The human body, just ask any athlete or astronaut, is malleable. But the speed at which our physiology can be naturally reshaped is slow compared to the fast fixes that technology can give. When you can hold a search engine on your wrist, why bother with years of memory training? Our species may increasingly depend on much more invasive and permanent devices as augmentation improves.
There’s no lack of characters in science fiction who are enhanced by some kind of machinery. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, wears an electric device inside his chest that keeps him alive and controls his metal suits. When Luke Skywalker of Star Wars lost his hand in a lightsaber battle, he replaced it easily with a mechanical hand that worked just like the original and even looked just like it. And Imperator Furiosa wears a dangerous-looking metal prosthetic arm in the 2015 film “Mad Max: Fury Lane,” which appears to have been built from bits of power instruments, and which she uses to cement her reputation as a formidable warrior.
When our devices get under our skin and make us reexamine what it means to be human, here’s what happens.
- Curing Cancers
With CAR-T treatment, oncologists have already managed to bring certain kinds of cancer into remission. It works by collecting the T-cells (a type of white blood cell) of a patient, adding a receptor that targets their cancer to the outside and then reinfusing them back into the body. Theoretically, since the reengineered cells reproduce on their own, they may provide long-term protection against that form of cancer, preventing any potential recurrences.
2. Altering Genes
A relatively easy-touse gene-editing technique, CRISPR, could provide an escape from ailments that for eons have plagued us. It can cut through DNA, cut out faulty segments and insert healthier replacements. It is likely that people will be cured of genetic diseases in the foreseeable future, but the ethics of pre-birth improvements are more murky: unintended side effects of a DNA tweak on eggs or sperm could ripple through future generations.
3. Hearing Color
Artist Neil Harbisson witnessed the universe in shades of gray before 2004. The Eyeborg, a light-detection sensor that is now surgically attached to his skull, was then developed by him and a friend. This converts sound frequencies into electromagnetic light waves around him, converting color into musical notes. Researchers discovered that it could have helped Harbisson develop new links between the auditory and visual areas of his brain after he used the system for eight years.
4. Open the Door
For decades, pets have had implantable microchips, but human beings have recently experimented with sticking tags for radiofrequency identification (RFID) into their own bodies. In order to open your car door or unlock your phone, you can program such inserts. Similar tags could also monitor your vital signs one day. But advancement is slow. In the untrodden territories of biological data storage, privacy issues abound, plus updates are a hassle.
5. Detecting Magnetic and Electric Fields
A fun party trick is levitating paper clips, but when body hackers embed tiny magnets into their fingertips, extrasensory perception is the main target. They feel a tiny pull within the augmented digit each time users travel through a magnetic or electric field, like those emitted by speakers and microwaves. The sensation could be used by more advanced future sensors to encode information about all sorts of otherwise invisible powers.
6. Replacing Limbs
Ok, this is the Luke Skywalker enhancement. It would feel like the perfect prosthetic was still part of your body. Osseointegration allows for that. A direct link between the bone and the artificial appendage allows for greater mobility, flexibility and comfort, as deep integration ensures that devices can move and adapt to the body as the bone evolves. Over time, most conventional prosthetics that connect to the body with a socket just become less secure.
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