Topic: The physical factors of combining technology and humans and the risks that may be involved
Inquiry Question: Should humans and technology be combined?
- How do prosthetics work and how are scientists trying to improve them?
- Scientists are working on developing prosthetics advanced enough to mimic the limb they replace. They theorize that this is a realistic possibility with the advanced technology for one of two reasons: (Allen, 2015)
- Firstly, the brain will be continuing to send signals to the amputated muscle even though it is no longer there to receive them (Allen, 2015)
- Secondly, the amputation of a limb does not mean all the nerves from that muscle are removed as there are working nerves present at the stub of the amputated limb. (Allen, 2015)
- The theory involving the creation of a bionic limb comes from the idea that the working nerves at the stub of an amputated limb can be redirected to a working muscle. (The Guardian, 2018)
- As signals in the brain would still be able to control the movement of the amputated muscle, scientists theorize that perhaps those signals could trigger the movement of the new muscle group as well. (The Guardian, 2018)
- What is the most advanced prosthetic technology we have today?
- Presently, the most advanced technique for rerouting nerves is accomplished through a procedure titled “targeted muscle reinnervation,” developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. (Ridgewell et al, 2017)
- This surgical procedure for a prosthetic arm accesses nerve endings by dissecting the shoulder. Surgeons would then redirect the four major brachial nerves to distinct regions of the chest muscles. (Allen, 2015)
- After numerous months, the nerves from the shoulder would become completely innervated into the chest muscles. (Allen, 2015)
- From there, electrodes, which have the ability to conduct electric current are placed on the surface of the chest muscles. (Allen, 2015)
- Each controls a motor that determines the movement of joints in the prosthetic arm. (Allen, 2015)
- Every time the brain sends a signal to the nerve, the chest muscle that is connected to it, contracts and the electrodes placed on that muscle register the contraction. This results in the movement of the prosthetic arm. (Allen, 2015)
- The range of movement of the prosthetic would be determined by the integration of each nerve ending from the shoulder to different regions of the chest muscle. (Allen, 2015)
- What does the future of prosthetics look like?
- The current research aims to allow the prosthetic limbs to receive information directly from the brain. The result would be a bionic limb that responds accurately and carefully to the transmitted sensory information. (Ridgewell et al, 2017)
- There are several barriers to achieving this goal as scientists are still researching how thoughts become translated into movement at the neural network level. Further, the technology that would be required to appropriately interpret such brain signals is still being developed. (Ridgewell et al, 2017)
- Even though these obstacles do exist, scientists have made some monumental advancements in the field of prosthetics. (The Guardian, 2018)
- In a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, a 52-year old quadriplegic for 9 years was able to control the movement of a robotic arm through brain-computer interface technology. (Allen, 2015)
- Earlier that year, two computer chips had been implanted in the patient’s head. The chips were placed in her motor cortex, which is the region of the brain that controls movement, using image-guided technology. (Allen, 2015)
- Each chip consists of 96 microelectrodes that are placed near a group of neurons recognized to control the movement of the right arm and hand. (Allen, 2015)
- Computer algorithms are used to translate neural signals detected by the microelectrodes into movement. This is done by establishing the firing patterns associated with a particular task. (Moore, 2020)
- Further, the desire to move can be translated into an actual movement. This is proven in the ability of the patient now being able to shake hands with others and feed herself. (Moore, 2020)
- This advancement would mean that the translation of brain signals into computer signals can accurately control a robotic prosthesis and improvement in this technology would most affect quadriplegics and amputees. (Moore, 2020)
Allen, J., Coolidge, T., & Ross, P. (2015, October 26). Advancements in Limb Prosthetics. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2013/limb-prosthetics/
Bocetta, S. (2019, August 01). What are the security implications of Elon Musk’s Neuralink? Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.csoonline.com/article/3429361/what-are-the-security-implications-of-elon-musks-neuralink.html
The Guardian (Director). (2018, June 26). Beyond bionics: How the future of prosthetics is redefining humanity [Video file]. Retrieved November 1, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgTwa3CPrIE
Moore, N. C. (2020, March 04). ‘It’s Like You Have a Hand Again’. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/health-tech/its-like-you-have-a-hand-again
Ridgewell, E., & Muderis, M. A. (2017, September 26). Bionic limbs. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/bionic-limbs
Thanks for reading!