Are you sick of using your own inadequate biology to get around?
Tired of trudging up flights of stairs instead of jumping straight to the floor you want? Plagued by the constant fear that someone will drop a piano on you from ten floors up? Annoyed that you can’t punch buildings without hurting your hand?
Tech has come to the rescue! Now YOU can have a super soldier exoskeleton. Well, not quite yet, but soon.
Wait for it… wait for it… now! Hold on, sorry… now!
Ok, not yet. Give it a few more weeks.
News articles about TALOS made all the obligatory Iron Man and Terminator references. It seems that writers referred to TALOS as the “Iron Man suit” more often than “TALOS.” But the super-soldier exoskeleton has a long history in sci-fi. Heinlein’s “metal gorillas” from Starship Troopers come to mind. The stillsuits in Dune, though lacking in warfighting tech, provided a closed-body biosystem that would be attractive to the future soldier.
The film Edge of Tomorrow featured a clunky, often-malfunctioning (and thus more realistic) soldier exoskeleton. That film adapted Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill, a novel also notable for having the greatest title of anything in all history.
The TALOS suit technology is remarkable, but it’s not hanging in army-base locker rooms just yet. The suit will need a ton of battery power, and that means bulk. Tony Stark’s fist-sized arc reactor is still science fantasy.
News stories like the one about TALOS are why I tend to find biotech enhancements more interesting than genetic engineering. Yes, Crispr is here and it’s going to be the flashy movie star of human evolution for a while. But bioengineering can seem almost quaint compared to what tech alterations can accomplish.
Soldier exoskeletons may be only a transition technology on the way to robot soldiers. Those robots won’t even be human-shaped (though our movies prefer them that way; the uncanny valley has great horror potential).
Or… maybe not. Human-less armies may prove too terrifying or difficult to control. If so, enhanced-human fighters could stick around for a while, even permanently. And there is no guarantee robot fighters will be superior. Aside from the capacity to die, tech-modified human soldiers may eventually be as battlefield-capable as robots.
For me, there is another fascinating implication. If perfected, these suits would eliminate the physical requirements for being a soldier. Height, weight, physical strength, agility, stamina, even age (to a certain degree) would become irrelevant.
All that would matter is the psychology of the person in the suit. Training would move entirely to the mental sphere. The very nature of a military career would change in radical ways.
Will there be civilian implications? Plenty of military technologies have moved from the battlefield to the public sphere. Microwaves, GPS, jeeps… even cargo pants (it’s not all beneficial). Ballistic vests are the closest analogy to what might happen with TALOS.
What if instead of a suit, you could replace your own skin with dermal shielding? Perfect, full-body protection that you never have to take off. You would save so much time not showering. Mosquitoes would be powerless to harm you.
I do think human-integrated exoskeletons (or more likely, modified endoskeletons) are possible. But some other things will have to happen first. The mind will have to be de-coupled from the physical world. Which absolutely, definitely does NOT happen as I stare at my phone each day.
Will it be scary to see soldiers chomping through the battlefield on super-powered limbs, wearing liquid metal armor? Probably. But will fear stop us from using them? Nope.
Our skies are already full of robots, and we’re pretty well desensitized to those.
I’m not taking a pro or con position on the TALOS suit technology. As with every tech I mention here, it will have big positives and scary negatives. And like with every other tech, pro/con positions are fairly pointless.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: it’s coming, whether we want it or not.
I don’t anticipate ever having the money to spend on a civilian exoskeleton, should they ever come to market. I spend my pennies on cat food.
But someone will.
Probably a lot of someones.
Do you want to be one of them? Would you consider a career as a soldier if you knew that a machine would do all the heavy lifting? Or do you prefer to wait for civilian applications?
Better set up your exoskeleton cookie jar-fund today.