Human Augmentation: Pick Your Implant

If you thought getting your nose pierced or your back tattooed was rad, think again.

Just the beginning

We live in an era where computers, smartphones and technology, in general, is omnipresent – informing, impacting and defining our lives at every step. The digitalisation and automation of processes allows us to create concepts and devices, capable of overshadowing even Jules Verne’s wildest dreams. In the course of the next 20 to 30 years, more significant tech changes will occur than in the past 2,000. Some predict the changes could be more sweeping than throughout the entire history of mankind. All of this – thanks to the advances in digital technology and microchips that seem to be getting smaller by the minute. Their application is limitless and what we’re currently experiencing is only scratching the surface of their potential.

The age of the superhuman

Humans are at the beginning of their next great era as a species. If you own a smartphone or a smartwatch like most people today, you are already augmented. Often, we get asked questions that we can’t answer off the top of our heads. Most of us immediately jump to our phones and use search engines or voice-enabled assistants to find the correct answer or launch a calendar app to check our agenda and confirm our availability for an event. We no longer have to remember practically any data – it is all at our fingertips, ears, eyes… presented back to us in the way we prefer.

Inseparable already

Even though smartphones are not physically attached or wired to our bodies (yet), we use them to enhance our cognition (the process of learning or acquiring knowledge). And some heavy users are practically tethered to them, going to bed and waking up with their handhelds by their side. What if smart technology becomes a part of the human body in the form of an implant next? If we’re so dependent on microcomputers to survive in a digital world, embedding chips in our bodies doesn’t seem like such an incredible idea. Dogs have had them in for ages, after all.

Applications in medicine

The Cochlear implant that replaces the function of a damaged inner ear has been safely used by hearing-impaired patients for decades, just like cardiac stimulators or bionic eyes, the latter technically rendering their hosts-- eyeborgs. Essential to prevention and early disease detection are the new carbon nanotube sensors, capable of recognising diseases in their early stages from a single drop of blood. In medical facility environments, RFID chip implants can be used to store the medical information and vital biodata of patients, ensuring doctors can always access the latest data when treating patients.

Beyond medicinal implants

How do you know if your colleague or friend isn’t secretly recording your conversation if they’re an eyeborg? While recording video, bionic eyes typically light up a bright red LED to notify unknowing or unwilling actors nearby that their facers could end up on YouTube. This isn’t unlike a scene from the then-futuristic Terminator series, where Arnie replaces his damaged bionic arm on his own. A similar idea was implemented in real life in 2014 when a Swedish track driver went through an operation to wire a bionic prosthetic arm to his nervous system. There are many other examples of life-saving or function-enhancing implants, each more curious than the previous, like a colour-blind person with an antenna implanted in his head, which allows him to “hear” and recognise colours based on sound frequencies. There are also chest implants, allowing users to artificially sense Earth’s direction through device vibrations, as well as earthquake sensors grafted to the shoulders of quake-wary users.

What could possibly be next?

Whatever our imagination can come up with in terms of exoskeletons and possibilities for human augmentation, the reality will surely be wilder. We can expect wider implementations of existing technology, such as the exoskeleton TALOS (prototype of a military suit), commissioned by the United States Special Operations Command, which shields the wearer from bullets, facilitates heavy lifting and provides him/her with insights about their environment, supplied by a variety of sensors via a head-up display built into the helmet. As with many other inventions previously designed for military purposes, its simplified version will be available to the public to help with heavy weight lifting in factories, for example.

Ethical implications

The minification of Google glass in the form of contact lens implants is making the use of augmented devices more conspicuous than ever. In the more distant future, we may see memory implants hard-wired to the brain for faster learning, or increasing memory capacity to practically limitless. There’s also talk of developing small processors to increase the computational capability of human brains but how human will that make us when it happens? One thing’s for sure, no man will ever again be able to use the excuse ‘’sorry honey, I forgot.’’ 

Copywriter: Ina Danova
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