‘Deus Ex: Human By Design’: ‘Mankind Divided’ And The Future Of Augmentation

'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided' Arrives this August on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.
'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided' Arrives this August on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Square Enix

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided comes out on Aug. 23, and the game is looking good—a classic mix of cyberpunk sci-fi technology, ethical choices and flexible action. The game focuses on the science of augmentation—hyper-advanced prosthetics, optical implants, even cybernetic implants which give you new senses. And Square Enix wants you to know that this isn’t just fantasy, but science fiction rooted in real science—an extrapolation from technologies we have today. And to further that message, the company sponsored the Human X Design event, an academic conference on futurism—where the science stands now, where it’s going, and the ethics involved.

Human X Design Conference: The Present Is The Future, Kind Of

Adam Jensen is back in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
Adam Jensen is back in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Square Enix

The Human X Design conference wasn’t about Deus Ex per se: It was an academic conference mingling futurists, scientists, entrepreneurs, medical engineers, more casual observers and a handful of eccentrics. Through a series of panels and interludes, the group discussed the current and possible future state of advanced augmentation technology. And it turned out to be a fascinating look into how the world can get to the point of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which is after all a near-future tale.

Augments are ubiquitous in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided—they’ll be everywhere, but fiercely discriminated against in the aftermath of the Aug Incident at the end of Human Revolution. The crazy thing is, the game is set just a little more than a decade from now, in a world where human augmentation is fully fleshed out and highly advanced. It feels like a world that’s still decades away, if not more.

Based on the Human X Design conference, human augmentation and sensory implants consist of two basic types: therapeutic (medical, to fix a human system that isn’t working) and augmentative (non-medical, to enhance what’s already there). The latter are quite rare so far in the real world; we’ve yet to see any athletes choosing to run with prosthetic legs instead of their existing ones. Medical prosthesis and medical implants are somewhat more advanced and much more common; some sensory implants can even restore hearing (in the case of Michael Chorost). Prosthetics are both more and less advanced than they seem; the range of movement is ever-increasing, ambitious startups are bringing the costs down dramatically, but there’s still no way for a prosthetic-wearer to actually sense or feel their prosthetic; they can control it, but there’s no neural connection, and it’s unclear how the problem can be solved.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, like the rest of the series, is all about designing a new kind of humanity, one created by choice. Human self-evolution and all that. Alas, we aren’t there yet in the real world. Current technology seems to be at a critical juncture; modern, fully miniaturized computing is still being applied and its implications for medical prostheses still being sussed out. But, based on the Human X Design conference, the future is very promising; both major breakthroughs and critical incremental developments seem like they’re on the horizon, and key technological players are investing in the space.

But that’s just the beginning. To get to the world of Deus Ex, augmentations have to move beyond the medical and into the realm of choice, to the point where this technology doesn’t just replace current functionality, but improves it. Nobody is manually opting for prostheses they don’t need; only a few performance artists and inventors have experimented with non-therapeutic implants. Consider the reaction to Google Glass, and the ways it was abused, and you’ll see we have a long, long way to go before any kind of sensory or physical augmentation will become acceptable. The future in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is relatively grounded in real science, projected far, far forward—but that future won’t arrive in just a decade, that’s for certain.

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