Not an article along the usual lines this time, but I was so surprised by just how far bionic technology has come that I felt I had to write some musings on it.
While doing research into the state of present day bionics technology I started thinking about the implied limits of the current technology. Just how far are we from the Matrix-like brain-in-a-jar philosophical thought exercise being a realistic possibility? From what I can make out, most of the technology, albeit crude and unwieldy in a lot of cases, appears to actually be available today.
Bionic limbs controlled by processed signals picked up from the brain and peripheral nerves have been around for a long time. While there are still issues with implanting sensors directly into the brain causing an inflammatory response in the tissue known as gliosis which causes electrodes to get insulated and prevents them from picking up the signal, the technology has been tested pretty successfully. If that can be done, then arguably the same technology could be used for all muscle control.
But what about other vital organs?
Heart: Permanent heart replacement devices have already been used.
Kidneys: Dialysis machines have been in use for decades, and although bulky they are capable of performing the function of kidneys indefinitely. Small, implantable devices are also becoming available.
Spleen: Considering that people who have had their spleens removed for various reasons (injury, cancer or other illness) live for decades without significant health consequences, spleen doesn’t appear to be a vital organ.
Liver: Since liver is one of the few vital organs that regenerates, most of the approaches to artificial replacements have been based on biotech and regenerative technologies. Still, it would appear that Extracorporeal Liver Assistance Devices (ELADs) do already exist.
Digestive system including pancreas: Intravenous provision of nutrients for coma patients appears to have been in use for a long time. Thus, in the context of what might be considered to be a full bionic chassis, the digestive system could be omitted and the appropriate nutrients introduced into the blood stream directly.
Lungs: Artificial lungs appear to be the most problematic part. The devices available today, both the bulky external ones and the more modern implantable ones all suffer from the same problem – blood clotting. The life expectancy on the large external devices is typically around a day, while the smaller implantable ones have been able to sustain animals in trials for around 5 days before they started to introduce blood clots into the blood stream that lead to problems like stroke.
In light of all that, it would appear that ghost-in-the-shell possibility is rapidly making a transition from science fiction to science fact. Sure – we aren’t quite there yet. But it is quite amazing just how close to plausibly implementable the very concept actually is today, at least from the point of view of a layman who only has limited information available.
If you are involved in this field of research and can confirm, deny, correct, extend or elucidate any of the above points, please, do post a comment.