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The Next Evolution

Cyborgs: humans who have been merged with machines; a hybrid of sorts. What was once the subject of far-out science fiction has now entered reality as a medical tool. From implants to robotics, there is a whole host of emerging technologies that aim to treat health conditions and aid those suffering from different disabilities by turning people into, technically, cyborgs.

It might seem to be going too far to use the term cyborg when discussing, for instance, new versions of prosthetic limbs. However, carbon fiber and titanium prostheses are now commonplace, and most artificial limbs are fully functional. For example, in the video below, you can see the dexterity and capabilities of one prosthetic arm. Since this video was created, prostheses have advanced even further, with researchers going so far as to create robotic hands that can be controlled with one’s brain — and they have a sense of touch.

Artificial limb technologies like the “blades” used by Paralympians are even so advanced that some have started to discuss whether or not they are more capable than organic limbs. But artificial limbs aren’t the only advancements in so-called “cyborg tech.” One Swedish company is implanting its employees with microchips to allow them to do things like access doors with the wave of a hand instead of with a key. Elon Musk thinks that his neural lace could actually make human beings smarter. Many are experimenting with the many possibilities of merging humankind with machines.

A Cyborg Future

The authors of a recent paper in Science Robotics discussed the potential issues with the future of such technologies:

There needs to be a debate on the future evolution of technologies as the pace of robotics and AI is accelerating. It seems certain that future assistive technologies will not only compensate for human disability but also drive human capacities beyond our innate physiological levels. The associated transformative influence will bring on broad social, political, and economic issues.

Once we officially cross that line, once the technologies that we create to assist those with difficulties and disabilities begin to advance human capabilities beyond what is biologically possible, we will have a teeming variety of moral and practical issues to deal with. Many believe that this will be humanity’s “next step in evolution.” Indeed, if we are ever going to colonize Mars and expand our reign in the Solar System, that might be a necessary evolution. Whatever moral and ethical quandaries may exist, it might not be possible for us to take such large strides without becoming cyborgs.

Highlighting the Cybathlon: The Bionic Olympics of 2016
Click to View Full Infographic

So, more likely than not, the day will come and we will cross that line. Will cyborg humans have the same rights and be bound by the same laws as biologically ordinary citizens? Will cyborgs be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation? Will warfare forever change with the possible advancement of military exoskeletons? The list goes on and on. And so, while we might not all be walking around as half-machines just yet, it might be a good idea to plan ahead.

The post Humanity’s next Stage of Evolution Could Be the Cyborg appeared first on Futurism.

The post Vaccine Myths appeared first on Futurism.

Bill Kochevar is the first quadriplegic who can move his body with his thoughts, through the help of new technology.

The post Hope for Paralyzed People Everywhere appeared first on Futurism.

Doctors have X-ray vision now.

The post GE Takes 3D Medical Models to the Next Level With Virtual Reality appeared first on Futurism.

This device is changing combat first aid procedures.

The post This Emergency Breathing Insertion Is 100 Percent Safe appeared first on Futurism.

The transition from one year to the next is always a little uncertain – an uneasy blend of anxiety and optimism, it’s also a time of retrospection, introspection, and even a little tentative prognostication. And since the latter is our stock-in-trade at Futurism, we believe now is the perfect time to look ahead at what 2017 has in store for us.

Last year was a remarkable year in medicine. We saw continued development and refinements of CRISPR/Cas-9 gene-editing technology, lab-grown “mini-brains” were created to study the neurological effects of Zika and other disorders, a successful womb transplant was performed in the US, and the FDA approved the first artificial pancreas. Pretty remarkable advances—but 2017 promises to usher in more of the same.

Here’s our list of some of the many wonderful advances in medicine we can look forward to in 2017.

Techno-Medicine

Sophisticated technologies have always had an important role to play in medicine, with each year adding extraordinary new tools to the physician’s medicine bag—2017 will be no exception.

We can, for instance, expect further improvements in the technology of robotic surgery. In addition to the currently available da Vinci Surgical System, look to see competition from the new surgical robot system developed by the partnership of Google and Johnson & Johnson. These new systems will parlay advances in software, miniaturization, and robotics to allow for minimally invasive surgeries on the most delicate elements of human anatomy.

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The robotic da Vinci Surgical System. (Credit: Intuitive Surgical)

Another untapped (or very minimally tapped) technological frontier in medicine involves the use of artificial intelligence (AI)—which seems to touch upon just about every field nowadays. IBM’s Watson has already displayed a keen diagnostic eye, and machine learning and deep learning programs have been used to predict everything from when a patient will die to where the next major disease outbreak will occur.

We can expect the application of AI to medicine to only increase in the coming year, when the need to cull through and assimilate enormous quantities of medical data—whether on an individual or large-scale, societal basis—will become critical. Meanwhile, the danger that potentially flawed machine learning programs will supplant rather than merely supplement human medical judgment will also become much more than just an abstruse, academic question for medical ethicists.

A Pharmacological Revolution

But 2017 won’t be just about robots and artificial intelligence. It’s likely that some of the less visually spectacular medical technologies will yield the most astonishing medical breakthroughs. Drug research, for instance, is poised to take off in 2017—especially with immunotherapeutic treatments for cancer.

According to Stanley Marks, chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter, it is these treatments—which marshal the body’s immune system to attack and destroy cancerous cells—that represent the single most promising new front in the war on cancer. Using checkpoint inhibitor drugs and CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapies, it’s become possible to mobilize the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

The method involves extracting T-cells from the patient’s own blood, and genetically engineering them to recognize, attach to, and neutralize tumorous cells. It’s already had promising results in fighting some leukemias, so we can look forward to more research on these remarkable “living drugs” in 2017.

Further drug advances to look out for in the coming year include: a vaccine for HIV beginning Phase II trials, the use of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine to target treatment-resistant depression, new drugs and therapies based on the microbiome, and even a new female libido booster that’s up for approval.

Gene-Editing Comes of Age

The revolutionary CRISPR/Cas-9 gene-editing technology has disrupted biology like nothing else—and bids fair to transform it from a slow, imprecise science to something approaching the precision of the physical sciences. What 2017 holds for gene-editing technology is anyone’s guess—it’s even possible that the Chinese, or some other nation with laxer standards than are currently permitted in the U.S., might begin a more widespread use of the technique in human subjects.

Despite the reasonable ethical qualms, it’s inevitable that the CRISPR/Cas-9 method will be extended to human use, and 2017 will very likely be the year we see this happen. Look for active measures, such as more extensive trials in the cancer-fighting uses of the technology (for example, in the CAR T-cell therapies we mentioned above), or scientists using it to eradicate pathogenic human DNA viruses like HIV or herpes.

But expect passive measures, too, such as simply learning how Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases progress, or even non-medical agricultural and industrial uses for the technology. As Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute sagely observes, “Understanding what DNA sequences do is what enables us to solve problems in every field of biology from curing human diseases, to growing enough healthy food, to discovering and making new medicines, to understanding why some species are going extinct.”

The bottom line: 2017 is looking to be an exciting year, in all avenues of research and discovery, but particularly in medicine.  And if all the above wasn’t exciting enough for you—you can look forward to capping it off with what might be the world’s first head transplant.

Disembodied heads or not, you can read all about the latest developments here at Futurism.

The post Future Health: 2017’s Most Exciting Medical Advances appeared first on Futurism.

Doctors can now prep for surgery using virtual reality.

The post Cut Here: Virtual Reality Trains Medical Students and Preps Surgeons appeared first on Futurism.

This implant imitates living tissue.

The post Meet the Spinal Implant That Could Help Paralyzed People Walk appeared first on Futurism.