses inside Your Body
Dispatches
Meet the 380 Trillion Viruses inside Your Body
Scientists aren't exactly sure yet what the "virome" is up to, but it's probably important.
By David Pride and Chandrabali Ghose

Scientists aren't exactly sure yet what the "virome" is up to, but it's probably important.

Dispatches
Can DIY Science (Finally) Cut the Cost of Insulin?
Can DIY Science (Finally) Cut the Cost of Insulin?
Dispatches
Can DIY Science (Finally) Cut the Cost of Insulin?
A century after its discovery, insulin is still incredibly expensive, but DIY bio-manufacturing could change that in a big way.

A century after its discovery, insulin is still incredibly expensive, but DIY bio-manufacturing could change that in a big way.

Dispatches
Your DNA Is Not the Same in Every Cell
Your DNA Is Not the Same in Every Cell
Dispatches
Your DNA Is Not the Same in Every Cell
Your body began with a single cell and a single genetic code. But it didn't stay that way for long.
By Dan Bier

Your body began with a single cell and a single genetic code. But it didn't stay that way for long.

Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
Watch Now
Superhuman
How 3D-Printing Is Revolutionizing Heart Surgery
When a young boy was facing a complicated and dangerous heart operation, his doctors created an exact model of his heart to plan the surgery. And it probably saved his life.
Watch Now

Joseph had one of the most complicated heart conditions his doctors had ever seen. He faced a long and dangerous operation or a heart transplant. Without either, he wouldn't survive. Opting for surgery, Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos at the American Family Children's Hospital prepped like few have ever done. He and his team 3D-printed a copy of Joseph's heart that they could explore and understand. It was another step forward in…

Dispatches
FDA Approves AI “Doctor” That Can See Disease in Your Eyes
FDA Approves AI “Doctor” That Can See Disease in Your Eyes
Dispatches
FDA Approves AI “Doctor” That Can See Disease in Your Eyes
How will artificial intelligence transform medicine?
By Dan Bier

How will artificial intelligence transform medicine?

Technology
Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer?
Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer?
Watch Now
Technology
Can an Algorithm Catch a Serial Killer?
A self-professed data nerd, Thomas Hargrove believes everything around us is following a mathematical formula...including murder.
Watch Now

A self-professed data nerd, Thomas Hargrove believes everything around us is following a mathematical formula...including murder. Hargrove wanted to find a way to use data to solve cold cases and identify potential serial killers that have gone unnoticed. Armed with public homicide records, he created an algorithm that can spot similar patterns across different cases. Each cluster is given an unique identifier -- what he calls a “Dewey Decimal System…

Coded
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
Watch Now
Coded
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
An exiled blogger teaches journalists in his native Ethiopia how to avoid capture
Watch Now

In Ethiopia, the main prison is divided into eight zones. Many refer to the rest of the country as “Zone 9.” But Endalk Chala is fighting back. Chala moonlights as an encryption expert, helping bloggers in his native Ethiopia escape capture and torture.

Superhuman
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Superhuman
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Karen Aiach isn't a doctor and has never worked in medicine. But when doctors said her daughter wouldn't live past…
By Mike Riggs

Karen Aiach isn't a doctor and has never worked in medicine. But when doctors said her daughter wouldn't live past adolescence, she knew she had to get to work.