I’m an MIT professor,
but I do not design buildings or computer systems.
Rather, I build body parts,
bionic legs that augment human walking and running.
In 1982, I was in a mountain-climbing accident,
and both of my legs had to be amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite.
Here, you can see my legs:
24 sensors, six microprocessors and muscle-tendon-like actuators.
I’m basically a bunch of nuts and bolts from the knee down.
But with this advanced bionic technology,
I can skip, dance and run.
I’m a bionic man, but I’m not yet a cyborg.
When I think about moving my legs,
neural signals from my central nervous system
pass through my nerves
and activate muscles within my residual limbs.
Artificial electrodes sense these signals,
and small computers in the bionic limb
decode my nerve pulses into my intended movement patterns.
when I think about moving,
that command is communicated to the synthetic part of my body.
However, those computers can’t input information into my nervous system.
When I touch and move my synthetic limbs,
I do not experience normal touch and movement sensations.
If I were a cyborg and could feel my legs
via small computers inputting information into my nervous system,
it would fundamentally change, I believe,
my relationship to my synthetic body.
Today, I can’t feel my legs,
and because of that,
my legs are separate tools from my mind and my body.
They’re not part of me.
I believe that if I were a cyborg and could feel my legs,
they would become part of me, part of self.
At MIT, we’re thinking about NeuroEmbodied Design.
In this design process,
the designer designs human flesh and bone, the biological body itself,
along with synthetics to enhance the bidirectional communication
between the nervous system and the built world.
NeuroEmbodied Design is a methodology to create cyborg function.
In this design process, designers contemplate a future
in which technology no longer compromises separate,
lifeless tools from our minds and our bodies,
a future in which technology has been carefully integrated