Deus Ex is a great series of video games because it not only has great game play but also addresses the issue of transhumanism. As prosthetic technology improves we will certainly have people opting to have their squishy natural limbs and organs replaced by far superior mechanical versions. Even now prosthetics are becoming more capable. But they still lack one major feature, a sense of touch. That will soon change:
Daniel Moran, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology, of physical therapy and of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, has received a three-year, nearly $1.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a novel device his lab developed that would stimulate the nerves in the upper arm and forearm. If it works, upper-limb amputees who use motorized prosthetic devices would be able to feel various sensations through the prosthetic, which would send sensory signals to the brain.
Moran and his team, which includes Harold Burton, PhD, professor of neurobiology; Wilson (Zach) Ray, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, both at the School of Medicine; and Matthew MacEwen, who will graduate with an MD/PhD in May 2015 and worked on this project for his dissertation, have developed a macro-sieve peripheral nerve interface designed to stimulate regeneration of the ulnar and median nerves to transmit information back into the central nervous system. The macro-sieve is made of an ultrathin, flexible material similar to a soft contact lens, is about 1/8th the size of a dime and looks like a wagon wheel with open spaces between the “spokes” that allow the nerve to grow.
At this rate we’ll have actual cyborgs within the decade. It’s amazing how quickly technology is advancing. Much of it is due to the development of every smaller power-efficient computers. Since technology is cumulative, that is to say technology builds on itself to create more technology, we may enjoy that almost utopian future dreamed of in the 1950’s (you know the one with flying cars and infinite energy provided by nuclear power).