News from down under, original article here
”THE first generation of cyborgs is alive, well, [and] walking among us,” says Roger Clarke, a visiting professor at the school of computer science at the Australian National University.
Heart pacemakers and mechanical hands have been the ”leading wave” in a rapid process of cyborgisation – the development of high-tech implants and prostheses that will benefit many people but will also raise new issues for society, Professor Clarke said.
Already the deaf can hear with cochlear implants. Deep brain implants that alleviate the disabling tremors of Parkinson’s disease are also in use.
On the horizon are bionic eyes to let the blind see, and muscle implants that could allow paraplegics to stand and even walk, said Rob Shepherd, director of the Bionic Ear Institute and professor of medical bionics at the University of Melbourne.
”Brain-machine interfaces” that will let quadriplegic patients control devices with their mind are also being tested in the US. And in Australia, researchers are developing brain implants that can detect the onset of epileptic seizures and suppress them. They are also exploring new electrically conducting plastics that could stimulate and guide nerve fibres to repair spinal cords.
”The field of medical bionics is rapidly expanding,” Professor Shepherd said. ”The thing we get excited about is that Australia is at the forefront.”
Technologies developed here for pacemakers and cochlear implants can be transferred to many conditions where nerves have been damaged and need to be stimulated, he said.
They include hermetic sealing of implants so they are not damaged by body fluids, interfaces between living tissue and man-made materials, and wireless transmission of signals.
Professor Clarke, of Xamax Consultancy, who will be a key speaker at a conference on technology and society in Wollongong this week, said researchers also had an obligation to raise an urgent alert about the possible impacts of their work.
”Cyborgisation will give rise to demands for new rights,” he said, such as using devices to enhance, not just restore function.
The risk of inequitable access to beneficial developments was high, as was a possible backlash against devices regarded as unnatural or potentially harmful. Dr Greg Adamson, the Australia chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Society on the Social Implications of Technology, said medical implants to monitor bodily functions would also raise issues of privacy and questions about who owned the information generated