We live in a world where what was considered science fiction mere decades ago has become a reality. Global, wireless internet coverage, 3D printed technologies, the Internet of Things powered by AI-based assistants, and, of course, cyborgs, are all part of the reality we live in.
Cyborgs? Yes, those are real. Look at Dr Kevin Warwick. The man can operate lights, switches, and even computers with the power of his mind thanks to a handy chip implant. Neil Harbisson has overcome achromatopsia thanks to an implant that allows the artist to process colours in real-time on a level unachievable by anyone else on the planet.
If you were to do some research, you’d find out that these pioneers are merely the tip of a cybernetically enhanced iceberg bringing up the real question: if we’ve already come so far, what awaits us in the future?
Some of the most prominent projects diving into the exploration of cybernetics feel like they were taken from a cyberpunk novel. And yet they are real. More on the matter, they mark what is potentially the future of humankind as a species.
Full-spectrum vision. Typically, humans believe that the way we “see” the world is the only possible way. Cybernetics engineers would beg to disagree. A simple injection of nanoantenna has proven to give lab mice the superpower of night vision. The experiment taking place in the University of Massachusetts has only recently moved towards practical studies of the effects the antenna have on rodents, but it has already proven itself to be among the first stepping stones towards cybernetically enhanced eyesight. Additional breakthroughs in the field have shown promising results in turning eyes into video cameras, or even development of artificial retinas capable of returning sight to the blind.
Artificial brain cells. Modern advancements in the niche of cybernetics have already grown neurons – the basic components of a human brain – in laboratory conditions. These cells, artificially raised on an array of electrodes are proving themselves as a superior replacement to the hardware and software controllers we have today.
More on the matter, scientists are already using brain-computer interfaces in medicine. Most are designed for therapeutic purposes such as the Deep Brain Stimulation designed to aid patients with Parkinson’s disease.
We will be able to use said technology to create connections that operate via the remaining neural signals allowing amputee patients to feel and move their limbs with the power of their mind. In some cases, as it was with Nigel Ackland, some might even go as far as to use the word enhancement when talking about top tier prosthetics.
Enhanced mobility. Stronger, faster, more durable – those are the goals of military-grade exoskeletons for soldiers that are already branching out into the medical niche and serve as prosthetics for amputee victims. The combination of hardware and AI-based software eliminate the boundaries of human capabilities while minoring the vitals of the wearer in real-time.
Technopsychics. The University of Minnesota is working on a computer to brain interface capable of remotely piloting drones. The machines can detect the electrical signals transmitted by the brain to control functioning machines in real-time. If you can navigate a quadcopter through an obstacle course using only the power of your mind today, imagine what we’ll be piloting remotely tomorrow.
Nanorobots. Self-repair, growth, and immunity to diseases will soon be true thanks to a simple infusion of nanobots into your bloodstream. Modern researches explore the idea of developing your blood cell’s little helpers that can be controlled in the cloud from your smartphone!
As you may have deduced from the examples above, the advancements in the cybernetics niche are directly related to the progress we make with Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning technologies.
We need the software capable of driving the hardware to its limits if we are to dive deeper into cyborg technology. Artificial Intelligence is supposed to become the bridge between the man and the machine according to prominent research such as Shimon Whiteson and Yaky Matsuka. These scientists are exploring new ways AI can help amputee patients to operate their robotic prosthetics.
Furthermore, AI is expected to take control of machines doing sensitive work in hazardous areas. According to BBC, we already have smart bots capable of defusing bombs and mines yet they still require a human controlling them. In the future, these drones (and many more, responsible for such challenging tasks as toxic waste disposal, deep-sea exploration, and volcanic activity studies, etc.) will be powered purely by algorithms.
Lastly, machines are expected to analyze and understand colossal volumes of data. According to Stuart Russell, The combination of AI-powered algorithms and free access to Big Data can identify new, unexpected patterns we’ll be able to use to mathematically predict future events or solve global challenges like climate change.
What a time to be alive!
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