"Mechanical parts to replace human biological body"
Daily Mail, 30 January 2014
Technology has the potential to augment, improve and even replace every aspect of our body, from our vital organs to our legs.
A new remake of the movie RoboCop (out February 12) shows us a future where technology and humans become one - but experts say the age of the cyborg is already upon us.
With everything from smart contact lenses that could improve our vision to exoskeletons that give us superhuman strength, cyborgs are set to become a big part of our future.
Where will it end? Well, according to Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts and this could happen as early as 2100. He believes technology will be able to boost our brainpower, giving us true superhuman capabilities. 'Based on conservative estimates of the amount of computation you need to functionally simulate a human brain, we'll be able to expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold,’ he claims.
Kurzweil believes Moore's Law, which states the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years, will be key, and that advances in genetic sequencing and 3D printing are already leading to the practice of improving our bodies with tech.
For those of us without 20/20 vision, the era of Lasik and other surgery has already brought improvement - but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Last week Google revealed a radical smart contact lens for diabetics, monitoring their tears and warning them if levels drop.
The search giant said it hoped to develop other apps for the smart contact lens, which could one day even show wearer's other types of information.
Many believe they will ultimately lead to smart lenses that contain the components of Google’s glass wearable computer, giving the wearer a screen right in their eye.
This could, in theory, give us everything from superman style zoom vision capabilities, to the ability to constantly have updates pumped into our eye.
And even the smart contact lenses are only a stopgap, say scientists.
Eventually, many claim, we will simply be able to send the information directly into our vision nerves, using technology already being utilised to help the blind see.
Super human strength is something we’ve all dreamed off, and thanks to technology, it’s on the way.
We already have basic exoskeletons that can help the elderly and disabled walk, and they are beginning to be used to give us super strength.
One robotic device invented by engineering students could help its wearer carry an additional 40 pounds (18 kg).
Instead of feeling the full weight of their body, the robot arm would make lifting a child feel as easy as lifting a cup of tea.
Titan Arm is designed for ordinary people - those who need either physical rehabilitation or a little extra muscle for their job.
In technical terms, the apparatus is an untethered, upper-body exoskeleton; to the layman, it's essentially a battery-powered arm brace attached to a single mechanised joint - the elbow - giving the user a 40-pound (18kg) boost in strength.
The team decided to use a cable drive system which works in a similar way to the brakes on a bike.
The arm draws power from a battery pack that could be worn on the back, while handheld joystick controls motorised cables that raise and lower the arm; sensors measure the wearer's range of motion to help keep track of their progress.
Future versions are likely to be even more powerful - and dump the joysticks for direct connections to our brain so we can control them by thought.
Plugging yourself directly into a computer has been a staple of science fiction films for decades, and the reality is getting closer by the day.
The most commonly used neural implants are cochlear implants (approved by the FDA in 1984) and retinal implants, both pioneered in the 1960s and proven effective at partially restoring hearing and vision, respectively.
However, they are very basic, and researchers are already working on ways to advance it.
One team says the popular film approach of a massive cable into the back of your head may not work.
University of California Berkeley scientists have proposed a system that allows for thousands of ultra-tiny ‘neural dust’ chips to be inserted into the brain to monitor neural signals at high resolution and communicate data highly efficiently via ultrasound - without the need for a plug in the back of your head.
There’s also the possibility of using neural implants to remotely control a person.
Michigan-based Backyard Brains has already created an electric backpack that fits onto a cockroach and makes it turn on command using electric impulses, and the firm has now begun selling DIY kits meaning anyone can use the technology at home.
The Roboroach stimulates the creature's antenna and forces it to turn left and right at the flick of a switch and the backpack links with a smartphone app that is used as the remote control.
Giving yourself an extra limb is something you’ve probably never considered, but many believe that in the future, we may choose to improve our own limbs with smart, computer controlled versions.
However, in the shorter term, these gadget are helping many who have lost limbs to perform everyday tasks, and they are getting smarter by the week.
One prosthetic technology company has created a hand which is so advanced it can be controlled using a smartphone app.
Touch Bionics’ i-limb ultra revolution prosthetic hand also features a rotating thumb, five individually powered fingers, a rotatable wrist and aluminium chassis.
The company claims it is the most dextrous prosthetic hand ever made, and the wearer of the hand can use an app to choose one of 24 different grips.
Alternatively, the hand can be controlled by muscle signals.
Electrodes in the wrist 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 regrow limbs.
Earlier this year, doctors from Cornell University used 3D printing to create a prosthetic ear using cells of cartilage.
A solid plastic mould was printed and then filled with high-density collagen gel.
The researchers then added cartilage cells into the collagen matrix.
NANOMEDICINE - TINY TECHNOLOGY THAT CAN DELIVER DRUGS ANYWHERE IN THE BODY
One of the most exciting areas of medicine is the use of nanotech, tiny ‘smart’ particles than can be delivered anywhere in the body.
For example, an experimental lung cancer treatment uses nano particles that are inhaled by aerosol, settling in diseased areas of the lungs; using an external magnet, the particles are then superheated, killing the diseased cells.
Experts say the technology has the potential to revolutionise medicine - and lead to new types of drug that can boost our muscles, fight cancer and change every aspect of our body.
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.
Made from nanotech yarns and infused with paraffin wax, the muscles can lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more power than the same size human muscle.
UPLOAD YOUR BRAIN AND 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 is also a believer in the singularity, 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, its supporters say.
While it may seem rather like a sci-fi movie plot waiting to happen, one Russian billionaire has revealed controversial plans to upload his own brain and become immortal by 2045.
32 year-old Dmitry Itskov believes technology will allow him to live forever in a hologram body.
His '2045 initiative' is described as the next step in evolution, and over 20,000 people have signed up on Facebook to follow its progress, with global conferences planned to explore the technology needed.
The initiative also believes the first generation of 'android' bodies will have superhuman capabilities.
'The new human being will receive a huge range of abilities and will be capable
of withstanding extreme external conditions easily: high temperatures, pressure,
radiation, lack of oxygen, etc.
'Using a neural-interface humans will be able to operate several bodies of various forms and sizes remotely.'
THE POWER TO MAKE YOURSELF INVISIBLE (ALTHOUGH YOU'LL NEED A HARRY POTTER STYLE CLOAK TO DO IT)
Always near the top of any superpower wishlist, researchers already have working
However, they do leave more than a little to be desired at the moment.
In one of the most recent examples, engineers surrounded an object with small antennas that collectively radiate an electromagnetic field, cancelling out waves scattered off it.
The University of Toronto researchers 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.
Others 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.
Overall it seems invisibility may be some way off - but there are some tantalising clues that perhaps one day Harry Potter’s favourite trick could be available to us mere muggles.