The man in the machine
Rex Jameson bikes and swims regularly, and plays tennis and skis when time allows. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound software engineer is lucky if he presses 200 pounds — that is, until he steps into an "exoskeleton" of aluminum and electronics that multiplies his strength and endurance as many as 20 times. ...
Jameson — who works for robotics firm Sarcos Inc. in Salt Lake City, which is under contract with the U.S. Army — is helping assess the 150-pound suit's viability for the soldiers of tomorrow. The suit works by sensing every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it.
We learn from the Associated Press article that the exoskeleton faces many problems whose solutions may not be found for decades. There is, of course the problem of batteries. "Jameson was tethered to power cords during his demonstration because the current battery lasts just 30 minutes."
And then again the Army might simply wire up the fast microprocessors and sensors which are the interface of the exoskeleton to control semi-autonomous remote robots run by internal combustion or say -- hey, why not? -- nuclear energy. Jameson describes what it's like to live in someone else's body.
"It feels less agile than it is," Jameson said. "Because of the way the control laws work, it's ever so slightly slower than I am. And because we are so in tune with our bodies' responses, this tiny delay initially made me tense."
Now, he's used to it.
"I can regain my balance naturally after stumbling — something I discovered completely by accident."
Learning was easy, he said.
"It takes no special training, beyond learning to relax and trust the robot," he said.
But maybe it's never the robot. It's always the man. The brain behind the hand, and the hand behind the claw. And if so, what lies behind the brain, what value systems inform it, may be the most crucial thing of all.
Perhaps one of the most pernicious legacies of Marxism was the axiom that all consciousness was driven by material circumstances; that a man's job defined his beliefs. If the determinant of a worker's or bourgeois consciousness depended on current employment then changing employment would alter the man. That made things drastically simple, so that the Year Zero and the New Soviet Man both became achievable social engineering goals.
This reductionist view of humanity meant that beliefs were unimportant. It relegated them to the category of byproduct. Those who were addicted to chatter could entertain themselves with post-modernism or "faith traditions" which were more or less harmless hobbies so long as the Bratsk Station and the Magnetogorsk industrial complexes were built. Today social engineers have updated versions of Magnetogorsk but the relationship between social projects and consciousness is still the same: the former determining the latter.
But if the early 21st century is any guide, these Marxist axioms have proven not only wrong, but inverted. Ideas, values and culture, far from being the passive byproducts of matter are the principle shapers of our material environment. And even though we are ordered by multiculturalists to regard belief as irrelevant, it isn't. Social engineers may redouble their efforts to mold consciousness with public programs; but they pass the thing in itself by. And that's ironic, because the mind and the human spirit are the fundamental creative force in the world. The problem with designing a viable exoskeletons is the power source. And there is more than one kind. And that is the man in the machine.
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