Artificial Body Technology in the Service of Man
When skeptics voice doubts about the viability of creating an artificial human body in the coming decades, it attests only to the fact that they are not very familiar with the scientific and technological achievements that have been made in this field of late. They fail to notice the monthly and daily news about technologies and scientific innovations being introduced that once seemed a part of the world of science fiction but that today are already benefiting people’s lives.
By Maria Tuchina
On the Harmfulness of Skepticism and the Usefulness of Imagination
Skeptics who assert that technological development is an issue of secondary importance most likely are people who have never been in need of special devices created to improve disabled people’s quality of life. There are dozens of examples of socially significant scientific discoveries and inventions helping people who require the use of artificial devices, organs and systems to live a full life, to interact with others, to work, and even to help them to be on an equal footing with the young and the strong.
Finally, when skeptics express doubts about the need to develop cybernetic organisms, robotics, and an artificial body, it speaks to the narrowness of their views on life and their lack of imagination. In this day and age, all of us are surrounded by devices designed to help us expend less effort performing certain routine activities. Let’s take a broader view: Think about the people whose professions involve daily risk, for whom danger is a regular aspect of life, such as emergency services workers, firefighters, and members of security, defense and law enforcement agencies. And as technology develops and an artificial body is invented, people will be able to go to outer space without endangering their fragile bodies; to travel to distant planets; to dive down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench; to provide news reports from the bowels of the earth . . .
How Athletes With Prosthetic Limbs Have Outpaced the Able-bodied
According to UN estimates, worldwide one person in ten is disabled—more than 650 million people. In Russia, according to official data, there are more than 10 million disabled people; according to unofficial estimates, there are actually around 15 million. Of them, more than half a million are children with disabilities, though experts believe that the true figure is in fact three times larger, around 1.5 million. These people’s lives are full of suffering and humiliation, especially in our country. But the problems of many of them can be solved right now, and the lives of others will change thanks to technologies that will appear in the near future.
Take the example of athlete Oscar Pistorius, the 2006 world champion among disabled athletes in the 100, 200 and 400 meters events. His carbon-fiber prosthetic legs have been so effective that in the opinion of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), they are the reason for his phenomenal success. The IAAF banned Pistorius from competing on the grounds that his prostheses represent “a technical device that can provide a competitive advantage.” The runner argued the IAAF’s decision in court and won. Oscar is, of course, an outstanding athlete. However, the trend is clear: there are already prosthetics that not only imitate limb function but also work at least as well as natural human limbs.
The American company Berkeley Bionics is famed for its innovations in the field of military technology. But it is truly famous for its electronic legs (eLegs). This exoskeleton designed for use by people in wheelchairs made Time magazine’s list of the 50 best inventions of 2010.
Honda has achieved notable results in the field of artificial assistants. The portable miniature exoskeleton Walking Assist Device was created to help elderly people with weak locomotor systems move around more easily. The device weighs only 2.8 kg and has a battery life of two hours when in continuous use by an operator walking at a speed of 4.5 km per hour. Honda also has a more advanced and complex load-bearing exoskeleton of the same name, only with the addendum “with Bodyweight Support System”. But the device has acquired a nickname that has stuck firmly: “cyberlegs”. The cyberlegs are easy to use—all you need to do is to put on the boots, without fastening or tying on anything else. The controls for the device are intuitive. It can be used by elderly people who have difficulty walking as well as by assembly line workers who are required to work in a squatting or half-squatting position. The cyberlegs will also assist patients in rehabilitation centers who are recovering after an operation.
How Scientists Brought the Hand Under Control
Things are more complicated when it comes to prosthetic hands. Because human hands perform many subtle manipulations, no one device has been able to duplicate all of them so far. There have been some triumphs, however. Scottish company Touch Bionics developed a robotic prosthetic wrist called the i-Limb. All the fingers of the prosthesis function individually, thanks to which a person can pick up even fragile objects with his “hand”. The user controls the device with his own muscles and brain, can match the force of his grip or other action to whatever object is being targeted, and in terms of appearance the “hand” is practically indistinguishable from a real one. The Touch Bionics prosthesis is available on the open market and despite its high price (30,000 euros), the product is already being used by several hundred people.
Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory approached the task of creating a bionic hand from a different angle. The lab was commissioned by DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, to develop a fully integrated prosthetic hand called Proto 1. The prosthesis can be connected directly to a patient’s nervous system thanks to a procedure that surgically transfers nerves to the residual limb where the prosthesis is to be attached. The capabilities of this prosthesis approximate those of a real human hand.
A mechanical hand controlled by a person’s muscles, nerves, and brain—is this not the beginning of the cyborgization of humankind? And surely no one would challenge the idea that such innovations are necessary—good health comes not only from having good genes but also from having good luck—which can disappear at any time.
How to Build a House in a Week
“Prosthetic limbs—big deal!” you might say. And you would be justified, to some extent. It is a much more difficult task to help those who are partially or fully immobilized. Every year 7,500 people in Russia sustain spinal cord injuries. Various types of exoskeletons have been developed to help people who are partially or fully paralyzed to experience the joy of movement once again. New Zealand-based Rex Bionics has developed an exoskeleton controlled by a joystick for people paralyzed from the waist down. The device makes it possible for users to walk on their own even if they formerly could not stay on their feet. And the Rex Bionics exoskeleton is not a prototype—it is already available on the market.
A real breakthrough was made, however, by Jacob Rosen of the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). His Exoskeleton Prototype 3 (EXO-UL3) is able to move in different planes and imitate up to 95% of human movements. But most importantly, the exoskeleton is controlled via neural signals from the brain. Non-invasive sensors are used to detect neurosignals that deliver commands to the muscles.
You have to admit—the results are impressive. And the next logical step is devices that will confer capabilities superior to those of the human body. What already exists today? There are the ExoHiker and ExoClimber devices that DARPA commissioned Berkeley Bionics to create. These allow American soldiers to carry significant amounts of weight over long distances and to scale steep slopes while expending less energy. And the year before last, the same company was commissioned by the American military-industrial giant Lockheed Martin to develop the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton. The flexible design allows the user to crawl, squat, and run with loads of over 90 kg. The exoskeleton is operated without a joystick, and an on-board computer registers muscle contractions, “feeling” what a soldier wants and intends to do.
Scientists have not forgotten about common workers and retirees either. At the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, they have developed a mechanized device for elderly farmers called the Power Assist Suit. The suit can bear heavy loads. Imagine that your elderly father could put up a greenhouse after winter in a matter of hours, or that your mother could carry all the canned foods for winter down to the cellar. All that could be done using one’s very own load-bearing exoskeleton (or, perhaps, one that is rented for a few days).
With cyborg and robotics technology evolving at such a pace, we can count on being able to enjoy the benefits of an exoskeleton no later than a decade from now. And you and I will keep a vegetable garden all year round.
How Brain Implants Are Saving Lives and Sustaining the Mind
The brain is the most complex system in the human body. We have not yet managed to learn everything there is to know about its resources and capabilities. But fewer and fewer secrets remain, and there are more and more answers. Evidence of this can be seen in researchers’ ability to create new, more advanced methods every year for diagnosing and treating complex illnesses such as Parkinson’s, to find ways of interacting with those who are fully paralyzed, and even to evoke a response from patients in a vegetative state.
According to available studies on the spread of Parkinson’s disease, more than six million people suffer from the disorder worldwide. Experts doubt the accuracy of that figure, however, given that in developing nations some people afflicted with such diseases are not registered. But even six million is a very large number. One of the weapons in the fight against Parkinson’s is brain implants, which stimulate non-functioning neurons with electrical impulses, provoking the neurons to work again. Another method is to redirect signals from healthy neurons to other healthy neurons in such a way that they bypass those that no longer function as a result of the disease. The method works. But here’s the trouble: implants of this kind do not function for very long. A solution to this problem has been found, however, by biomedical scientists and materials engineers at the University of Michigan. They developed a nanotech coating for the implants that helps the devices operate for a significantly longer time.
It must be said that the implanting of electrodes into the human brain is a very promising method for treating other diseases as well. Brain implants could help in combating the effects of epilepsy and clinical depression. And the work done in the field of neurosurgery to help alleviate extreme pain in patients can be considered revolutionary. Oxford professor Tipu Aziz has already tested the technique on 40 patients suffering from chronic pain that made their life unbearable. Eighty percent of those patients, quite a significant portion, experienced positive results. The technique is insufficiently precise at the moment, but researchers are working to improve it.
Interesting work has been done by researchers from the University of Edinburgh. They have developed microchips that are capable of growing neurons on a specified surface according to the necessary configuration. The research is in the early stage, but the results are already highly promising. When the scientists achieve what they have set out to, old, non-functioning neurons will be able to be replaced with new ones that have been grown. You will be able to grow as many as you need, and they will possess all the necessary neural connections. Then, the sick mind will be brought back to health and we will be able to conquer afflictions that currently spell a death sentence for people suffering from them.
How to Turn on the TV With Your Thoughts
In addition to invasive therapies for paralysis patients, the technology of neurointerfaces holds a great deal of promise as a means of communicating with such patients. For example, scientists from the American company Neural Signals have created a microchip that synthesizes speech. A 26-year-old man who was completely paralyzed as the result of an accident received one of these brain implants, and the device made it possible for the man to make simple sounds for the first time in 10 years.
New technologies not only make it possible for disabled people to communicate verbally—they also give them an opportunity to control objects around them using their thoughts.
Italian scientists from the Santa Lucia Foundation research hospital in Rome have created an experimental model for a device that will give disabled people the ability the perform simple actions using their thoughts: to open the door, to turn on the light, to pick up the telephone. The device looks like a robotic arm and is connected to the patient via non-invasive sensors that detect electric impulses in the brain. By concentrating on a given object in the room, the patient activates a computer that “understands” what the patient wants to do and performs the task. At the current stage of research, the device is able to fulfill 85% of commands.
A similar system has been developed by scientists from the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in Japan. The principle and design are the same: it uses sensors that are attached to the head, an electromagnetic receiver, and a computer that sends out signals directly to the device. In order for the computer to correctly understand the commands, the patient must think “correctly”. Every object has its own associated command; for instance, the TV could be turned on by thinking the letter “A”. It should be said that the system operates rather slowly at the moment—it takes approximately 15 seconds for a command to be fulfilled. But for someone who is paralyzed, being able to perform even the simplest actions opens up a whole world of possibilities.
And for able-bodied people, such technologies hold interest as prototypes of devices that serve as a foundation for avatar technology—an artificial body controlled remotely by a human operator via a neurointerface. First and foremost, such an avatar will be of use in places where the human body cannot handle the conditions—outer space, the ocean, the North and South Poles—as well as by people whose professions require them to put their lives at risk on a regular basis. And as the technology develops, who knows—it’s possible that one day, you will be able to relax with your wife in the Canary Islands while at the same time one of your avatars takes part in a board meeting thousands of kilometers away and another one of your avatars has a stern talk with your deadbeat son.
Devices to Keep Track of Your Blood Pressure and Perform Blood Tests
Over the last century, humankind has learned how to diagnose and treat hundreds of diseases. The opportunities that modern man has today our great grandparents could not even imagine, and our grandparents could only dream of having such advantages. The latest stage of development in medical science involves the introduction of devices that monitor and regulate an individual’s vital signs. Specialists are convinced that the future lies in personal monitoring by nanobots.
Despite the achievements of scientific progress—new medicines, techniques, and technologies—society is not becoming markedly healthier. It is possible that the bright future will never arrive just because we persistently ignore disease-prevention technologies. After all, many dangerous and even deadly diseases can be completely eliminated in the early stages, and in the majority of cases, the patient lives longer when a disease is detected early.
There are now special devices, both external and invasive, that can help you monitor your health. All manner of high-tech gadgets, nanocapsules, and implants are available that are able to monitor activity in the body, signal when problems are imminent, and even take immediate preventive measures when necessary.
Japanese company Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (in Russia we are familiar with their brand Panasonic) has developed a range of so-called “smart home” devices designed to monitor the well-being of the home’s inhabitants. For example, the company makes a toilet that collects a person’s urine in the morning, performs an analysis of it, and sends the results to the person’s doctor by e-mail.
British scientists from the University of Sussex have developed electric potential sensors that can record an EKG or EEG without direct physical contact, picking up signals from a person’s muscles or nerve fibers. And the smart chip produced by the Canadian company Zarlink Semiconductor not only monitors a person’s main vital signs—pulse, blood pressure, insulin levels, and so on—but also has the ability to dial 911 and call for help in emergency situations. The chip can be implanted directly into a person’s body but also works at a distance of up to two meters.
And what would you think about a portable gadget the size of a cell phone that does blood analysis in a matter of minutes?! Precisely such a device was built by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The little instrument was not actually designed for use by mere mortals—it will be used to monitor the health of astronauts in space. But make no mistake: an innovation this useful will make it into common use sooner or later.
Russian scientists were cheered for their invention of a device that monitors blood coagulation. The device, called a Tromboimager, determines the risk of thrombosis in a matter of minutes. The company that makes the device plans to begin mass production in 2012.
For those who suffer from asthma, there is good news from the company Siemens. Engineers from the company have developed a portable device that warns a person of an approaching attack up to a day before it begins. The device measures the level of nitrogen oxide in the air the person is breathing and uses that reading to estimate how inflamed his bronchi are. The user will know in advance that an attack is likely and will be able to take the appropriate steps to prevent it. It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of this device given that more than 300 million people around the world currently suffer from asthma and more than 100,000 people die annually from effects of the disease.
A group of scientists from Johns Hopkins University has directed its energies toward fighting another common ailment that, while not as life-threatening as asthma, is unpleasant nonetheless: snoring. The researchers have created an invasive device that uses electrical muscle stimulation to lower the air pressure in a person’s nasopharynx, causing his respiratory pathways to expand.
There are many other diagnostic devices also available on the market today: a fitness assistant that monitors an athlete’s breathing; intelligent scales that determine a person’s ideal weight to the ounce and measure a person’s body mass index (those have been available for quite some time); a portable device for diagnosing cancer. What will be the next stage of development? It will of course be intelligent invasive devices that measure one’s blood pressure and take one’s temperature and administer medicine for any ailment intravenously—a kind of “nano-ambulance” made of nanotech parts. And in truth, prototypes of such implants already exist.
On the Implantation of Artificial Organs and Tissues
The implantation of artificial organs, muscles, bones and other systems is a topic for a separate large article. But it would not be right to ignore the topic completely in this overview. More than 100,000 organ transplants and more than 200,000 human tissue and cell transplants are performed annually in the world. That includes up to 26,000 kidney transplants, 8,000-10,000 liver transplants, 2,700-4,500 heart transplants, 1,500 lung transplants, and 1,000 pancreas transplants. The U.S. leads the world in the number of transplants performed. U.S. doctors perform around 10,000 kidney transplants every year, while in Russia, for comparison, only 500-800 such operations are performed annually. In the U.S. there are 4,000 liver transplants performed annually (in Russia, 5-10 operations a year) and 2,000 heart transplants (in Russia, the figure is hundreds of times worse, with only 4-5 transplants a year despite a demand of around 1,500).
So what exactly does the future hold when it comes to artificial organs and tissues? Specialists in the field are very optimistic, and their optimism is affirmed by the achievements of modern science. Canadian scientists have created a polymer that possesses the qualities of muscle tissue. In the future it could serve as an implant for growing human muscle cells. Scientists have now successfully created the first artificial tendons, the first artificial skin with sweat glands, and the first artificial facial muscles. We have written frequently about bioprinters that “print” organs made of living cells. In November of last year, surgeons from the city of Omsk performed the first operations to implant artificial hearts in patients with severe heart failure. Another unique technology has been created by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco: the first implantable artificial kidney. In the future this device consisting of a thousand microfilters will be able to be used to treat hundreds of thousands of people awaiting hemodialysis. Another technology that is no longer science fiction is a biological microchip that stimulates the functioning of a living lung. There are even prototypes of an artificial pancreas, which is welcome news for the 100 million people in the world who suffer from diabetes.
The devices that have been developed to help ease the lives of blind people seem truly out of the world of science fiction. An artificial retina, artificial cornea, a non-visual interface for driving a car, optic implants, and even a bionic eye—all of these already exist.
Conclusion: How Science is Helping the Common Man
It is of course impossible to describe in one article everything that has been achieved in the fields of cyborgization, robotics, neurointerfaces, and artificial organ technology. Moreover, every day the scientific world is shaken by news of even more incredible feats performed by scientists. The world is changing, and we are changing with it. Technologies that seemed infeasible a few dozen years ago are now entering the lives of everyday people. Useful devices that were once enormous in size are now small enough to fit inside your jacket pocket. People without legs are being given the ability to walk, the blind—the ability to see. This is modern reality—fantastical reality, if you like.
The "2045" Initiative is not simply a community of optimistic science geeks. It is a real plan of action—a collaboration among leading specialists brought together by a common overarching goal: to construct an artificial human body. Imagine the dozens of innovations that could be achieved—artificial organs, advanced prostheses—and the hundreds of discoveries made—prototypes and devices that will benefit all. Are you still unconvinced that scientific progress will benefit you, too? Fortunately, the march of progress is unaffected by the pessimism of skeptics who lack imagination. Scientists will continue to do what they do.
/ About us
Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.
The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies.
The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.
A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.
The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.
An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.
Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society
The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.
Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning bodily life. Such technologies will greatly enlarge the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make all kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.
Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence, expand human capabilities and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times. The final result at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.
This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive! Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.
Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots will become affordable and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however: humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover, prerequisites for a large-scale expansion into outer space will be created as well.
Key elements of the project in the future
• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of the project of "Immortality”.