Artificial Cartilage…One Step Closer

 

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http://phys.org/news/2013-12-duke-artificial-cartilage.html

Two engineers from Duke University have come together to build a cartilage substrate from synthetic materials that is the closest production so far that resembles natural cartilage, and outperforms previous synthetic cartilage attempts.  Being able to develop these synetheic cartilage scaffolds will be used in animal models in 2014, which is the next step before this candidate and others can be attempted in humans. Nonetheless, synethic cartilage is a vital aspect of scientific research and development, for without cartilage the human body cannot function nearly as well, if hardly at all. 

Cartilage in the body wears down over time considerably, and is suspectible to tearing and breaking.  Being able to replace old cartilage parts with synethic and bio-synethic designs can help many humans live longer healthier lives, essentially extending the peak years of flexibility, agility, and overall ability to move as if you have more youthful cartilage in the body.  Funding for these types of research focuses need to continue to rise, while also shifting the focus slightly to understand the processes of aging itself and how those processes effect the lifespan and pliability of the cartilage within our bodies.  One of the engineers in the project had this to say, “It (the designed synthetic cartilage) has all the mechanical properties of native cartilage and can withstand wear and tear without fracturing.  From a mechanical standpoint, this technology remedies the issues that other types of synthetic cartilage have had,” says Zhao, founder of Duke’s Soft Active Materials (SAMs) Laboratory. “It’s a very promising candidate for artificial cartilage in the future.

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Let’s continue pushing the boundaries of the engineering of science, especially pertaining to our bodies.  The more parts of our bodies we can replace, and understand the aging process, the longer, and healthier our lives will become.  The idea is just not to live longer, but to “extend” the peak years of health well beyond the normal ranges today.  So for instance most of us consider the ages of 15-50ish as the peak years of performance and vitality. Even with proper training and consistent tough exercise, meditation and proper diet, most will still begin to age considerably post 50 years and may extend our peak years a few more, being diligent.  However, with the advent of the converging technologies of biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and cognitive science, we will have decades worth of research on replacing body parts, and extending human lifespan, and in particular, the peak years of life.  The natural evolution of our species will take us to a new level of life extension.  The first human in recent history to live to 150 years has already been born.

Transhumanist Librarian will be back soon with another article.

Robot Competition…To Save Us From Disaster

DARPA, the all encompasing technological agency of the United States has come out with another robot, called Valkyrie.  DARPA is the sponsor for the competition, with their own entry Valkyrie among 17 other competitor entries.  The event is scheduled for December 20, and 21 in Florida.

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The robots, and their capabilities will be tested on their ability to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.  The entry by NASA’s Johnson Space Center is Valkyrie, and honestly strikes quite a presence once you look at it.  First of all the robot is 6’2″, which is a perfect height for assistance in natural disasters because the content of the body will be able to withstand the weather, due to more surface area and independent limb movement.  The total weight of Valkyrie is 262 pounds, which also allows for complete movement in tough weather.  It has seven degree of freedom arms, with actuated wrists, and six degree of freedom hands.  This means that the range of motion for this particular robot is some of the largest range of motion every built for a single autonomous robot.

The goal of the Robot Challenge is to present robots “That demonstrates critical improvements in what robots can do to help out in disaster relief efforts, when human intervention is unsafe and time is of the essence, such as nuclear power plant disasters, oil spills, and wildfires. That means the robots who compete need to be agile and responsive to move through disaster zones and do needed rescue tasks. In the words of DARPA, the Challenge itself was designed “to catalyze the robotics community to help mitigate the effects of future disasters”

Valkyrie took nine months to build, working 22 hours a day! A pretty awesome feat considering the amount of technology, and converging technologies involved to create a robot of this magnitude.  However, we still have considerable room to grow in terms of engineering and nanotechnology that is specific to building robots for these specific purposes.  The robots in the challenge will need to prove the extent of their capabilities such as walking over uneven terrain, climbing a ladder and using tools.

The design team took several important functions of the body and made sure that parts were easily replaceable.  For example, the battery in the backpack of the robot can be replaced very easily, within two minutes.  They also designed the robot’s limbs as removable parts that can be swapped out for new parts in minutes. What’s more, they designed the left and right arms to be identical in construction, so that right and left arms can be swapped if needed.

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For the competition itself, the robots will be graded on how well they can complete designated tasks the kinds that first responders would face in actual natural and man-made disasters.  Perhaps Valkyrie will be the robot in the challenge with the highest amount of embedded intelligence.  Not surprisingly, Valkyrie will enter the competition with lots of onboard computing. Sensors are generously spread all over Valkyrie. There are cameras and LIDAR (a remote sensing method, LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging) in the head, cameras in the abdomen, forearms, knees and feet. Valkyrie’s clothing consists of panels of fabric-wrapped foam armor which can protect Valkyrie from falls and impacts. The clothing was built on site by a dedicated design staff.

Only a few years from now these robots will be working with first responder teams in response to disasters while also being sent to Mars first to help setup the initial infrastrucuture for colonization, while then working with humans collaboratively when humans arrive a few years later.  Each year, the price of building robots comes down, thus why there are more and more robot competitions, and particularly more competitions for the younger generation.  We must build robots to replace some human work, and also build specific robots to supplement and lead our physical capabilities, such as this article describes.  As humans we will always lead ourselves to danger in some way.  Having robots by our side and integrated robotic technologies integrated into our bodies, will allow us to have less death and destruction from a human loss standpoint, and will allow more of us to live through disasters, both natural and man-made.  As long as we continue to fund the converging technologies of biotechnology, cognitive science, nanotechnology, and engineering.

Robots will help us live through disaster, now and in the near-future.

Robots Helping Us Live Longer

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Not only are robots an excellent opportunity for humans to extend their knowledge and practical uses of science, engineering, information technology, and cognitive science, but they also currently and in the near-future will help us to live longer, healthier lives.

http://phys.org/news/2013-12-robot-doors-isolated.html

In this article, by the University of Exeter helps provide several insightful examples of how robots can help us.  The article specifically focuses on the uses of robots to help fill spots where we are expected to be physically, but cannot due to any number of variables, including sickness, physical impairment, prior demands, or just overall too busy.

In a research project funded by the university titled, “Being There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces”, helps bridge the gap of possible uses of robots for when we physically cannot be present.  The focus of the study is primarily, “To look at the social and technological aspects of being able to appear in public in proxy forms, via a range of advanced robotics platforms”

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For transhumanists and those interested in using technology to better our lives and our bodies, this is excellent news.  The project overall aims to enhance the public realm where people can express themselves in public with full equality and privacy, which is most important.  Professor Mark Levine of the University of Exeter has this to say, “Being able to interact with others in plays an important role in the well-being of individuals and societies. Sadly, many people are unable to do this – because they are ill, housebound or unable to travel. However, if a robot proxy can act for them – and can transmit back the full experience of being with others – we can help to reduce social isolation and increase civic participation

This aspect of the study and the use of robots in general should definitely be researched and studied even further.  Especially if more humanoid type robots can be implemented, the relaying of facts and experiences to the host human will become more meaningful and more productive. Perhaps we could have multiple robot proxys and can be present via those proxy’s in various physical locations, further enhancing our production capabilities. Opening up the public sphere to the use of robots proxys is vital if we are opening up ourselves to integration of technology into our bodies and our behaviors and decision-making.

If we are to use robot proxys to replace our physical representations both in public and family events, it will be paramount for us to use this technology in a responsible way.  Designing articificial intelligence following the three rules of Asimov’s Robots will help insure this.  Lastly, intergrating robots into our daily social interaction, will aid in our social development from a health standpoint, and will lead us to live longer, more healthful lives.  Simple social interaction, via technology and robots.  Perfect!

Transhumanist Librarian will be back with another article soon!

Brain-Computer-Interfaces…Controlling With Your Thoughts

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BCI, or what is commonly known as Brain-Computer Interface is an emerging group of technologies which can also be presented as brain-machine interfaces (BMI), or mind-machine interfaces (MMI). In the recently published book of research, Introduction to Neural Engineering for Motor Rehabilitation (2013) by Dario Farina, Winnie Jensen and Metin Akay, the summary on the chapter covering BCI’s provides an excellent definition of BCI’s and the current applications they are being used in.

“A BCI monitors the user’s brain activity, extracts specific features from the brain signals that reflect the intent of the subject, and translates them into action. BCI Technology offers a natural way to augment human capabilities by providing a new interaction link with the outside world and, thus it is particularly relevant as an aid for patients with severe neuromuscular disabilities.” (Millan, p. 237).

A BCI used on a patient may monitor quite a few different signals which can include, electrical, magnetic and metabolic. It is important for those studying the effectiveness of BCI’s to have the varying levels of these signals available at all times. Magnetic fields within the brain can be recorded with (MEG), or what is also known as magnetoencephalography while brain metabolic activity, which are measured by changes in blood flow to the brain can be witnessed with positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and near-infared spectroscopy (NIRS). (Millan, p., 239). However, electrical brain activity can be measured more accurately and using both invasive and non-invasive procedures.
History of BCI Research
The notion of brain-computer interaction did not become a full-fledged research focus and the object of grants until 1973 at UCLA. That research headed by Jacques J. Vidal and pursued by DARPA, ushered in a new era of technology for humans: linking human brains with the interfaces and operating systems of computers.

In a recent article , “Researchers at the University at Buffalo and elsewhere are helping to advance technology that allows people to control robots with their minds. UB isn’t focused on world domination, but rather applying these brain-computer interface (BCI) devices to manufacturing, medicine and other fields.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-11-mind-controlled-robots-medicine-video.html

BCI technologies have so many possibilities with each advancing year, and it comes to show that our thoughts really can control objects, computers, robots, among other things that we may want to control with our thoughts. You are thinking expensive right? Well, the sticker shock is not as rough as one might think. The device used in the article referenced above, retails for $750 and fits on your head pretty much like a normal cap. Personalized BCI interfaces such as this will become more commonplace by the end of this decade. There are a total of 14 sensors that are connected to help the software recognize your thought patterns. This has come quite a ways, even from the mid 1990’s when BCI interfaces were quite bulky, much more expensive and essentially were not available for retail purchase. Each succeeding year will see decreases in price, decreases in the number of and surface area of sensors, increases in sensitivity and more robust interactive software and hardware. The potential uses are profound:

Coevolution_brain_machine_interface

“For example, it could help paraplegic patients to control assistive devices, or it could help factory workers perform advanced manufacturing tasks”. The device begins to learn your synapse patterns within a few days and can complete simple tasks, such as demonstrated by the graduate student in the video from the link above. BCI technologies also have the potential to remove repetitious and tedious tasks, while we control a robot through BCI to complete that task for us, the future of multitasking!

“The devices can also leverage the worker’s decision-making skills, such as identifying a faulty part in an automated assembly line, while also improving workers safety and productivity.” It is just a matter of time until BCI technologies become widely available especially with the converging sciences of nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive science, information technology and synthetic biology.

Near-Future Thoughts:

Currently, with BCI, the feedback to the software of the computer is the only direction in which the input goes.  The next stage of research the rest of this decade will be focusing on is getting feedback to go both directions.  For example, say you think of an action for the robot to complete and when you visually see it happen, the movement is not as smooth as you would’ve liked.  In near-future BCI the robot, or artificial intelligence will help direct you to think in a manner to get the exact moment you are seeking and the speed of which it can learn complex actions and behaviors will decrease.  Essentially, it will aid in manifesting your subconscious.  Multi-tasking indeed!

The more our brains get intertwined with computers the more ‘uploaded’ we essentially are.  This leads to the next article.

Ethics of Human Enhancement 101…

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While society at large considers the notion of “human enhancement” generally with human genetic engineering, the term usually refers to the “general applications of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science to improve human performance” (p., 113).  Since the 1990’s there has been growing advocacy particularly in the academic fields, but more importantly the rise of these ideas slowly into the general public.  The individuals who work for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies have become some of the most potent activists for ethical human enhancement.

Medical-Nanotechnology

“Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with ‘transhumanism'(which this blog obviously is in favor of!), an ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens to either maintain or modify their own minds and bodies; so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children” (p., 113).

Many of the critics of transhumanism, or human enhancement for that matter, identify this with eugenic overtones.  This is due to the possibility through the improvement
of human hereditary traits to “attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity” (p., 113).  Some people take this as a negative notion, although there still will be plenty of diversity and neurodiversity.  This will continue to occur because there will not be a “standard” by which humans will adapt themselves through enhancement.  That’s the beauty of transhumanism= you can enhance and augment yourself anyway you see fit, as long as in the process there is no harm to others, that in itself will entail a variety of bio and neurodiversity.  It just happens to be that some of these enhancements seem so alien to us now, that our initial reactions are negative.  With this, human enhancement particularly those deemed self-evidently good, such as “fewer diseases” and slowing the aging process are beneficial to everyone.

The most common criticism of human enhancement, is that it will be practiced and used to such an extent, recklessly and selfishly and the movement will not consider the long-term consequences of those enhanced individuals and the rest of society.  One example of this is the fear among those whom we called “Bio-Luddites”.  They believe that there will be some enhancements which will “create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the ‘haves’ and have-nots” (p., 114).  What they fail to understand, that this “gulf” is already occuring, but will slow down with the increase of personalized 3D Printing and personalized, regenerative medicine (via, nanotechnology; one of the converging technologies state above).  These technologies are going to converge whether people want this to happen or not.

Further Reading:

Enhancement Technologies Group: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucbtdag/bioethics/

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: http://www.ieet.org/

Humanity+ : http://humanityplus.org/

Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo): http://ethics.calpoly.edu/

Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers: http://ethics.calpoly.edu/NSF_report.pdf

Next Stage in our Evolution?…Advanced Human Enhancement!

evolve

It is October 2013 and we as a species rely entirely on the use of enhancing objects, environments, and ourselves.  There are many forms of human enhancement that already exists within the realms of medicine, religion, athletic performance, surgery, prosthetics , cryonics, etc.  This aspect of our daily lives will continue to increase its percentage of enhancements in addition to the biology which we are born with.  Man has always been seeking methods to augment his/her abilities for reasons both pure and disgusting.  Here is the explanation of what human enhancement is:

Human enhancement refers to any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means.  The term is sometimes applied to the use of technological means to select or alter human characterisitcs and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range.  Here, the test is whether the technology is used for non-therapeutic purposes.  Some bioethicists restrict the term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies–neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies–to human biology.

Human enhancement technologies (HET), are techniques that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human characteristics and capacities.  In some circles  the expression “human enhancement technologies” is synonymous with emerging technologies or converging technologies.  In other circles, the expression “human enhancement” is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering, it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science to improve human performance. (p., 112-13).*

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Existing Technologies

  • Reproductive technology
  • Embryo selection by preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • Physically
  • Doping
  • Performance-enhancing drugs
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Powered Exoskeleton
  • Mentally
  • Nootropics

Emerging Techologies

  • Human genetic engineering
  • Neural implants

Speculative technologies

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  • Mind uploading
  • Exocortex
  • Augmented Reality
  • Full-Immersion Virtual Reality
  • Body organ replacements
  • Body-computer-interfaces
  • Brain-computer interfaces
  • (many others!!!!)

We must not be afraid of the coming changes to how we live our daily lives. The technologies today may seem too far ahead, but with how spending and loaning occurs, the increase for the market or enhancement, rejuvination, and replacement of body parts will be more enormous that we can comprehend to this point. Old modes of industry and production will be giving way to new modes where the individual is more control of pricing and amount of DIY work.  Enhancement is what actually defines us as a species.  It determines those of us are who are moving onto the next stage of evolution by providing a means for us to alter, increase, expand, deplete chracteristics, habits. Sadly, there are still those, who do not want to enhance themselves, but alas they are lead by bronze age folklore.

The next article will be discussing a few of the major topics on the ethics of human enhancement.

References

*(Transhumanism, Hephaestus Books, 2012)

Self-Extension Through Robots?

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Robots, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence and human-robot hybridization all are possible helpful tools that we will encounter in the near future.  Even now, there are being studies conducted on the emotional responses to humans working with robots.  Analyzing, and increasing the research on this topic, is critical since we are moving towards a technological singularity. Technology is part of all our lives and in the future will merge our physical bodies with said technologies.  One of the conclusions from their analysis was that even some of the soldiers during their interactions with the field robots, mental self-extension into the body of the robot occured.

Take a look at the article below:

http://phys.org/news/2013-09-emotional-robots-affect-outcome-battlefield.html?fb_action_ids=551530201562357&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source