Thursday, December 17, 2015

IRON MAN? .... Not so much

"Enhanced Human Operations" - Reality or No?
Our Readers have questions, We try to answer....
Today's Reader question answered by faithful correspondent Partyzanski:
The “Skiff” received a reader request over the transom that was intriguing. A close associate from the left coast asked for an opinion on the following article, and it offers ripe topics for discussion.

Enhanced Human Operations 

Is the Six Million Dollar Man about to become a reality?  Probably not.

To start with, American modification of the physical structure of people through surgical or pharmacological means is not a player. The aftermath of the Church Committee Hearings of 1973 were devastating to human experimentation. Project MKULTRA and the LSD program (also known as THIRD CHANCE, DERBY HAT and ARTICHOKE) reaped a grim harvest when a subject was dosed with LSD without his consent.

A tragic twist in the LSD experimentation occurred on November 27, 1953. Dr. Frank Olson, a civilian employee of the U.S. Army died following participation in a CIA experiment with LSD. He unknowingly received 70 micrograms of LSD which was placed in his drink by Dr. Robert Lashbrook, a CIA officer, as part of an experiment. Shortly after the experiment, Olson exhibited the symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia. Accompanied by Lashbrook, Olson began visiting Dr. Harold Abrahamsom for psychological assistance. Abrahamson's research on LSD had been funded indirectly by the CIA. Olson jumped to his death from a ten-story window in the Statler Hotel while receiving treatment.”

When these excesses were brought out into the light in 1973, the political climate in America was very much against any sort of experimentation. This sentiment carries through to the present day. As a personal note, your author was involved in some developmental weapon work that required numerous waivers and medical examinations on a daily basis during field testing of developmental electronic weapons. While interesting work, the device was never actually deployed due to legal and human rights concerns. That is the legal environment that we operate in. Some things, while technically possible and feasible, will never see production let alone field use due to perceptions and legalities. Perhaps it is for the better. I actually enjoyed the work, the pain involved was part of the job and I am proud that we developed the tactics, techniques and procedures for applying state of the art engineering.

The ability of American forces to fund and program an Enhanced Human Operations (EHO) program is not nil. The field of sports training and sports medicine continually yield incremental improvements in performance, physical stamina and recovery. Ultimately, there is the issue of cost to achieve the next few percentage points of improvement. We may be at or approaching that plateau.

Consider if you will the pace of falling marathon or sprint times. The first under 4:00 mile was recorded by Roger Bannister on 6 May, 1954 at 3:59.4. There is no doubt that Mr. Bannister was an above average physical specimen. He probably also benefited from some material advancements in lighter and more ergonomic shoes, maybe some sports physiology. He did have pacesetters.

Previous times included

John Paul Jones ran 4:14.4 on May 31, 1913 in Massachusetts.
Frenchman Jules Ladoumegue later ran 4:09.2 on Oct. 4, 1931, in Paris.
“In a 3-year period from July 1942 through July 1945 a pair of Swedes, Gunder Hagg and Arne Andersson, exchanged the record six times. Hagg ended the give-and-take with a time of 4:01.4 on July 17, 1945.”
Australian John Landy finished in 3:58.0 on June 21, 1954.
New Zealand’s John Walker took the record below 3:50 in August 1975 with a time of 3:49.4
Sebastian Coe’s time of 3:47.33 set in August of 1981 lived for almost four years, before Steve Cram lowered it to 3:46.32 in 1985.
Algeria’s Noureddine Morcelli ran 1500 meters in 3:26.00 in 2000.

As you can see, the incremental progress over more than half a century merely chopped 35 seconds or so from the time. This is a herculean effort that illustrates just how difficult it is to get those last few percentage points of performance from people. It takes massive training, nutrition, science and materials advances to get to where they are today.

This is analogous to the training and performance of the average American Marine or Soldier. Consider the size difference alone since WW2 based upon better nutrition and health care. Some digging revealed intriguing data:

“Data compiled for millions of inductees shows the following to be the actual measurements of the "average" newcomer to the Army as he appears at the clothing counter of a reception center (in WWII):

5' 8" tall; 144 pounds in weight; 33 ¼" chest measurement; 31" waist measurement. From the tariff tables showing the frequency of size issues it is found that the sizes most frequently issued are a 7 to 7½ hat, number 9 gloves, a 15 shirt with a 33" sleeve, a 36 regular jacket, a pair of trousers with a 32" waist and a 32" leg length, size 11 socks, and size 9-D shoes. These figures may be taken to indicate the size of the "average American young man. “

From what I could glean on the Army website, the average male soldier is 6 feet tall and 175 pounds these days.
These data points illustrate my point that there is a progression over time due to increased nutrition and better health overall. There is certainly an upper limit, a plateau if you will. At some point if these trends continued unabated, soldiers and Marines would snap ankles and break knees due to the exertion of running in full gear. Orthopedic surgeons could probably weigh in in that.

The issue of exoskeletons is a valid one. They would have uses in special circumstances, perhaps for engineers or maintenance technicians (perfect example is pulling maintenance on tank treads or replacing large assemblies on vehicles). The logistic requirements of providing a large unit with exoskeletons for everybody would be prohibitive. The failure rate would need to be six sigma close to zero. Fuel/batteries and maintenance for them would cripple an organization. I can also see some poor sap, stuck in a malfunctioning exoskeleton getting killed by local guerrillas armed with next to nothing.

The drugs and vaccines have promise, but again, the fallout from the Church Commission casts a heavy shadow on any avenues that may be available there. Brain implants I see as right out for the same reasons. Brain implants, like cochlear implants for therapeutic use are now no longer science fiction. But those fall under a different intent.

Bottom line is that incremental improvements will continue, reaching plateaus of science and material technology. No matter how it is approached, people will always be the limiting factor, with established legal and ethical red lines forming the ultimate barriers from to turning people into android like creatures.

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