Japanese-French panel discussion: From “repaired” to “augmented” humans?

  • Date:
  • Time:
    14:30-17:30 (Doors open at 14:00)
  • Venue:
    Fukutake Learning Theater, B2, Fukutake Hall, The University of Tokyo Hongo Campus
  • Language:

    Japanese-French with the simultaneous translation (no English translation provided)

  • Co-organizers:

    Institute for Future Initiatives of the University of Tokyo, and French Embassy / Institut français du Japon

  • Registration:

    Please registrer through the website of Institut francais du japon.  *This page is provided in French and Japanese.


  • Remarks:

    For the latest information and the details, please refer to the website of Institut francais du japon.


This panel discussion, which will take place on June 29th at the University of Tokyo, will be a dialogue between speakers from Japan, France, and Switzerland, with various backgrounds. They will discuss the opportunities of the new technologies, especially digital technologies, which could bring adapted solutions in order to “repair” humans, and about the potential applications which can already allow us to talk about “augmentation” of humans. The speakers will also bring raise fundamental questions, such as: “what does being human mean ?”, “where is the line between reparation and augmentation of the human being”?


– Ms. Arisa EMA, assistant professor at the University of Tokyo (Policy Alternatives Research Institute)
– Ms. Daniel CERQUI, professor of anthropology at the University of Lausanne
– Mr. Ken ENDO, founder of Xiborg Co. Ltd, and researcher for Sony CSL
– Mr. Nicolas HUCHET, founder of “My Human Kit”
Moderator: Mr. Kazuhiro TAIRA, professor of journalism at the University of Oberlin
Opening by Mr. Jean-Christophe AUFFRAY, Counsellor for Science and Technology, French Embassy in Japan

On June 29th, 2019, a dialogue occurred between Japanese and French speakers with various backgrounds and expertise at the University of Tokyo. The panelists discussed the opportunities posed by new technologies particularly digital technologies, which could help “repair” human bodies and the potential applications of these technologies regarding the “augmentation” of human beings.

Despite the rain, more than 200 people participated the event. After the event, there was also three virtual reality contents provided by the French Institute, which was also experienced by participants.


Introduction from Panelists

After the opening remarks by Mr. Jean-Christophe Auffray, Counsellor for Science and Technology at the French Embassy in Japan, the four panelists introduced their activities and research.

Nicolas Huchet, founder of “My Human Kit”
Mr. Huchet lost his right arm in 2002 due to a work injury. Since then, he has lived using a prosthetic arm. The original prosthetic arm was developed in the 1960s, and prosthetic technology has seen considerable technological developments in recent years. However, there are a few limitations; prostheses remain expensive, difficult to use, and very heavy.

Mr. Huchet knew of 3D printing technology and the world of Fab labs, which present a way of making affordable prostheses and, with the help of open source digital blueprints, making prostheses widely accessible. Through a Fab lab, Mr. Huchet was able to make a prosthetic arm to “complement and repair himself.”

His 3D-printed prosthetic arm was a fragile prototype incapable of bearing much weight or stress. However, Mr. Huchet said that making a prosthetic arm by himself helped him accept his own disability. Although it is difficult to change the consciousness of others, he could change his own consciousness regarding his disability. Inspired, he created an open laboratory called “My Human Kit,” which creates devices that support the necks of wheelchair-bound people and works with people with autism.

Ken Endo, founder of Xiborg Co. Ltd., and researcher for Sony CSL
Mr. Endo is interested in human biomechanics and has been conducting research on prosthetic legs. He is currently collaborating with Mr. Ototake on leg prostheses. Whereas Mr. Huchet is missing a limb, and therefore his prosthetic arm might be considered a repair, Mr. Ototake has his limbs but they are deficient. Therefore, Mr. Ototake’s prosthetic legs are an augmentation. To some extent, Mr. Endo commented that, to some extent, it could be said that this project normatively imposes the values of healthy, able-bodied people on others.

Mr. Endo also makes prosthetic legs for Paralympic athletes. He says that although they are running with a leaf spring, the spring’s form that enables them to run easily is different from what healthy people imagine. He also conceded that there are complications. For example, there is a debate that it may be unfair if a person with a prosthetic leg outperforms a non-augmented person.

Daniel Cerqui, professor of anthropology at the University of Lausanne, Cultural anthropologist
Ms. Cerqui mentioned that the panel’s wording, “repaired” and “augmented,” indicated that human bodies, just like cars or other machines, can now be repaired, complemented, and augmented. Ms. Cerqui studied Mr. Kevin Warwick, who wanted to augment himself and become a cyborg. Many people criticized Mr. Warwick for seeking to augment himself, like in science fiction, rather than seeking to repair himself through treatment and therapy. However, she noted, modern society is expanding the scope of illness and treatment; even “death” is seen as an obstacle that has to be removed, and we are always fighting to “repair” dying humans. Ms. Cerqui pointed out two risks regarding this theme. First, not everyone has access to repair and augmentation Second, presently there is a lack of sufficient discussion on where a society in which humans can be repaired and augmented is heading at.

Arisa Ema, assistant professor at the University of Tokyo
Ms. Ema, a researcher of science and technology studies, asks a question; what happens when anyone can freely make things? What happens, for example, when 3D printing can be used for military applications? The boundaries between the creators and the users are blurring. We need to create a system that can address unexpected usage and impact of new technology. For that purpose, it is important for people from various positions to be involved in this system from upstream.

Dialogue is not about trying to change opinions. Mr. Huchet said in his presentation, that he can change his own consciousness. Ms. Ema suggested that we take this event as an opportunity to recognize our own unconscious biases and begin considering both future societies and human beings.

From the left:Nicolas Huchet, founder of “My Human Kit”, Ken Endo, founder of Xiborg Co. Ltd., and researcher for Sony CSL, Daniel Cerqui, professor of anthropology at the University of Lausanne, Arisa Ema, assistant professor at the University of Tokyo


Panel Discussion Questions

What is a human being?

The panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Kazuhiro Taira, professor of journalism at the University of Oberlin. His first question to the panel was: as technology, specifically biotechnology, progresses, how do we to understand what makes us human? If 60% of a human body is organically human, is it still human? What if 90% is a machine?

Ms. Cerqui pointed out that no one knows where to draw the line between humans and non-humans, but that it is important to discuss this question before biotechnology progresses further.

Ms. Ema mentioned “autonomy” as an auxiliary line to consider humanity. Embedding autonomous machines in the body might be considered either as self-sufficiency or dependency. In a society where technology and the human body co-exist, and where machines replace not only bodies and cognition but also decision-making processes, how should we define humanity?

In response to Ms. Ema, Mr. Huchet introduced an anime “WALL-E.” It shows a world in which machines are so smart that humans do not have to do anything. It cannot be said that people have autonomy when they forget how to walk. Autonomy means that human beings can act on their desire to communicate, play, and live life on their terms. He also stated that he would like to build a society that supports disabled people by providing access to technologies.

Mr. Endo said that autonomy might be possible by financial independence and the happiness in life. By this definition, he supposes that Mr. Ototake is independent and has autonomy even if he cannot drink water by himself. He stated that it will be necessary to build a social system that would not only provide autonomy through technology, but also aim for satisfaction as an added value.

The future of DIY culture

In his next question, Mr. Taira asked about the impact of the DIY (Do It Yourself) culture and the makers movement as the barrier between the creators and the users decreases.

Mr. Huchet said that the value of sharing is underestimated. His prosthetic arm was only possible with the help of many people; this helps disabled people to regain confidence. People engaged in Fab labs have the desire to share their ideas with others and grow together, and there is no barrier to this concept.

As an entrepreneur, Mr. Endo pointed out that the unit price and threshold for making things has decreased. He also introduced the concept of a “lead user” – innovation begins with an invested and concerned person. Lead users’ motivation to innovate is high, because their own interest that drives them, and it is not about making money. He pointed out that contributing to society is very natural, and when production costs fall, interested people and specialists, like engineers, come together to manufacture products.

Ms. Cerqui pointed out that bottom-up movement is more important than top-down mass production. However, she also warned that open source technologies carry a risk of malicious use. To eliminate these risks, there is no choice but to stop technological progress. Therefore, as we continue to make technological progress, we must consider and accept the presence of these risks.

Ms. Ema also pointed out that the coexistence of humans and technology is not just a problem for individuals, but also for communities. She stated that voluntary rules like the Fab lab charter are required to make accessible not only technology, but also its governance.

Perspectives from users

Mr. Keita Sato, who is a Paralympic athlete in track and field using Mr. Endo’s prosthetic leg, was also in the hall. Mr. Sato stated that his life has been “augmented” thanks to technology.

He also said that the discussion of “autonomy” reminded him of the Paralympic Village. Paralympic athletes are mostly people who are considered socially vulnerable, but they do not see themselves as vulnerable. For these athletes, technology is just one of many options available to them – among those without arms, there are many people who “do not usually wear a prosthetic because it is natural for them to have no prosthetic arm.” They wear prosthetic arms only because prostheses make it easier for them to run. Although there are differences between technologically affluent countries and those that are not, he pointed out that in the end, using prosthetics is an individual choice.

From the left: Keita Sato, Paralympic athlete in track and field, Tsuyoshi Imai, director of NPO Mission ARM Japan


There were a number of interesting questions from the audiences.

Design of prosthetic arms/legs

One question asked about the design of a prosthetic arms and legs. Mr. Endo said that he designed Mr. Ototake’s prosthetic legs to look more like a machine than a human leg. He thought it would be less incongruous for the viewer. Mr. Huchet introduced the 3D printer’s prosthetic arm, worn by Mr. Tsuyoshi Imai, director of NPO Mission ARM Japan. Mr. Imai’s prosthetic arm is shaped like three fingers. Mr. Imai shared with us the words of his colleagues; “Mr. Imai with this prosthetic arm makes you Mr. Imai,” even though the arm is clearly not a human finger. Mr. Imai pointed out that his humanity might reside in “the shape of the person,” not “the shape of the hand.”

In response to Mr. Imai’s comment, Ms. Cerqui added that different people will almost certainly write different keywords when asked to “write three keywords that make humans human.” Humanity is a subjective concept. In addition, she commented that although these prostheses may seem like magic, this is not the perception of the users, for whom the hand becomes their own. Mr. Sato and Mr. Huchet confirmed that this is true; their phantom limb pain was relieved by their prostheses and being able to think that it was their own hands and legs.

Human dignity

Another question explored the limitations of technology and human dignity. Ms. Cerqui pointed out that technological development will not stop even if law and ethics raise issues for technological progress. As for human dignity, Ms. Ema pointed out the possibility of creating a dilemma between family and society by choosing an individual’s dignity. There are no clear-cut answers; it is more problematic to jump into easy answers or say we do not know than it is to try and reach an answer. Today’s society can open up and share not only technology but also issues.

Mr. Huchet questioned why humans want to live longer, and why it is considered to be good to live longer. He, ironically, lost his arm and was able to find the meaning of life. He pointed that whether at 10 or 100 years old, it was important to be able to find out the meaning of life.

Cultural and institutional discussions

Mr. Huchet shared his experience in Jordan on the question from Mr. Genta Kondo, director of NPO Mission ARM Japan, of whether there is a cultural difference in the use of prosthetic arms. People in Jordan wanted “hands that look real” rather than artificial, 3D-printed prosthetic arms. The reason was that they wanted hands was to clasp when they pray. One can be accepted in society by putting on a lifelike prosthetic hand. This is often seen not only in Jordan but also in other countries. Indeed, a study shows that 80% of people want an inconspicuous prosthetic arm.

Ms. Cerqui also pointed out that it is important to handle health and medical expenses systematically. In the Netherlands, cosmetic surgery was treated with medical expenses for a while but was abolished because of the need for delineation of the “repaired” and “augmented.” There is a need for discussions on the cultural and institutional boundaries for the repaired and augmented.

For further discussions

What makes humans human? Where is the line between the repair and augmentation of a human being? If there is a line, where is this line? These were the three major questions raised by this panel. From this discussion, new questions have come up, such as, what are the standards for humans to define themselves? and what is autonomy? The answers to these questions are not easy. That is why they are up to each of us to consider through dialogue.

Diversity is important and helps advance these discussions. Various people contributed to the event: Mr. Endo as a creator; Mr. Huchet as a creator and a user; Ms. Cerqui as an observer of creators; Mr. Sato as a user; and two directors of NPO Mission ARM Japan who create communities on prostheses. Even one prosthetic arm or leg draws out various aspects of human-machine relationships such as everyday use, athletic use, and establishing a person’s identity.

The theme of repaired and augmented human is everyone’s concern. Each of us have discovered new findings and awareness, or even strange feelings and doubts, by participating in this panel. As one of the organizers, I hope that discussions on this subject will expand and continue.

(Written by Arisa Ema)