According to an article by Alexandra Sifferlin titled: “He, Robot: The high-tech future of the human body” in Time magazine (15 Feb 2013):
He sees, he walks, his heart pumps blood. But Rex, as he’s called in the U.K., where he just debuted, is not human. In fact, he is not even alive.
He is the world’s most advanced bionic man, created as part of a three-month collaboration among scientists, researchers and a TV production company. (Its How to Build a Bionic Man documentary will air later this year in the U.S.) Unlike the human-robot hybrids we’re used to seeing onscreen–The Six Million Dollar Man, anyone?–this one is the real deal; his organs are scientific prototypes; and his blood, made from plastic, is a harbinger of breakthroughs to come.
Rex’s various parts include:
- Sight-restoring eyes: Video camera captures images, which are converted into visual patterns in the brain
- Full-service heart: Pumps blood without the help of a pacemater; uses a wearable 13.5 lb (6 kg) power source
- Plastic blood: Unique blend of plastic molecues with iron-atom cores can bind oxygen to release in the body
- Gripping hands: Sortware lets users customize gestures online and sync them to hands. All fingers can move independently, allowing for gripping, pinching and typing
- Cleansing kidney: A silicon filter line with living kidney cells removes toxins from blood and maintains water balance, eliminating the need for dialysis
These advances raise a variety of ethical questions: What happens if a bionic limb surpasses the functionality of a human one? Will individuals be allowed to replace healthy parts? Who will be eligible for replacement body parts? Only those that can afford them? And I’m sure there are many more issues that we need to start considering now.