Deus Ex is a cult computer game that allows players to modify their avatar with bio technology to allow them to better perform certain tasks. This could be anything from increased speed to better problem solving potential.
It is strictly a sci-fi dream in this case, but are we slowly moving towards this idea? Could it be possible to enhance how humans function through implanted technology?
Well, we are actually closer than many would believe.
This kind of technology is making leaps and bounds within the rehabilitation of people with severe injuries. This is beyond the relatively simple use of existing prosthetics and moves into a far more complicated world.
The best example of this that is widely known about is from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Here they have utilized an electronic implants on the spine called E-Dura alongside monoamine agonists, which are drugs used to stimulate nerve receptors.
How this works is by rebuilding the broken nerve connections between the brain and the damaged nerves below the injury. It is essentially going against the regular rehabilitation process by not only working the affected limbs, but also rebuilding the nerve connection to the brain.
At the moment this has been tested only on lab rats, but the results have been overwhelming positive, with full use of previously paralyzed limbs being restored. We are yet to see human clinical trials, which will be considerably more complex, but early signs on animal subjects has given the company hope.
We have also seen the previously prohibitively price of prosthetics being broken down thanks to new technologies. This has been done through the use of 3D printers, reducing the price from thousands of dollars down to as low as $20.
Through the use of crowd sourcing and a community that has a passion for building prosthetic designs for those in need, E-Nable have matched children born without hands or fingers with designers who can design and print prosthetics. They are hoping to take this to countries who really need it, ie Rwanda where war has left thousands with amputations and no infrastructure or money to buy them.
Both of these examples are for people who have severe damage to their body and attempts to bring back the kind of mobility that they had prior to their injuries. However, there are examples of people looking to enhance what we can do as humans through implanted technology.
One of the early example of this is from an office building in Sweden.
At Epicenter in Stockholm, rather than needing cards or passcode to open many of the doors, the can instead be done through a microchip implanted in your hand. At the moment it is only a simple RFID device though, which can open doors and be used on the photocopier. It is around the size of a grain of rice and is easily injected under the skin. Although the current usage of these is limited, in future they are hoping that people can use them to pay for goods and services.
What is particularly interesting about these is not that they are being used, but why.
The ability to open doors, pay for goods or make photocopies is not going to be enough for most people to have something put into their body, which is something that they are aware of. Instead of the benefits of using these chips, they are instead claiming to be early adopters who will have a thorough knowledge of this technology when bigger companies want to implement these kinds of technology. Essentially, the people who will be using this chip are the early adopter guinea pigs.
So are we likely to see this kind of technology in the future?
In terms of medical research, we are certainly likely to see this kind of work being done more frequently. Not only because it is interesting, but because people are clamouring for it. In the articles that I read discussing the medical uses for this kind of technology, many of the comments were ‘please test this out on me’, showing that people want it.
In terms of microchips, we are some way off people being willing to inject themselves with technology just to save a few seconds to pay for something or open a door. However, this is not to say that this is not going to be done in future, after all if I had told somebody 20 years ago that almost everybody I know willingly posts almost every piece of information about them online so that anybody could see it, they would have thought I was lying.