5 Technologies That Turn Handicaps Into Super Powers
Science does a pretty awesome job of letting the handicapped get around. Prosthetic limbs, electronic ear implants, there are all sorts of ways these people can live almost normal lives.
But some aren't settling for that, figuring that if we're using technology to make you walk, and technology is always improving, then why stop there? Why not make you walk better than those other assholes? Here are some technologies that within our lifetimes can make the human body better than what nature ever intended. Whether nature likes it or not.
Replacing Missing Legs
More than once you've probably uttered to yourself "I'd give my right leg for another delicious piece of pie" but those of you who went to that one shady pie shop/human organ harvesting shop in Beijing know that's actually a bad bargain.
Fortunately, as with all technology, prosthetic legs have gotten better and better with time. Why keep trying to mimic nature, when you can just improve on it?
So, for instance, for those athletic types who have lost legs there are carbon fiber prosthetics called Cheetah Flex Feet, also known as blades. They're specifically designed for high-impact, legless insanity out on the track. As you may have learned in biology class, J-Shaped carbon fiber legs are not the same as regular meat legs and as such aren't subject to the same fatigues. So when a typical runner starts getting that old fashioned burning sensation in their shins, a runner on Cheetahs is just bouncing along like nobody's business.
How well do they work? Just ask Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee Olympian who was banned from the Olympics because his space-age legs gave him an unfair advantage over other runners. They let him take longer strides and use 25 percent less energy to run the same distances.
Of course they're not as useful in other situations, but, unlike your real legs, you can just swap these out with some others. Perhaps soon you'll strap on legs with artificial muscles made of carbon nanotubes, that even generate electricity as they flex. Sure, the designers claim that the whole electricity generation thing is so charging won't be as much of an issue, but we're assuming the real purpose is to deliver a nice electrical jolt with your roundhouse kick. Don't tell us there's no market for it.
Curing the Blind
Next to death, blindness is what most people fear the most. Yet all of us are just one nailgun accident away from saying goodbye to our vision forever. But thanks to science, soon not only will you not need to go tapping around with a cane or beg for change on the street cartoon-style, but will have Terminator-style computerized vision with data overlays.
Thanks to a Virtual Retinal Display technology, they'll have a device that can project the image through whatever tiny part of your eye remains undamaged (and eventually they'll be able to connect directly to the optic nerve itself, in case your whole eye was plucked out by a bird or something).
The visual display that feeds into your brain can actually be sharper and brighter than what your God-given eye brings you, and can even reduce glare in ways a natural eye can't. As an added bonus, why settle for just having vision restored when VRD technology can overlay an image displaying information about whatever you're looking at?
What kind of information? Use your imagination. Give the device WiFi access and it could presumably look up any damned thing you want. Maybe you can see a dude on the street and it'll run an instant background check in the time it takes him to get within mugging range. Or maybe you hear a song on a passing car radio, and it'll pop up the title and artist.
This isn't exactly science fiction, either; already they're working on VRD displays for non-blind people that can, for instance, let a mechanic look at an engine and instantly get an inside or exploded view of the mechanism. Your surgeon could do the same, seeing a 3D image of your pancreas all while displaying vital stats. Or amusing Twitter updates. Whatever.
Replacing Damaged Skin
If you've ever broken up with a significant other and decided to waste a night gorging on nachos and tequila until, in a fit of inebriated depression, you try to put yourself out of your misery with the cheese grater, you may be aware of how skin grafts work. Alternately you may be one of the less deserving people who's suffered some serious burns or one of a few rare skin disorders and needed grafted flesh to help you recover.
Skin grafts right now have a nasty side, as they either depend on taking skin from elsewhere on your body, or from a donor (possibly a dead one). That's where cultured skin comes in.
These are patches of skin that are grown just for you, in a lab, right when you need it. And it's new--meaning young--skin. It's the difference between taking a sweater off of a hobo or buying yourself a new coat.
The scientists probably don't use an actual farm to grow the skin. They probably use a lab.
So in the future, the dude who gets his face burned off will not only come out looking normal again, but decades younger. So he'll likely have to wait in line behind a whole bunch of perfectly healthy people doing it out of vanity. Right now cosmetic surgery winds up making 50-year-olds look like 50-year-olds wearing terrifying expressionless masks, but some day they'll likely just get their damned skin replaced.
We're not sure if people will be able to change races this way, but man if they can, there'll be a Hell of a sitcom idea in that.
Repairing--and Improving--the Brain
Deep Brain Stimulation is either awesome or terrifying, depending on how much you like the idea of having wires in your brain. In a nutshell (which is to say your head), DBS is kind of like a pacemaker for your brain. A little battery pack is surgically implanted in your chest, because apparently you have a lot of free space there, and then some electrodes are run right up to your gray matter.
They already use this to treat Parkinson's patients and other diseases caused by a misfiring brain. And they're figuring out ways to even use it to cure depression. And obesity. And aggression.
OK, that's kind of frightening. But as close as they are to inventing some kind of behavior control module for your head, there are some pretty awesome uses, too, like stimulating memory. Experiments have shown that shooting electricity into certain parts of the brain makes all kinds of long-lost memories come bobbing back to the surface, in full detail. How'd you like to never forget a face or phone number again?
And talk about two birds with one stone, right?
And, who knows, maybe that behavior-control stuff isn't so scary. Who doesn't have a habit they wouldn't like to drop with the flip of a switch? The experiment we linked earlier was on obesity, and trying to use DBS to control appetite. Can we quit smoking this way? Or drop a drug habit?
And if they can do that, there's likely going to be someone, at some point, who hooks up one of the wires to the earth-shattering orgasm piece of the brain at some point creating the world's first fully self-sufficient hands-free spooge machine. Come on, what could go wrong?
Give Humans Limbs We Never Had in the First Place
So at this point it should be obvious where we're going as a species. The science is getting to the point where there's no reason to be satisfied with these flimsy, non-superpowered bodies evolution gave us.
Take, for instance, Nadya Vessey. She was born with a condition that prevented her legs from ever developing properly, and had both of them amputated when she was a teenager. She loves to swim, and instead of saying, "Man, I wish I had my legs back so I could swim like other people," she said fuck it, and went for a mermaid tail.
Since it still hasn't occurred to the prosthetics industry to sell such a thing, she got in touch with Weta, the special effects company that worked on LotR and King Kong, and asked if they'd build her one.
They did, presumably for the Hell of it, designing a prosthetic fish tail from plastic molds and wetsuit fabric with a polycarbonate spine. But it's not just a prop meant to confuse passing sailors. It's a fully-functional prosthetic that allows Vessey to swim like a fish. She's talking about using it for the swimming section of an upcoming triathlon.
That's what we're talkin' about. Think outside the box, science.
Can't walk? Implant some damned wings in our back. Or give us cybertronic prehensile tails, like howler monkeys--we'll have thought up a thousand uses for it by the end of the first day. Or build a prosthetic horse and turn us into a damned centaur. No, we're not handicapped. We'll make up a reason, just do it anyway.
We have the technology--or will soon. It's time to start taking this shit to the next level.
More Fortey can be found at ScenicAnemia.com.
Check out some people who have real superpowers right now, in 7 People From Around the World With Real Mutant Superpowers. And then check out their soon-to-be mortal enemies, in 8 Animals With Real Superpowers.
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