Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pentagon closer to mind-controlled prosthetics



Bless those guys at DARPA.  They come up with the niftiest stuff.

It was announced last month that researchers at the University of Houston are making considerable strides towards developing prosthetic limbs that can be entirely controlled via neural implants.  What's more, these cybernetic interfaces are designed to be usable for the rest of the individual's life.
Quite naturally, the military has significant interest in developing cybernetics such as these, what with so many troops coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq but now missing body parts they originally went there with. But there is just one catch with this new development: the neural implants may fail within six to eight weeks.  Once they've been implanted, the brain treats these devices like foreign invaders and begins to isolate them and the tissue surrounding them for the brain's own protection.  As access to the body's electrical impulses is cut off, the implant malfunctions.  Kind of takes the fun out of things.
Still, this is not an unforeseen development.  Any time the body receives a medical implant or other such device, there is always the chance that it will reject the foreign object.  The DARPA-funded researchers are currently looking at just how brain tissue is reacting with the implants by using state-of-the-art imagining systems and finding ways around this hurdle.  

The sooner the better, I say.  I long for a day when there is no article of the human body that cannot be either regrown in a lab or replaced with cybernetics.  The full integration of humans with technology.  Yes, yes, there are undoubtedly objections from numerous and tedious Luddites, crying about how we are "losing our humanity."  That's funny.  I see it as saving our humanity, preserving it.  Living free from concern (or at least not as much concern) as to what could happen if you sustain a serious injury in an accident or lose a part of your body to disease.  Giving hope to those in our military who bravely serve and all too often return to us with serious injuries.  A human is fundamentally a very soft and squishy thing.  Fortunately, we have the intellect to develop the means to correct that impediment.  While there will without question be setbacks and complications, the benefits far outweigh shrugging our shoulders and doing nothing at all.
Besides, anyone who doesn't gasp "that is so cool" at the thought of bionic limbs probably needs to head back to the 19th Century.

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