The pace of technological change is frightening, and touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives, but none quite so deeply as the field of cybernetics. That is, actually grafting technology onto our bodies. Beginning to merge with our technology, essentially becoming cyborgs.
Sound farfetched? It probably shouldn’t. Even today, we can use technology to improve nearly every part of our bodies, and what we can improve today, we can outright replace tomorrow.
According to Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, the biological parts of our body could start to be replaced by mechanical ones as early as 2100. We’ll also be able to use technology to boost our brainpower by as much as a billion-fold, assuming that our brains (which are enormously complex computers themselves) abide by Moore’s Law, which states that the power of computers doubles, on average every two years. This, coupled with enhancements in the area of 3d printing are already rocketing us down that road.
So what are some of the changes we’re likely to see? What are some specific technologies on the horizon that we’ll be able to merge with our own bodies, should we choose to do so? There are more than you think, and among them are:
• Enhanced Vision (Perfect eyesight and the ability to surf or watch TV anywhere in the world)
• Exoskeletal enhancements to give us superhuman strength
• Neural Implants – interface with the World Wide Web at the speed of thought
• Cyberware – Computer controlled, smart prosthetic limbs
• Upload your Brain! – Live in a Virtual World
Let’s take a closer look at each of these in turn, to see what’s driving the tech in that direction.
Enhanced Vision (Perfect eyesight and the ability to surf or watch TV anywhere in the world)
Forget Lasik surgery…that’s old hat. Last week, Google revealed a new, smart contact lens designed for diabetics that monitors their tears and warns them if their levels drop. The company said it had high hopes for other apps for the lenses, building on their Google Glass technology (wearable computers), and as the technology matures, could give rise to everything from superhuman vision (with zoom capability), and updates from around the web pumped directly into our eyes.
Even so, many scientists are saying that the contact lenses are merely a stepping stone technology and that ultimately, it will be possible to simply send the information directly to our optic nerves.
Exoskeletal Enhancements (Crush a car like a beer can)
Who hasn’t dreamed of being inhumanly strong? Well…hold onto your hats because it is already well on the way. Already, using today’s technology, we have basic exoskeletons that can help the elderly and disabled walk, and we’re just beginning to go down the path of strength enhancement.
One robotic device already prototyped by engineering students could help its wearer carry and extra forty pound load. Instead of feeling the full weight, the robotic arm would absorb much of it, making lifting heavy objects no more difficult than lifting your morning cup of coffee.
The prototype arm is has been designated ‘Titan’ by the design team, and is essentially a battery powered arm brace attached to a mechanized joint with a forty pound lift capacity. The team kept the design simply, using a cable drive system that works and acts a lot like the brakes on a bicycle. The arm is powered by a battery pack that could be worn on the back, while its motion is controlled via a simple joystick controller. Obviously, a great many further refinements could be made, and made quite easily, but as a proof of concept, it is stunningly effective.
Neural Implants (Hands free computer interface)
The idea of plugging yourself directly into your computer has been the mainstay of sci-fi stories for literally decades. The scary/wonderful (depending on your point of view) thing is, it’s getting quite close to becoming reality.
The most commonly utilized neural implants are cochlear (FDA approved in 1984), and retinal implants. Both of these were pioneered in the 60’s, and have proved effective in partial hearing and vision restoration. These, however, are still quite rudimentary, and scientists have been busily researching means of improving them, extending and expanding their function.
Another, more insidious use of the technology is that it could be used to control a person. A group called “Backyard Brains,” based in Michigan, has already created an electric ‘backpack’ that fits onto a cockroach and makes it turn on command, using electric impulses.
The firm is currently selling DIY kits, meaning anyone can use the technology at home.
(Computer Controlled, Smart Prosthetic Limbs)
You may not have given much thought to giving yourself an extra limb, but many believe that in the future, we may choose to improve our own limbs with smart, computer controlled versions.
In the shorter term, however, these gadgets are designed for helping those who have lost limbs to perform simple, everyday tasks, and they are getting smarter by the day!
One prosthetic technology company has created a hand which is so advanced it can be controlled using a smart phone app.
Touch Bionics’ i-limb ultra revolution prosthetic hand also features a rotating thumb, five individually powered fingers, a rotatable wrist and aluminum chassis. The company claims it is the most dexterous prosthetic hand ever made, and the wearer of the hand can use an app to choose one of 24 different grips.
The hand can also be controlled via muscle signals. This works by attaching electrodes to the wrist, which pick up electrical impulses created by contracting muscles and these are interpreted by a computer in the back of the hand, and the computer then moves the hand into any of a series of pre-set patterns.
We could also see technology helping re-grow lost limbs, and here, 3d printing comes into play. In early 2013, doctors from Cornell University used 3D printing to create a prosthetic ear using cells of cartilage.
(Tiny Technology that can Deliver Drugs Anywhere in the Body)
Biotechnology is the next great frontier in medicine, and in the realm of Biotech, few things are more exciting than nanomedicine, in which tiny smart particles that can be delivered anywhere in the body.
Consider the following example: Let’s say we have an experimental lung cancer treatment. We could ‘nanomize it’ put it in an aerosol that could be inhaled, and program the particles to ‘settle’ only in diseased areas of the lung. On arrival, the particles superheat, killing the diseased tissue. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could completely revolutionize the field of medicine and lead to new treatments that could not only fight cancer, but boost muscle growth and potentially change almost every aspect of our physiology. It is as exciting as it is terrifying.
One Texas team have created super-strong, artificial muscles that could bring science fiction technology to life.
Super strong robots, clothes that get warmer when it’s cold and blinds that close themselves when it’s sunny are just some of the artificial muscles’ potential uses, say the technology’s creators.
Upload Your Brain (Live in the Virtual World)
Ray Kurzweil, a well known futurist and engineer at Google, is of the opinion that by 2040 to 2045, we will be able to literally upload the contents of our consciousness into a computer.
Kurzweil also believes in ‘the singularity,’ which is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature. While this may seem farfetched and a bit like a sci-fi movie, there are already people who are planning for that very day, including one Russian billionaire who has revealed his plans to upload his own brain and become immortal by 2045.
This is another one of those powers that has always been high on people’s wish list. Would you believe that researches already have working invisibility cloaks?
They do! Of course, at the moment, they have severe limitations. In one of the most recent examples, engineers surrounded an object with small antennas that collectively radiate an electromagnetic field, canceling out waves scattered off it.
The researchers (based out of the University of Toronto) believe their innovation could be used to hide military vehicles and to conduct surveillance operations – and as the technology advances, it could also be adapted to make objects invisible to the human eye too.
There are others who are working on different approaches, such as screens that simply use a camera to record what’s behind you, then play it on the screen. Relatively low-tech, but early trials have been effective. While true invisibility might still be some distance off, there are some tantalizing possibilities already out there today, and hints of more advanced versions of them in the years ahead.
(H/T: Daily Mail)