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We all like to joke about what might happen if robots, powered by artificial intelligence, decide they want to overthrow humans.
That scenario is, at best, decades away. But this week I’ve been pondering something much more immediate, and in my view, more likely. What will happen when humans decide to become robots?
“We’re at a key transition in human history,” says Prof Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics Group at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He says the group’s aim is to establish the scientific and technological conditions that will eventually eliminate disability, whether through paralysis or amputation.
But that incredible goal has been achieved, then what?
“We’re fusing the nervous system with the built world,” he says.
“We’re transitioning from a relationship where we use technology that is separate from our nervous system, to a new epoch of integration, of human physiology.”
Simulating ankles
Prof Herr is a double amputee. In 2012, I saw him move a room in London to tears when he revealed his incredibly sophisticated bionic legs that allowed him to move with natural poise and grace.
In 2014, Prof Herr’s technology meant Adrianne Haslet-Davis returned to the dancefloor, less than a year since losing a limb in the Boston marathon bombings. Her first performance after the incident brought a TED talk audience instantly to its feet.
I visited Prof Herr’s lab last week to learn more about the work is team is doing, and where it may lead. Right now, much of the research is focused on doing things the human body can do instinctively, but are extremely complex to engineer.

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