"No less a critic than C. S. Lewis has described the ravenous addiction that these magazines inspired; the same phenomenon has led me to call science fiction the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug." Arthur C. Clarke

One Step Closer to (Or Farther from) Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man”

A new story outlines the recent advances in bionic prosthetic limbs.  How does this relate to Asimov‘s Bicentennial Man, the robot who became a man and in turn made many people part-robot?

One of Asimov’s best short stories is called The Bicentennial Man, and it is about a robot named Andrew who is unique and can create art, typically something robots cannot do.  He longs to be human, but cannot because he is effectively immortal, despite having every other human quality.  Eventually he creates parts for himself that allow him every physical human facility, including death.  Along the way he uses the technology he creates for himself to build robot limbs and organs for people, blurring the line between robot and human.  Just before he dies he is declared to be human, allowing him solace in death.  The film version of this, which many of you will probably be much more familiar with, sexualizes the story, making his quest for humanity a result of his love for a human woman.  I seriously doubt that was Asimov’s intention, but it doesn’t really matter too much; the point remains.

While the idea of a robot becoming human will very likely never happen, undoubtedly not within our lifetimes, the trend of humans becoming more robotic is a very real one.  Prosthetic limbs that are connected to the nerve endings and can be controlled through them are already in production, and artificial hearts are also being used all the time, though not for extended periods.

At what point will we be able to create organs that can replace our current organs seamlessly, for babies with bad hearts and middle-aged men with kidney problems?  At what point will we be so inundated with artificial organs that we are indistinguishable from robots, except for our brains?


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