Future technology & human optimisation - Meet the body architects

The Pioneers in Robotic Augmentation


Tomorrow arrives in many different forms every day. In this UNLIMITED film, powered by UBS, we meet the humans who are turning themselves into the future by taking the human body and augmenting it with cutting edge technology.

Augmenting the human body

First, our host Monica Byrne meets Tim Cannon, the founding member and leader of a DIY bio-hacking collective known as Grindhouse Wetware. Based in the faded “Steel City” of Pittsburgh, Cannon has granted himself a “sixth sense” with the fossils of his hometown’s industrial past. The magnets embedded beneath the skin of his hands allow him to physically pick up objects and detect nearby electromagnetic fields, while he uses other implants to communicate with digital software and monitor his body temperature. The end game Cannon dreams of is one in which the human body is untethered from the constraints of time, and resistant to irksome phenomena such as ageing and death.

Natasha Vita-More’s quest for tomorrow is fuelled by tragedy; a failed pregnancy that made her question whether the vulnerabilities of the human body had to be regarded as inevitable. It’s a train of thought that has led to her creation of the Primo Post-human – an award-winning design for a “whole body prosthetic”, a kind of ultra-durable, human-shaped robot-shell that most readily brings to mind the Replicants of Blade Runner.

After that, we pay a visit to Dr Mike McLoughlin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who shows us a robot equipped with the world’s most advanced prosthetic arm. Controlled by the user’s brain, the arm is more powerful than the average person’s but also dextrous and subtle enough that its movements suggest an eerie capability for human tenderness.

“I think the future that we envision is one in which anybody can be anything they want and their biology doesn’t govern them,” Cannon says of the egalitarian, utopian motivations behind his work. “I can’t figure out how to function in the world without this desire to see what the next start over looks like. And I won’t be able to unless I actually outlive this bullshit monkey that I’ve been packaged into. I’m looking for freedom.”

All three share a common goal: to push humanity into the future by using tech to eliminate our biological limitations, in ways that could redefine our relationship with time – and its diverse symptoms, such as reproduction, sickness and death – forever.

– Kev Kharas

To find out more about how we could cheat death, watch VICE’s interview with futurist Natasha Vita-More.3