A very interesting report over at The Telegraph which looks at recent advances in the creation of a prosthetic hand that is controlled by thought. The project, run by a group of Italian scientists, is the first time that such a device has been capable of complex control such as grip and individual finger movements.
The hand also brings the ability for tactile sensation, which is a remarkable feat and will literally revolutionise our use of prosthetics in the future.
At the moment, there is still some doubt over how long such a device can be attached to an individual. Connecting such a device to the nervous system is obviously a very complicated task and there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the long term effects and feasibility of such a connection.
Clearly research such as this will do wonders for those who have lost the ability to use parts of their body, and it indicates the very real likelihood that bionic enhancement will become a common part of future society. Of course, such advancements will initially be used to treat injuries and other medical conditions; however, it won’t be too far after this that people begin to be interested in using them to enhance rather than repair.
It will be interesting to see not only how our physiology will react to such additions, but also how society in general will adapt to them. We can almost be assured, particularly given the therapeutic uses of such technology, that bionic devices such as this will become more and more widespread – but will this lead to conflict coming from those who believe that such things are ‘unnatural’? What about when this progresses to the point that those who are able to afford bionic enhancement can become stronger, faster, ‘better’ than those who cannot?
There are certainly some important ethical questions that will emerge from this sphere in general, however at the moment I think it is a fascinating and exciting time because therapeutic use is clearly the predominant focus of advancement.