by Justin Crockett
Scientists are working on a number of projects that will ensure that the future inhabitants of our planet are a bunch of hopped-up Terminators.
#8. Electronic Neural Dust
Researchers in Berkeley, California recently discussed the development of microscopic sensor particles, called “neural dust” that, once sprinkled onto a person’s brain, will allow them to interact with machines. Converting signals to ultrasound, they would relay information to machines that could map the brain, or be used to power devices outside of the body. Or, to take the idea even further, perhaps even enable mind-reading.
#7. Human Tattoos for Checking Your Cell Phone
Cell phone manufacturer Nokia is seeking patents for technology that would imprint magnetic tattoos on the human body. These would alert the user with a vibration, letting them know when their phone is ringing, who the caller is, and if their battery is running low. The material of this human brand would sense magnetic impulses from a smartphone, for instance, and gently shake the human to relay the information. Instead of, you know, looking at the phone.
#6. Controlling Someone Else’s Motions Over The Internet
Two separate subjects hooked up their brains to computers on either side of the University of Washington campus. As one participant imagined playing a computer game and making a movement, the brain signal of the movement was sent across the college to the other test subject. When it reached him, his hand clearly and involuntarily moved. This is the first human to human brain interfacing recorded.
#5. Self-Inflicted Computer Virus
A scientist in Britain implanted a computer virus into his skin. When he utilized the chip inside of him to use his cell phone and to open specially-programmed doors at his workplace, the virus was then spread to the receivers of those signals. Anyone who used the doors in a similar manner with their normal swipe cards then became carriers of the virus.
While this could have easily been done with a device in a hacker’s pocket, one other fear is that this method could be used to hack into personal in-body devices such as pacemakers, neural prosthetics, spine stimulators, or ear implants. The user could then inflict catastrophic harm to the body by sending a signal to the device to alter its operation.
#4. Human Transistors
Scientists at Stanford University have created a completely biological transistor made out of DNA. Implanting the tiny device inside a cell and having the cell power it, they believe this could live inside the body and actively report the inner workings of a human, for instance commanding cancer cells to stop their growth. The more likely applications in the near future would be to spot and treat for toxins and poisons, or regulating the amount of medication to be issued inside the body, and at the exact site it is needed.
A new transistor and living cell “mesh” has also been developed that will point to a future of prosthetic limbs being wired directly to the nervous system. It can support tissue growth and even report on the status of its inner workings and health.
Harvard researchers have created a sort of cyborg flesh, that is half living human cells and half nanowires and sensors. The scientists have grown a human blood vessel a little over a centimeter long, and when they documented the readings it gave back, it showed patterns that would help detect and treat inflammation, tumor growth, or risk of heart disease when eventually they become implanted into human bodies.
Using this technology, they will be able to not only read cells’ activity and behavior, but to speak back to them, even individually. They have already had success doing exactly this and created what is essentially the heart of a rat. They grew some rat heart cells, wired them up, and watched as the whole network began interacting and even making the heart cells beat. The researchers then added a drug known to speed up heart rate, and watched as the heart responded just like a normal heart would, beating faster and just as healthy. The aforementioned wires broadcast the overall health of the heart by analyzing their electric impulses, just like an EKG. But unlike an EKG, doctors would have the ability to change the impulses immediately by altering the device itself.
#2. Robots With Biological Brains
University of Reading engineers have developed a network of rats’ brain cells and electrodes, and implanted them inside a robot. The “brain” then operates the robot’s movements, steering and guiding completely unaided. The brain also basically learns and teaches itself, having no experience to draw from. There are no computers or humans directing the robot; it is pushed only by the brain itself. When the robot nears an obstacle, signals from the sensors of course tell it to go around, but instead of a computer telling it to do so, it is living brain cells.
The experts believe that this is a major step to cracking the brain, seeing how memories are stored and how it accesses data, and how to use that knowledge to treat major brain afflictions.
A similar project is being worked on at the University of Illinois, combining soft 3-D printed material and rat heart cells. These moving bio-bots, when perfected, could be capable of flitting around inside human bodies, repairing cells and tending to disease.
#1. Creating Living Cells Made of Metal
A Glasgow researcher named Lee Cronin has created cells from inorganic metals that are displaying many life-like properties. He even hints that they have begun to replicate themselves and are learning to evolve. Taking certain metal atoms like tungsten, he assembles them into cell shapes and marks their behaviors. Some can take on cell stages such as photosynthesis, and taking energy from light. If all the processes go well, he could build a self-powered cell that mimics plant metabolism.
Cronin is aware that these can never be fully alive until they develop means to replicate by themselves, or contain something life-like, such as DNA. Early signs are showing that he can have two cells that can use each other as a mirror for replicating, and he is doing an extensive trial that will put cells in different environments to see if they can evolve on their own, in which one already has. Success in this project could mean proof of non-carbon based life in our universe.