More in our ongoing future technology series.
Afghanistan and Iraq have brought about a huge increase in the advancement of prosthetics and body implants. This was actually brought about by the increased effectiveness of body armor, protecting soldiers from being killed, but at the perceived sacrifice of extremities.
As late as the American Civil War, very little was known about the human body and infections were responsible for the loss of most human life. When infections were finally being combatted with antibiotics, helmets began appearing, to protect a soldier’s head. Body armor only came into somewhat common use in the 1990s and the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made its use mandatory. I recall in 1994 wearing body armor when entering Haiti and it was… agony. Hot, heavy and cumbersome. I don’t recall when I turned it back in to supply, but it couldn’t have been soon enough.
Even with body armor, heads, arms and legs are not protected as well as the torso. If you watched the movie “Blackhawk Down”, the body armor was so heavy that some decided to leave it behind – leading to a loss of life in many cases. Helmets protect much of the head but the face and neck are still exposed. The arms and legs are still totally exposed, so explosions, shrapnel and bullets do severe damage. This caused a huge increase in research and development of prosthetic limbs, their functionality and upgrades.
•Prosthetic legs, arms lifelike, computer enabled. Imagine a prosthetic hand which you can control with your mind, to grip something gently. That is a huge increase in functionality and gives a huge increase in quality of life. Much of the subtle movements and feedback in a prosthetic limb is enabled by the use of computer circuitry.
•Neural and future brain implants streamline movement. Many prosthetics move through the use of neural implants, replacing older muscle-tension sensors. The closer we get to neural implants and eventually brain implants, the closer we are to ‘hacking the brain’. We now know much of where certain muscle groups are controlled, but there is so much more we do not know. Our knowledge of the human body, especially the brain, is nascent. Predictions are hopeful that we should have near perfect knowledge of the human body in ten to fifteen years.
•Retinal implants will restore vision. We now have ballistic protection for soldiers’ eyes but still, we lose too many eyes. I have a friend with eye damage, her collection of eye prosthetics is impressive. I am starting to hear and seeing prototypes for artificial eyes with visible, IR and even UV sensors. I believe the bump in the log is splicing into the optic nerve so that the brain can see and sense an image.
•I have not heard about security, have you? As our prosthetics come closer and closer to actually interfacing with the human body, with nerves, with the actual brain, we cannot have security as an afterthought. Not only must we prevent damage to the human body, but we must protect the knowledge contained within the human brain. Also, we can never forget that anything brought into a commercial or a sensitive area may be used for corporate or intelligence espionage.
Hack the brain? Eventually, but we are fairly safe for another ten years or so. Ten years. Think how little time that is in the meantime until our very brains will become unique vulnerable targets.