This thread started by Reyemile – “How superstrength would REALLY work.” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=275033 – left is with the conclusion that it wouldn’t work. Using the known laws of physics and chemistry and the basic vertebrate design of muscles and bones, it would not be possible to gene-engineer a human-sized humanoid with the strength of Superman, or even Spiderman.
But suppose the true path to superheroedom is Iron Man? That is, a regular genetically unenhanced Homo sapiens in a suit of powered battle-armor with built in weapons and stuff. Could that work? The military applications are obvious.
The problem of a direct interface between and electronic information system and a human central nervous system is close to being solved. In real life. In “Using Your Brain Signals,” an article in The New Leader, August 1, 2001 (http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=432), Michael Lind recounted a recent breakthrough:
Well, I can see one practical obstacle. Not the mechanics – given the current state of the art in robotics, nothing could be simpler than to design a form-fitting strength-enhancing exoskeleton. But what would Iron Man use as a power source? He can’t go into combat trailing an extension cord, and I don’t think we have the technology to build a battery or a power plant, small enough for him to carry on his back, which would provide enough power for a long enough time to make the project worth the trouble.
Come to think of it, though, if we could solve the problem . . . we wouldn’t even need to send our troops into combat wearing powered armor suits; the troops could be safely back at the base, with their brains wired into computers, running robot soldiers by remote control.
Can anyone see a solution to the power source problem?
“Broadcast power”? (Either Microwaves, or something involving Tesla) I don’t know if you could do that without cooking the armor-wearer…to say nothing of actually broadcasting enough energy, or the efficiency or practicality of it.
And does the armor just have to grant superstrength, or does it have to be super-durable, too? To actually protect the user from attack?
But I’m guessing a “Power Loader” is going to be a lot quicker in coming than the “Knight Sabers” (Through we might be able to manage a “Hulkbuster” eventually, just because of the sheer bulk you’d have to work with.)
The linked article says, “The next step for the BLEEX team is making the power source quieter and stronger and miniaturizing components.” But it doesn’t say what the power source is, nor how long it can power the apparatus before recharging/refueling.
As I’ve posted elsewhere, powered exoskeletons have received the Officcial Kiss of Death: there was an article in Popular Science in the late '60s showcasing the Brave New Future of this Promising New Technology. As usual, it was Never Heard From Again.
I’m sure the power source is quite lacking. However, there have been various examples of robots maneuvering under their own power - such as Honda’s ASIMO - that show that it’s possible.
It’s not gonna happen for a long time, though. For military purposes, they don’t just need to make it small and long-lasting, they need to make it DURABLE. Military hardware needs to survive under far harsher conditions than civilian stuff.
Battle armors are a long way off.
However, systems that SUPPLEMENT - rather than replace - a soldier’s motor systems are far more feasible in the near future. Take a gander at artificial muscle. Imagine being able to pull on a shirt, hook up a battery, and suddenly you’re bench-pressing 200 lbs instead of just 150. It’s not exactly leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but shit… every little bit helps. Suddenly it’s not so difficult to give a soldier a little more armor, or fit him with a little more supplies while in combat…
The quote of the article given here has several assumptions and statements that strike me as debatable. Not necessarily wrong, but possibly wrong or atleast not quite right.
“The web was an innovation of the second order” comparing it to telephony and telegraphy. Maybe the author has a different definition of second-order from mine, but all three technologies strike me as incredibly important and having far reaching consequences for the world.
The idea that you could download stuff into your brain from a computer, it may be quite possible, but on the other hand it may never work. (This is my opinion, but bear in mind that, as far as I know, no one has shown that it has to be possible.)
And, of course the idea that you can “end the process by taking the cap off” and the idea that it is more controllable than genetic modification. Again, I’m not saying this is definitely wrong, I’m just thinking it is an unwarranted assumption. It seems to me that either the mechanical method would turn out to be less useful/powerful/versatile than the genetic method (assuming they both are viable methods of modifying humans) or the mechanical method would end up being as complex or more complex than the genetic method and hence less controllable. I guess that I am making assumptions too, but I think mine are just as valid at this point as the author of the articles’
Lind said the Internet was “an innovation of the second order, more like the spread of telegraphy and telephony than the invention of metallurgy or the splitting of the atom.” He’s not denigrating the telephone – but it’s not that important compared to the invention of metalworking, an innovation of the first order. And his point is that a neural-electronic interface may be an innovation of the first order. A lot of SF writers and fans seem to agree.