The People Who Make The World Better

I have several especially statist friends who constantly claim they’re making the world a better place because of their involvement in politics. It’s the most pathetic ego stroking I’ve ever seen and there isn’t even a kernel of truth to it. Running for office, sucking off political candidates, and constantly telling other people how they should live their lives doesn’t improve the world in any way. Do you know what does improve people’s lives? Markets. Providing people the goods and services they need will actually benefit them. Consider the prosthetics market. Prosthetics are leaping ahead at a fantastic pace. We’ve gone from hooks on pulleys to replace missing arms to prosthetics attached to the nervous system capable of mimicking a lot of what natural limbs can do:

Hastened by advances in neurology and robotics — and tragically by the spike in U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan without limbs — a new era of prosthetics has emerged, using signals from the brain to evoke an increasing variety of movements from bionic limbs.

Jorgenson is one of about 50 patients worldwide — and the youngest, so far — to undergo a surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation, in which severed nerve endings in her arm were reassigned to control muscles that would trigger sensors in the bionic arm. With the surgery, which was performed last year at the Mayo Clinic, she also became the first to have six nerves rewired, giving her the ability at will to move the robotic elbow up and down, rotate the wrist, and open and close the hand.


Learning how to signal the proper muscles to trigger movements from the bionic arm happened quickly, Jorgenson said, but mastering it is taking time.

“Sometimes when I raise my arm up,” she said, “the hand will start twisting around.”

When it closes, the hand can create a grip-crushing 22 pounds of force, but it can also be delicate enough to hold a paper cup. So developing control has proved crucial. After daring her older brother to let her squeeze his nose, she tried it on herself. She squeezed too tightly and found herself unable to release the hand because the shock caused her muscles to tense up.

But on Wednesday, she transplanted the plant, filled the pot with soil, and cleaned the mess with a dustpan — all with little to no delay between the time she wanted her prosthetic to move and when it did.

“It’s pretty amazing how intuitive she has become,” her father said.

Her next step will be triggering two motions at once — such as moving the elbow while closing the hand — but she is comfortable enough to start wearing the bionic arm to school. The eighth-grader had delayed until now, because her school lacks air conditioning and the prosthetic can become uncomfortable in high heat.

The people involved in the development of this girl’s prosthetic limb have done more to improve the world than anybody who has invested their time in politics. And they’re not done. Unlike politicians who accomplish a minor goal and declare complete victory, people involved in the prosthetics market aren’t satisfied with replicating only a few features of natural limbs. They want to replicate everything:

DARPA promised prosthetic limbs that produce realistic sensations, and it’s making good on its word. The agency’s researchers have successfully tested an artificial hand that gave a man a “near-natural” level of touch. The patient could tell when scientists were pressing against specific fingers, even when they tried to ‘trick’ the man by touching two digits at once. The key was to augment the thought-controlled hand with a set of pressure-sensitive torque motors wired directly to the brain — any time the hand touched something, it sent electrical signals that felt much like flesh-and-bone contact.

If you want to make the world a better place learns skills that allow you to make new goods and services for consumers. You don’t have to work in the medical field but that’s certainly a great market to consider. Something as simple as a restaurant will provide more people more good than any politicking.