Category Archives: New Abilities

“Superhuman” exhibition showcases human enhancement through history, into the future

“Superhuman” – an exhibit currently showing at The Wellcome Collection in London – is showcasing art and displays focused on human enhancement throughout our history. The undeniably transhumanist exhibition will also examine how technology “stretches our ability to perform in the world.” From the site:

Glasses, lipstick, false teeth, the contraceptive pill and even your mobile phone – we take for granted how commonplace human enhancements are. Current scientific developments point to a future where cognitive enhancers and medical nanorobots will be widespread as we seek to augment our beauty, intelligence and health.

Superhuman takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists such as Matthew Barney and scientists, ethicists and commentators working at the cutting edge of this most exciting, and feared, area of modern science.

“Superhuman” will run through October 16, 2012.

“Blade Runner” to compete at 2012 Olympics

Track athlete Oscar Pistorius – a double amputee nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of the prosthetic carbon fiber “blades” he uses for competition – has been selected by South Africa’s Olympic committee and national track federation to run the individual 400m and the 4×400 meter relay at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The announcement comes after Pistorius originally missed out on qualifying for the individual 400m by only 0.22 seconds.

From AP:

Olympic committee chief executive Tubby Reddy tells The Associated Press that the track body asked for permission to also allow Pistorius to run the 400, even though he had not met their qualifying criteria.

The 25-year-old Pistorius, who runs on carbon fiber blades, called it “one of the proudest days of my life.”

Pistorius will be the first amputee track athlete in history to compete at the Olympics. The world will be watching.

Google unveils concept video for augmented reality glasses

Earlier this year several media outlets reported that Google was working on a pair of Android-powered augmented reality “goggles” that would overlay information on their user’s visual field. Today, Google officially acknowledged the project, called “Project Glass,” and unveiled a concept video that shows how this device might allow people to more seamlessly view and capture information:

I know a first generation product like this will have bugs to work out, but I still want a pair so bad.

“Artificial pancreas” enters U.S. clinical trials

For diabetics, the days of having to prick a finger to draw blood, measure blood glucose with a monitor and administer insulin via hypodermic syringe may soon be in the past. Although accurate glucose monitors and insulin pumps have existed for many years, a new “artificial pancreas” combines these components – along with a small computer – into a wearable unit that can continually monitor the body’s insulin levels and uses an algorithm to calculate the appropriate amount of insulin to administer.

The consequences of poorly-managed diabetes can be dire. In the short-term, low blood glucose can lead to emergency situations like diabetic seizures or comas. In the long-term, complications of diabetes can range from neuropathy to foot ulcers.

Being able to use an accurate, all-in-one device to keep blood glucose levels in check is a crucial development not only from a convenience standpoint, but also removes the element of human error in determining how much insulin to administer. In fact, one clinical trial participant who is testing the artificial pancreas noted that when he estimated his insulin dosages, “his glucose levels were out of the recommended range four times more often than when the algorithm did the work.”

The artificial pancreas is expected to be approved by the U.S. FDA in the next three to five years.

Monkeys control virtual arm and “feel” virtual textures through thought

For the first time, researchers at Duke University have demonstrated a brain-machine-brain interface in monkeys that enabled the subjects to manipulate a virtual arm in a computer program and discern various “textures” of visually identical virtual objects through thought alone.

Each monkey received continuous electrical signals directly to their motor neurons that enabled them to move their avatar’s arm. By delivering different patterns of electrical signals to sensory neurons, researchers were able to simulate various sensations of texture for the on-screen objects.

Study lead Miguel Nicolelis, MD, PhD, says he hopes the research will be used to help disabled individuals achieve improved mobility:

“Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton,” said study leader Miguel Nicolelis, MD, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering. …

“We hope that in the next few years this technology could help to restore a more autonomous life to many patients who are currently locked in without being able to move or experience any tactile sensation of the surrounding world,” Nicolelis said.

Study results were published today in the journal Nature.


New iPhone’s killer app – voice controlled personal assistant

Casual observers of this morning’s new iPhone 4S announcement might be disappointed in the device’s hardware upgrades. Essentially, Apple took the iPhone 4, dropped in a new chip (the same silicon that powers the iPad 2), a better camera, and some new internals and called it a day. However, they also announced a new functionality that could change the way many of us interact with our phones – “intelligent assistant” software called Siri.

On stage, Apple CEO Tim Cook demonstrated Siri’s abilities, which make it possible to perform a number of tasks through vocal commands and questions, including looking up information, scheduling meetings, obtaining restaurant recommendations (and making reservations) or sending text messages .

However, voice control has been around for years, and hasn’t caught on. So why should Siri be different? The apparent beauty of Siri is that the software is intelligent enough to understand what a user is asking even if the question isn’t completely direct. In other words, it allows humans to speak naturally rather than tailor their speech patterns to the machine.

For instance, many types of software might be able to provide an answer to “What will the weather be like today?” The thing is, humans don’t always ask questions like that. We might ask, “Should I wear a raincoat today?” Siri can determine you’re actually asking about the weather, and provide the appropriate response.

By itself, Siri is a neat trick, but it becomes useful when paired with Internet resources like Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, Google Maps, OpenTable, and so on. If it works as advertised, Siri may be the first time a gadget has delivered on the promise of legitimately useful voice control.

Next step in fast evolution of tissue engineering: 3D-printed capillaries

A team of German researchers claims to have found success in creating artificial capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the body, via a 3D printer. These capillaries could be used to provide blood to lab grown organs in the future. From the BBC:

To print something as small and complex as a blood vessel, the scientists combined the 3D printing technology with two-photon polymerisation – shining intense laser beams onto the material to stimulate the molecules in a very small focus point.

The material then becomes an elastic solid, allowing the researchers to create highly precise and elastic structures that would be able to interact with a human body’s natural tissue.

So that the synthetic tubes do not get rejected by the living organism, their walls are coated with modified biomolecules.

Such biomolecules are also present in the composition of the “inks” used for the blood vessel printer, combined with synthetic polymers.

The team that developed this technique will be showing off their new technology at Biotechnica 2011 in October.

Scientists have been looking toward 3D organ printing as a potential path forward for tissue engineering for years, and with researchers on the verge of figuring out how to replace filing kidneys with 3D-printed versions (and having already used similar technology to replace bladders), humans are close to a day where we don’t have to worry about organ donor shortages or take anti-rejection drugs to live with transplanted organs.

That day can’t come soon enough.

“Eyeborg” documentary spotlights real-life cyborgs

I’ve been pretty enthralled with the new Deus Ex: Human Revolution video game, which takes place in a near-future world where humans are beginning to throw off the shackles of biology through non-biological “augmentations” – think bionic limbs, neural implants, artificial eyes, and so on that surpass the capabilities of the parts they’re replacing.

To promote the game, publisher Square Enix enlisted “real-life cyborg” Rob Spence, a.k.a. “Eyeborg,” to create a short documentary of people who are on the cutting edge of prosthetics technology.

Spence is notable for having replaced a missing eye – lost in a firearms accident – with a wireless video camera, which he uses to capture low-resolution video footage. In this mini-documentary he speaks with individuals who have benefited from advanced prosthetics, as well as those who engineer them, and splices in footage from his eye throughout.

It’s an interesting way to promote a video game, and a reminder of how far we’ve come with prosthetics. After all, it wasn’t long ago when the standard-issue “replacement” for a missing hand was a hook. We’ve got a long way to go before people start abandoning their natural body parts for human-made replacements, but it may not be so far-fetched a concept in the near future.

Ad campaign for “Deus Ex” shows commercials for transhuman future

The upcoming video game “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” takes place in a future where bionic limbs and organs are for sale – and are superior to the ones humans are born with. In the game, the player character works for a manufacturer of replacement body parts, called Serif Sarif Industries.

This fictional commercial for Serif Sarif shows a place where synthetic eyes can snap and send a photo with a thought, where bionic hands are capable of playing masterpieces on the piano, and where bionic arms give you the ability to throw a perfect spiral. (Notably, they don’t show the protagonist’s ability to produce retractable blades from his elbows or machine guns from his arms.)

While the commercial is fake, I hope to soon see a day when the technology on display is real.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is scheduled to be released August 23, 2011.

Source: Kotaku

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter a13ph for correcting my spelling. It’s “Sarif,” not “Serif.” I work too much with fonts, I think.

Surgical robot folds tiny paper airplane the size of a U.S. penny

Ever wonder about the dexterity and precision of a da Vinci surgical robot? If so, watch this video of a surgeon based out of Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center transform a tiny piece of paper into a perfectly folded paper airplane about the length of a U.S. penny.

I couldn’t help but notice how fluidly the surgeon operates the controls of the machine – like an extension of his body.

Source: SeattlePI