September 21, 2013
The Bionic Alternative
In science fiction, there are people called “cyborgs.” Cyborgs are individuals that, while once human, have had much of their organic bodies replaced with advanced machines – bionics. Less Terminator, which was a machine that appeared to be human, and more Robocop. For many, this idea is most popularized by the classic television shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Bionic arms and legs, electronic eyes and ears, built in armor and weapons, the works. Being able to replace lost limbs with plastic and steel, to improve oneself through technology, this was the idea. For years, this was the stuff of television, movies, novels, and comic books, but is it really that far-fetched?
Not anymore. Modern technology has made bionic limbs a reality. More than a simple prosthetic limb, a bionic limb can be moved with the same neural impulses that allow us to move our natural limbs. By mapping out the neural signals in the brain, doctors are able to create a bionic replacement for a lost limb that reads and translates those signals into movement. While still mostly experimental, there have been several very successful cases of such bionic appendages. And, if bionic arms and legs were not impressive enough, there are even cases of successful bionic eyes and ears. Rather than receiving signals from the brain and translating them into movement, these cyber-senses are able to transmit data to the brain that can be interpreted as either audio or visual data. While still far from perfect, this is something many thought impossible only a few years ago.
As time goes on, this new technology continues to improve. Just a few years ago, the most these experimental limbs could do were simple movements of the shoulder and elbow and an opening/closing motion of the hands. Now, these limbs are able to follow precise commands and are even able to give some (diminished) sense of touch. As our understanding of neuro-science grows, so does our ability to create these impressive marvels of modern medicine and technology. Before long, we may find ourselves living in a world of cyborgs, where almost anything is possible with bionic replacements. This new bionic limbs will be a great relief for those soldiers who have returned from war having left a very literal piece of themselves behind. Having known someone who returned from Afghanistan after having lost an arm, just knowing that this technology exists is a source of great excitement and hope. Unfortunately, it will likely still be some time before such advanced replacements will be widely available for those who have lost limbs, their sight, or hearing.
Even so, it’s always good to have hope.
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