One of the hardest things about this eye-on-the-future blogging gig is finding a story like this, where the headline – “Cat brain could provide bionic eye firmware” – says everything you can say about it without going into the technical detail. [image by fazen]
So I guess I’ll just use a pull-quote:
“To try and develop a more sophisticated model [of the way brains respond to visual input], the team recorded the responses of 49 individual neurons in a part of a cat’s brain called the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). The LGN receives and processes visual information from the retina, via the optic nerve, before sending it on to the cerebral cortex.
Using a mixture of simple stimuli, like dots and bars, and building up to more complex moving artificial scenes, the team tried to work out the basics of the LGN’s response to visual features.”
The end-goal here is to provide prosthetic vision for persons whose ocular nerve has degenerated from lack of use, but I’m thinking that model will have a lot of other applications as well.
In a landmark ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius – nicknamed ‘Bladerunner’ after the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses in place of his amputated lower legs – has won the right to compete against able-bodied athletes, and plans to represent his country at either the Beijing Olympics or the later London event. [image taken from linked article]
From a purely technological perspective, it’s fantastic that we can replace a man’s missing limbs and allow him to run at all, let alone run at record-breaking speeds.
But here’s George Dvorsky explaining why he believes Pistorius shouldn’t be permitted to compete against regular non-enhanced athletes:
“The short answer is that it’s not fair to the able-bodied athletes who don’t want to get into the enhancement game.
Moving forward, it sets up a situation where:
- able-bodied athletes will increasingly be set at a disadvantage relative to the cyber-athletes, particularly as prostheses improve, and
- able-bodied athletes will have no choice but to seek enhancement measures of their own, legal or otherwise, to remain competitive.”
Read the whole piece before making your mind up; it won’t take you long.
I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, because our species-wide fascination with competitive sports has always baffled me completely; I guess I don’t care who runs in a race, enhanced or otherwise. As long as it isn’t me. 😉
But bearing in mind how financially lucrative the sports industry is, I can see Dvorsky having a point. After all, it’s not as if his second point doesn’t describe a situation that already exists in the present with regards to drugs and dietary supplements, without any pressure from cyborg athletes in the same leagues.
Via Warren Ellis’s grinders, I present to you: the Fluidhand!
“The flexible drives are located directly in the movable finger joints and operate on the biological principle of the spider leg – to flex the joints, elastic chambers are pumped up by miniature hydraulics. In this way, index finger, middle finger and thumb can be moved independently. The prosthetic hand gives the stump feedback, enabling the amputee to sense the strength of the grip.”
Prosthetics and exoskeletal tech are really making strides (arf!) at the moment. I don’t think it’s science fictional to suggest that we’ll be seeing prosthetic limbs that equal the functionality of the organic originals within a decade. [image borrowed from linked Physorg article]
But there’ll still be a stigma attached to having one, because of the aesthetic issues; it’ll be longer than a decade before there’s a false limb that would pass for a real one.
Maybe they’d become a badge of pride in certain industries or regions – among veterans of ideological conflicts, perhaps? And what about the possibility of elective prosthetics – people choosing to replace limbs that had nothing wrong with them?
Thanks to the huge budgets involved, the military forces of the world tend to get a chance to play with all the best new technology before anyone else. The US Army Flight School is adopting a new augmented reality helmet for training purposes, which enables the wearer to see tactical information and thermal imagery, and to focus on distant objects. A more long-term Pentagon plan is to adopt militarily useful iterations of directed energy technology – to build laser blasters, in other words. Another technology that soldiers are more likely to get before the rest of us, albeit due to the most unpleasant of circumstances, are cybernetic limbs like the iHand prosthesis, a myo-electric replacement hand that can lift delicate objects without crushing them.