Evolutionary Enhancements?


More and more people are becoming more comfortable with sticking things in and on their bodies. Sooner or later people will live their lives through a robot as fantasized in Bruce Willis’ Surrogates. But not me and I so grateful that day seems to be far from now. But in the world of prosthetics there are some real fascinating upgrades taking place. Some might say that it is impeding or speeding up our evolutionary growth as a species.

Most people have heard about the man they call “Blade Runner.” Oscar Pistorius is a South African Paralympic runner who may be the first amputee to run in the Olympics. He was tested by the International Association of Athletics Federations to see if he had an advantage over other contestants. And it was concluded that his unique ‘cheetah legs’ gave him a 30% advantage over natural legged runners. (IAAF.com) Because his legs don’t have to spend as much energy to perform the speeds required for Olympic racing, he has been disqualified.

Oscar Pistorius

“The energy loss in the prosthetic blade was measured at 9.3% during the stance phase while the average energy loss in the ankle joint of the able bodied control athletes was measured at 41.4%.” (IAAF)

In my opinion he should not be able to compete because someone else crafted his legs that way. It’s not like he worked to get his legs to that condition they are there and will always be there. I understand that he has to workout to stay in prime condition to run. But those legs would give him that advantage at every race. If other racers with natural legs are not allowed to use stimulants to give themselves an advantage, then why should he be able to use the legs that give him that advantage? If they could modify his legs to make his body spend the same amount of energy, then he should be able to race. Those legs have given him an amazing gift but he wants to use that gift unfairly. I’m not saying he is a bad devious person. However it just wouldn’t be fair.

Speaking of gifts Touch Bionics has developed the i-LIMB hand. It is the first prosthetic hand with five individually powered digits. The i-LIMB Hand was made using cutting-edge mechanical engineering techniques and high-strength plastics. One of the most impressive factors is the modular design. Resulting in a device that is lightweight and can be easily disassembled for repairs and replacements. And because of the separate motors in the digits both basic and complex movements can be accomplished. Whereas, previous hand prosthetics could really only open and close, the i-LIMB Hand allows many different grip patterns. These new grip options enhance dexterity and support almost all daily living activities such as holding key, coins, handles and even typing. This technology is incredible it relies on two small metal electrode plates, which detect the minute electrical signals in the remaining limb muscle. Usually one electrode is placed on the top of the forearm and the other on the bottom. The software inside of the hand reads the electrical signals and performs the desired action. (TouchBionics.com)

But the most exciting for me is the new developments for the blind. A Boston neuroscientist is working on a device that would send images directly to the brain. His technique is based on bypassing the damaged eye parts and going directly to the part of the brain that would receive the visual information. The user would wear pair of eyeglasses with digital cameras in them. Those would then connect to an array of electrodes implanted in the brain. This is still in the very early stages. Scientists are not exactly sure about how the brain could or would receive digital video. Our retina is much more complex than any digital camera. The device has two major obstacles to overcome one the interface between the camera and the brain and two the surgery required to attach the implant to the brain. As I said before, this is still very far from human testing but the implications of this could be incredible. (ScientificAmerican.com)

All these prosthetics have offered these people the chance to do things they weren’t able to do before. However where they differ is their uses. The i-LIMB and the Visual Prosthesis both serve to give their users their inherent natural/normal abilities back. The ‘cheetah legs’ don’t only serve to give him the ability to walk. They actually are designed to give Oscar the perfect “running shoes.” There are perfectly good leg prosthesis out there such as the C-Leg, the Jaipur Foot, and the Ecko Unltd Leg. But the ones that Oscar has were built for athletes and they are engineered to give him prime output. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad he has been given the opportunity to compete in the Paralympics and a chance at the Olympics. But they have tested it and it hasn’t gone in his favor. He needs to accept it. Prosthetics are amazing ways to adapt to life, a perfect blend of biological and technological systems.

References:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/01/amputee-sprinte/

http://www.iaaf.org/news/kind=512/newsid=42896.html#oscar+pistorius+independent+scientific+study+concludes+that+cheetah+prosthetics+offer+clear+mechanical+advantages

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.03/blade.html?pg=2&topic=blade&topic_set=

http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/12/21/the-worlds-most-advanced-bionic-hand/

http://www.touchbionics.com/professionals.php?pageid=77&section=5

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=implantable-visual-prosthetic

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