With the recent release of the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, my mind has turned to the upcoming options for our cyborg futures. Though the augmented reality experienced by Deus Ex’s protagonist is still a ways off, other options are far closer than you might think.
Believe it or not, this is already a reality. A filmmaker who lost vision in his eye chose to have it replaced with a camera with full video recording options. Unfortunately, the eye is not connected to the optic nerve and therefore does not provide actual vision. Instead, the camera records the information and he can review it later.
To date there has been relatively little progress in the area of creating prosthetic legs with the full functionality of a real leg. There have been several clever solutions, like the wooden foot — known as Jaipur Foot from India — which solve the problem well enough at an economic level, but almost all options have difficulties, particularly with stairs. Most prostheses in this area function without directly communicating with the body in any way but instead by “cheating” and using either gravity or internal chips and sensors to determine when the leg bends. Robotic legs are relatively underdeveloped compared to robotic arms but are receiving more and more popularity, such as being featured in the second season episode of Glee in the form of a paraplegic support suit.
This type of device substitutes a motor, sensory or cognitive function within the body. Science is a long way off from creating a series of upgrades for a person to purchase commercially, but there are some areas where the designs of the future can already be seen. A variety of hearing prostheses used to amplify sound could already be theoretically used to give a person better than average hearing, albeit at the cost of increased sensitivity to sound. Implantable devices are already on the way for regulation of some bodily functions, such as bladder control and even insulin regulation.
Robotic limbs of all sorts
The handy addition to Deus Ex making it an exciting action game, beyond a philosophical discussion about transhumanism, is the robotic limbs that greatly extend the capabilities of many of the main characters. Motor neuroprostheses are still in the early stages, however, and often require a great deal of bulky equipment and cords that would be impractical for everyday use. Despite this, there has been a great deal of progress in this field with individuals gaining control of new limbs and even regaining sensory feedback, something that is a must if this technology is going to succeed.
The world of Deus Ex is definitely a long way off. Current limitations in technology create situations where no one is going to opt for prosthetic replacements if they have fully functioning limbs and capabilities. This is largely due to the fact that in the vast majority of situations, all current technologies either under-perform natural body parts or have an integral flaw otherwise limiting them — cords, battery life or over-sensitivity to stimuli are good examples. The fact that technology is continuing to progress in this area has been a godsend for some, however, and the field continues to be interesting and highly exciting.