This news fascinated and disturbed me: Harvard Scientists Create ‘Cyborg’ Flesh That Blurs The Line Between Man And Machine. What was once purely science fiction is beginning to become fact.
These researchers have been able to create an electronic network of nano-wires and transistors, then grow artificial tissues over the network. The network can then detect the electrical activity of the cells.
So far they have grown rat neurons, heart tissue and muscle, as well as a 1.5cm human blood vessel. The heart tissue began rhythmically contracting just like a real heart, and the electrical activity of the contractions was measured through the embedded network.
Their next planned step is to have the network send signals to the neurons, to control their activity.
My mind has been boggling with the possibilities since I read this on the weekend. Assuming that all network materials are bio-compatible, a suitable power supply is available (genetically engineered electrocytes, anyone?), consider some possibilities:
- A subcutaneous computer.
- An artificial retina, to restore sight to the blind (assuming a light-sensing component).
- A heads-up display embedded in the retina (assuming a light-emitting component, such as LEDs).
- A retinal image recorder (assuming a mass data storage or data transmission capability).
- A direct audio feed to the auditory nerve, to restore hearing to the deaf, or as part of an embedded communications device (assuming a radio transceiver capability) or music player.
- Spinal cord injury repair by routing nerve signals around the damage, to restore full movement to paraplegics and quadriplegics.
- Bypass of sensory and motor signal transmission neurons with wired connections, to repair nerve damage, or to shorten reaction times.
- Direct brain interfaces, for various purposes—memory enhancement, translation of thoughts to device commands or audio output directly to an embedded communications device, monitoring and control of emotions.
Forget about carrying a smartphone, mp3 player or tablet.
Of course, it will be years before this technology is ready for human trials, and more years before approval by the FDA and other national regulatory bodies. But the real question is when it will be available on the black market from medical tourism locations like India. And I can’t help but wonder how much further along military researchers might be (they’re often a decade or two ahead of what is known publicly).
Welcome to Cyberpunk!
- Harvard researchers create cyborg tissues (news.techeye.net)
- Harvard scientists grow human cells onto nanowire scaffold to form ‘cyborg’ skin (engadget.com)
- Paging Lieutenant Commander Data: Harvard Bioengineers Create ‘Cyborg Flesh’ (betabeat.com)
- Cyborgs in Cambridge? Harvard Comes One Step Closer to Creating Half Man, Half Machine (bostinno.com)
- The Future is Here: Cyborg Flesh! (storiesbywilliams.com)