The age of bionic men? Science fiction has already been overtaken by medicine

 

Share
Related Topics

In medieval Jewish folklore it was an artificial creature called the golem, in 19th-century England it was Frankenstein’s monster and in 1970s America it was a bionic man. Throughout the ages, we have been fascinated by the fictional portrayal of living creatures created or enhanced by synthetic or inanimate materials.

Humans have been enhancing their own limbs and natural abilities with guile and technology since the invention of the wheel. What better way to move faster and further than to ride a bicycle, a beautifully simple way of augmenting leg muscles?

But it is only in the past few decades that we have been able to replace hands, arms and legs with prosthetic devices that match or even exceed the real thing in terms of performance, although we still have some way to go before achieving aesthetic perfection.

Of course no one in their right mind would volunteer to “replace” a healthy limb. These bionic extensions of the body are designed for people who have suffered the misfortune of losing an important part of their anatomy, even if they subsequently feel that their artificial extensions are actually better than the ones they lost.

Few amputees would turn down an offer of a replacement part, provided it worked as well as the real one. Unfortunately, the technology for this kind of perfect substitution is some way off – an artificial leg may be stronger, but it is still not as versatile and as sensory as a real one.

Other body parts may also lend themselves to substitution, or at least functional substitution. The heart pumps blood around the lungs and then around the body, but trying to achieve even this relatively simple function with the reliability and versatility of a real organ has proved to be a challenge.

In any case, bionic organs are probably not the direction of future medicine. It would be better for instance to mend a broken heart in situ with dedicated stem cells rather than relying on an artificial heart transplant.

Nevertheless, once scientists are able to understand and design the “interface” that can link the carbon-based world of life to the silicon-based realm of computers, a revolution in augmented intelligence and brain power might be possible. Imagine a silicon chip implant that gives you instant access to the knowledge of the British Library. A bionic brain would be even better than a bicycle.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments