More Science that’s NOT Fiction

I am visiting at my grandparents this weekend, and of course I had to borrow their computer.  My grandmother has AOL set up to start automatically, which I normally don’t like (since I don’t care for AOL-too busy, gives me a headache looking at their screens), but this time I’m glad it popped up.  Because right there, on the opening page with the news, was an article about bionic humans.  Seriously.  It wasn’t a very good article, just a blurb really, but it caught myattention.  So I closed out AOL and did a search for “bionic human”.  I found all kinds of stuff. 

Cochlear implants, bionic devices that allow many deaf people to hear, have become accepted by most people despite imitial resistance to them (there is still some resistance from the deaf community where some feel their culture is under attack by the hearing world).

Currently on the market from Berkley Bionics is a bionic exoskeleton that enables an average person to carry heavy loads – up to 150 lbs. - on their back for extended distances without the fatigue normally associated with travelling that far, designed for use by soldiers and relief workers who often have to move through rough terrain on foot, seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdK2y3lphmE

Rsearchers at University of Newcastle are ready to start trials for a bionic eye to restore sight to people who could see previously.  The implant will send signals to the brain that will then be interpreted the same way signals from the retina were before the eye was damaged.  Read the article at http://www.gizmag.com/go/2144/.  This type of binic eye would only restore partial sight, however other bionic eye projects underway aim to actually use electronic contacts that transmit data into the brain would not only restore full sight but would give much better vision than any “normal” person has, and the electronic signal could be downloaded for others to see as well.

There are also numerous articles about other projects that are in the works – check out www.science-spirit.org/archive_cm_detail.php?new_id=44 , www.livescience.com/technology/top10-bionic-tech.html , and www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/02/020208080141.htm .  The Live Science article is particularly interesting as it lists ten different areas in which bionics are making significant advances – including artificial kidneys and pancreas.  A solution for diabetes? (One of these days I’ll figure out how to put the name of the site in so that you can click on it to go there, like all them fancy blogs do.  Gimme a break, I’ve only been doing this a week.) 

What I gathered from all this is that upgradable humans are right around the corner.  Sure, at first the technology will be just for people who are disabled in some way.  But how long before that technology that gives blind people sight through implanted video cameras is used to upgrade someone who just doesn’t want to wear glasses anymore, or even someone who just wants the recording ability for their own use (there are serious military applications there).  And right now the bionic exoskeleton is highly visible and highly expensive, but what happens when it is unobtrusive and can be easily mass produced?  Could it be another solution for the global transportation problem?  And I’m not even going to get into the bionic limbs. 

I personally am okay with upgrading humans (I want gills!), but what happens when the backlash from the conservative “pure human” movement starts?  We all know it will happen.  Will our governments and legislation be able to keep up with technology?  So far we don’t have a good track record on that one.  Again, I think some books have been written about that…

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