What is the future of Accessibility? The discussion was inspiring and disturbing all at the same time when I tossed the idea around with some cool and qualified panelists and con-attendees for one precious hour at Norwescon 39 last week.
Disability in one area can mean super-ability in others, we observed. A gentleman in a wheelchair noted that he can outrun any of us on the street. A panelist on the autism spectrum is proud of her ability to hyper-focus and mentioned the remarkable talents and enhanced productivity of many who are cognitively atypical.
Conclusion: the definition of disability has changed and is changing in society. The technological and medical breakthroughs are aiding this move toward increasing ability for those born with differences from the norm, and allowing them to surpass the abilities of those with biology that fits the norm.
Not only are advances being used to allow equal accessibility but we are implanting, injecting and integrating technology from micro to robotic and producing super humans. And this is only going to get more extreme.
We talked about how the global online community is helping to spread access to tech-prostheses by offering local 3-D printers to make customized robotic hands available to children around the world. And we discussed digital memory implants that could be used to give learning advantages to children or expand internal data storage or allow instantaneous programming of knowledge for adults as well.
Our particular group voted through as optimistic on where this cyber-human movement would take us, despite a few expressed misgivings about moral questions – especially in regards to forcing tech on minors – and concerns about economic advantage causing power skews and gaps in accessibility of another sort altogether. We believed it will be a good change for mankind, were encouraged about the current trend of grassroots sharing of technology, and considered the future of enhancements as bright, almost unanimously.
But then the discussion took a turn to the dark side. Without much more discussion of the ins and outs of things, the same panelist asked for a vote on how many believed in the survival of humanity two hundred years into the future. Very few were believers.
There was a classroom-wide snicker at our own inconsistency. When we traced down the discrepancy we came to some interesting conclusions. We believe that humanity may not survive but that our evolution into bio-machines is hopeful. So in essence, we expect to eradicate ourselves one nano-bot at a time until we are no more. To eat away at our humanity until we become something other. And…we are okay with that. Hmm…
What do you think? Is the move toward biotech and cyber-humans a good thing? Are you concerned about the morality of genetically or tech enhancing children or workforces? Do you think this evolution will be skewed by economic advantage or spread with open collaboration and generosity? When do we cease to be human? Is that okay with you?