What are Bionic Humans?
However humans are susceptible to several natural biological problems and weaknesses, and as individuals we are not as strong and robust as we would like to be. Now, with advancements in science and technology, we have reached a stage where we can improve ourselves with electronics and biomedical engineering. Many scientists suggest that our future as a successful species lies in such improvements and have termed the modified humanity as bionic humans.
Prosthesis and medical augmentation have been around since antiquity, and they have been successfully elaborated in modern times. Hearing aids and prosthetic limbs have become a part of human society. However science has been pushing boundaries and developing technologies that integrate even more with human physiology so that we can augment human body instead of just replacing parts of it. Several of these are still being developed for helping individuals who suffer from disabilities while others are developed with the aim of increasing human abilities for specific situations.
Some aspects of the prosthetic bionics are made real by advances in electronics while others are brought about by advances in material science. For example, there are several groups of scientists who are working on development of eyes that will work for blind people. This is a good example of complexities of developing a bionic product. This eye must capture the images and transfer the information to brain where it should be processed and integrated with other sensory information and decision making processes.
This requires that the information captured by this eye should be transferred to the brain like a normal eye would. This demands precise electronics and use of right materials that integrates with our body. There is always the advantage that the human body has enough regenerative capacity to develop new neuronal pathways to process information from such implants.
Several bionics research projects, like the eye we mentioned before, are being organized around the world. Infect Israeli scientists have developed a technology that may enable people who are blind from birth to see, with the help of a bionic contact lens. Many such projects are inspired by the physiology of human body. The mechanisms that regulate body functions as in electric pulses of nerve and muscle cells, and neural processes that regulate our thinking and responses are important for designing bionic equipment. Understanding such processes will help to achieve better integration of these devices with the body, and will help us to understand better how different signals are perceived, interpreted and acted upon by human body.
Examples include bionic arms that work by sensing electrical impulses from the muscles near their base, or may even be connected to nerves so that they can be moved by thought - in response to brain signals that are passed through nerves that connect to the arms. Other such innovations include artificial muscles, skin and blood.
More complex artificial organs like kidneys are also being developed. However in such organs the regulation is multi-tiered for example kidney is regulated by signals from brain, hormones and other physical parameters such as ionic strength of body fluids and presence of specific metabolites in blood. All these parameters must be taken into account to develop a substitute organ that can be implanted to a patient suffering from kidney failure. This is even more critical because slight alterations in kidney function can have fatal consequences. Same goes for other organs such as heart and pancreas.
Developing bionic humans is not just a medical endeavour. US army has devoted a large amount of research to develop implants or wearable instruments that can augment its soldiers. Although the aim here is not to develop a cyborg army, implants will help to improve coordination with advanced electronics of weapons and to obtain information from centralized surveillance systems. However, most developments in this sector remain secret due to their military nature.
An extreme example of the immense possibilities of this bionics was the experiment carried out using chips that were implanted in the hands of Kevin Warwick, the British scientist and professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading. He was able to regulate external electrical circuits using these implants. Using complex chips as implants he was even able to regulate a robotic arm in UK from New York over the internet. (source: www.etiskraad.dk). Here is the video of that experiment by Kevin Warwick.
In an even more astonishing attempt, he was able to connect to another chip implanted in his wife's hand and move her arm. Such experiments, although they were controlled experiments, shows the promise of developing technologies that interface with biological systems to augment their capabilities. They promise to go well beyond the prosthetic realm to enable human development beyond its evolutionary restrictions.
Written by : Rajesh Bihani, New Delhi, India
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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )