MadSci Network: Biophysics

Re: can living things and unliving things be combined and work in union

Date: Thu Dec 10 22:42:41 1998
Posted By: Kevin Reed, Engineer,
Area of science: Biophysics
ID: 911885083.Bp


Yes, living and non-living things can function together. A few examples 
that are fairly common today are:

Implantable pacemakers and defibrillators that keep damaged hearts beating 
Artificial heart valves;
Cochlear implants that can restore partial hearing to people with damaged 
middle ears;
and artificial limbs that can sense muscle impulses of the back or upper 
arm and bend at the elbow or close the hand.

These are just basic applications; the technology isn't developed enough to 
allow highly sophisticated devices like computer/brain interfaces or fully 
functional artificial organs. One example is a dialysis machine: in order 
to do part of the work of a pair of one-pound kidneys requires a machine 
the size of a large refrigerator.

The only experiment with connecting computers to a brain I know of was an 
attempt to stimulate the visual cortex with a computer-controlled electrode 
array to make letter shapes. It was only partially successful, and requires 
a room full of computer equipment and electronics. 

As computers become smaller and more powerful and the workings of the body 
become better understood, there might be something like this. Until then, 
though, we just haven't figured out how.


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