Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Bionic Woman

My mother is in the hospital right now recovering from surgery to have her knee replaced with an artificial joint. This is the second one that she's had replaced (so I think it's safe to say she's done), and the technology has improved tremendously just in the last couple of years. Her recovery from the first surgery was long and excruciatingly painful, involving many months of physical therapy just to get to a quasi-normal range of strength and mobility (and the last time I saw her, she was actually not getting around as well as she was before the surgery). Not so this time. She'll be leaving the hospital early (probably tomorrow) and has apaprently made huge strides in her physical therapy with the new system. It's pretty amazing, actually.

What's amazing to me, however, is that we are quietly and unremarkably approaching the age of the cyborg. I'm always amazed to see how science fiction becomes reality -- and often without anyone even really noticing the change. My mother literally has bionic knees, and while she certainly isn't going to be leaping over thirty-foot walls anytime soon, the relative increase in power over what she was able to manage before the surgery is actually comparable to Steve Austin and Jamie Summers' best. Knees aren't the only thing being replaced. Cochlear implants as essentially bionic ears. They are brain implants that stimulate the auditory nerve to produce electrical signals in such a way that the brain perceives them as sounds -- computer implants in the truest sense. Can Neuromancer be far away? We are also learning to stimulate the optic nerve directly in a similar manner. Does anyone remember G'kar's electronic eye in Babylon 5? Pacemakers and artificial hearts have been reality for decades.

The question we have to answer is this: How much of your body has to be replaced before you can be considered a cyborg? This is not just idle speculation, science fiction writers; the future is already here!

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