Computers have massively augmented our natural cognitive abilities; we have essentially networked our brains into one collective nervous system, and as a result have the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips and the ability to communicate with one another instantaneously across the world. The cognitive gains that we've experienced from computing are hard to overstate. However, it seems as though the gains in computing haven't had the same revolution in augmenting our physical capabilities.

When we think of exoskeletons we might think of Iron Man, but what I really mean when I say "exoskeleton" is any augmentation of our natural kinematic abilities that is controlled by our brain. In this definiton a car would be an exoskeleton, or even a bicycle. There is some interface: a steering wheel, gas pedal, brake, or bike pedals and a handlebar that allows our brain to control something that augments our ability to move.

At Google I'm fortunate to have met a group that is working on an exoskeleton for lower body mobility. It's still an early project, so there's not much more I can say, but sitting in on these meetings has really expanded my horizons when it comes to thinking about exoskeletons. The role of communication and control between the human and machine is interesting, it's a dance between the two, where each has their own independent "brain" for control, but they work together to achieve a goal.

These days I think a lot about human flight, I'm not the first person to dream about humans being able to fly in a manner similar to a bird, and I don't think I'll be the last. As far as I know Da Vinci was the first to offer some concrete designs of how it could be done, but ultimately we weren't strong enough to power the design that he had in mind. Today we have electric motors capable of generating more than enough power with batteries that are relatively light. Why aren't we revisiting the idea?

It's not simply a power problem though, there's a control issue as well. Birds have incredibly fine tuned movements to allow them to shift their weight and adjust their wings to surf through wind effectively. Well, in my opinion it's not a machine control problem, it's a human control one. It's the interface. If our brain were to be able to control the machine just like we can control our own muscles, then we'd be able to learn how to fly just like learning how to walk or play an instrument.

I don't think this is outside the realm of possibility, even today I think it would be possible. It's worth giving it a shot at least.