Building on yesterday’s blog about aging and the 150-year old humans to come, it really highlights how technology is re-inventing every part of living on Earth. From Fintech to Science to Life Sciences, every aspect of humanity is being turned upside down. We can invent humans from beakers in labs to synthetics in production lines. Although we aren’t quite there yet, the recent series Humans illustrated the near-term future well, with synthetic humans acting as carers and cleaners, taking the jobs others don’t want or aren’t prepared to do. There’s a great line in the series where the Detective in charge of finding the synthetics that have morphed into humans – they have feelings – has had heart surgery and is fitted with a pacemaker. When he finds the synthetic human he says: “there’s a little bit of human inside the machine, and some of the machine inside the human”. I liked this line as it won’t belong before we achieve this hybrid state of cyborgism. It’s being predicted by many scientists and futurists that within our lifetmes, life sciences will find ways to treat humanity’s ailments like no other before. So here are my top picks of the technologies already out there that are changing humanity and will allow us to live for 150 years or more.
Genetically engineered humans
From the May/June 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review
“Germ line” is biologists’ jargon for the egg and sperm, which combine to form an embryo. By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself, it could be possible to correct disease genes and pass those genetic fixes on to future generations. Such a technology could be used to rid families of scourges like cystic fibrosis. It might also be possible to install genes that offer lifelong protection against infection, Alzheimer’s, and, Yang told me, maybe the effects of aging. Such history-making medical advances could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last. That’s the promise. The fear is that germ-line engineering is a path toward a dystopia of superpeople and designer babies for those who can afford it.
Printing Human Body Parts
From CNET, August 2015
“The Open Bionics hand uses steel cables as tendons that curl the fingers, but these are attached to motors that act as muscles, with each finger individually powered to increase manual dexterity. Because the hand is 3D printed, each one can be modeled specifically for its wearer. The Open Bionics team scans the arm to which the hand is to be fitted and uses that as a basis for the print. The scanning process can be completed within a few minutes. Once the design is finalised, the hand takes around 40 hours to print and, moreover, the cost is a fraction of the higher end prosthetics. A finished hand would sell for less than £1,000 and it would cost even less if users could make it themselves using the company’s open source plans and instructions.”
Printing Human Organs
From the BBC in October 2015
“To date, medical 3D printing has been mainly used to create prosthetics. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, have adapted a low cost MakerBot 3D printer to print with soft materials such as collagens, alginates and fibrins that naturally appear in the body. The team hope their work could one day lead to a world in which transplants are no longer necessary to repair damaged organs.” This would mean that you wouldn’t need prosthetics but could just grow a new arm.
Growing Human Body Parts
From New Scientist in June 2015
“It might look like an amputated rat forelimb, but the photo above is of something much more exciting: the limb has been grown in the lab from living cells. It may go down in history as the first step to creating real, biologically functional limbs for amputees. ‘We’re focusing on the forearm and hand to use it as a model system and proof of principle,’ says Harald Ott of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who grew the limb. ‘But the techniques would apply equally to legs, arms and other extremities.’”
Seeing Humans from the Inside
From this month’s NPR
“Scientists are working with nanotechnology to send computers inside patients for a more accurate and specific, diagnosis. Albert Swiston, a biomaterials scientist at MIT, is testing a tiny pill that combines a microphone, a thermometer and a battery to collect several measures at once from inside a body. It’s a latest in a series of ingestable computers like a Proteus sensor that tracks how patients take prescribed medications, a VitalSense from Philips that tracks a patient’s temperature or a PillCam that allows people to skip colonoscopies.”
Humans Could Live Forever?
From this month’s Medical Daily
“Los Angeles-based startup Humai’s ultimate goal is to ‘extend and enhance human life,’ Humai CEO and founder Josh Bocanegra told Medical Daily. The company plans to do this by using artificial technology and nanotechnology to save data about a person’s ‘conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes, and information about how [their] body functions from the inside-out,’ according to the Humai website. Once it has collected everything it needs to know about who you were as a person, it can then begin building a robot body for your brain to live in after you die, effectively bringing you ‘back to life.’”