What if we used a bionic eye for more than just seeing?

By | August 14, 2012
So, the bionic eye used in mice fires correctly 90% of the time. What happens in the other 10%? Do we get to see 'random pixelized ghost' images?

I also wonder on how this works with airport security. Would one of those controversial 'naked scanners' have an issue with cyborgs trying to fly? Would the radiation waves damage the bionic eye? Or… if your bionic eye could do more than just see… say, act like an integrated Google Glass HUD, an integrated laser pointer, or something else… wouldn't that change your life too?

Perhaps the scariest bit, it's not as far-fetched as it sounds.

/via +Scott Leighton 

Scientists Develop ‘Bionic Eye’ That Could Restore Sight To The Blind

10 thoughts on “What if we used a bionic eye for more than just seeing?

  1. Christine Paluch

    +Sophie Wrobel It is funny you mention RFID chips because I did some analysis for LGBT groups here in DC on that exact issue.  It is not just forgery that is an issue with RFID chips, but also changing database information for people who change their identities (trans people).  The issues regarding implantable devices and bio-metrics present unique issues that most people don't consider because of privilege.
    This is at the core of the problem though is society itself, as well as perceptions of minority groups does not always catch up to society.     

    We have to consider forgeries of course, and ways to deal with such instances which keep a victims first approach.  But sometimes the solutions lie not just with technology, but simple civil and criminal law and procedural implementation. Knowing where there are potential inflection points when dealing with these issues.  Many of the problems I have found out are ones of organization anthropology and management, more so than the technology itself.  Legislating the implementation is almost impossible.  The best laws may be in place to deal with these issues, but it often comes to the regulations and procedures to deal with these issues and scenarios.
    EDIT: Thinking about it, even from a biometrics perspective these eyes present issues, but I would imagine these artificial ones would present a greater one since they are reproducible.

  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Christine Paluch Of course, sci-fi always catches the public more than realistic scenarios. One particular case which I think needs to be addressed is that identity forgery concerning implanted personally identifiable chips. This could be, in safe, tried-and-true form, as simple as RFID chip implants à la dogtag. So now I'm curious: given your background, where or how do you see this particular issue being addressed?

  3. Christine Paluch

    +Sophie Wrobel The problem is this lies both in the very strict regulatory world of medical devices, but also the transparent world of consumer products.  I have more experience from a policy perspective as supposed to an ethical one.  Even finding what the right regulatory regime can be difficult at times, something like Google Glass falls under consumer product safety, but implantable devices fall under FDA policy which is far more strict.  But I imagine over time these lines will blur.  

    I can tell you from a consumer product safety perspective, things used to be in such a state were I would not have been comfortable with such developments.  There was not much in the way of just basic transparency and testing even a few years back.  This however was recently overhauled, but largely because me and some others who worked on science policy spent months identifying the problems in the previous system and identifying changes.  We were more concerned about toxic substances and defective in products for children, but the thing is the way the new laws were written, and their focus on defect transparency can probably help with any new developments in technology as well. The system is far more transparent now as a result, the Chamber of Commerce may not be happy about this, but it has at least opened the door to a transparent system. 

    With that being said, I am not sure the FDA is nearly as prepared, there are similar issues with transparency there, but for different reasons.  The barriers are also much higher because exposing issues with medical devices, also presents inherent privacy issues with those who need such devices.  There is the issue with the privacy of the patient vs. the need for public information.  

    I kind of have a unique view on this situation, because I used to work on these issues.  The best is not to look at the scary sci-fi realities, but the more pragmatic ones when doing this type of science and technology policy analysis. Looking at issues regarding transparency to the public, but also ones regarding standards for testing devices for safety.  

    The law always lags technology, but policies can be written to be broad enough, where the problems with such technologies can be transparent to the public.

  4. Kaj Sotala

    +Sophie Wrobel: True, this seems like the kind of an issue where legislation will severely lag behind technology – especially since e.g. copyright law still hasn't really caught up with the Internet.

    Of course, legislators might seek to simply ban some of these technologies. E.g. human reproductive cloning has been banned in most countries, and GMOs likewise hit a lot of resistance. But trying to ban a technology becomes a lot more difficult when the line between "medicine" and "enhancement" is as fuzzy as it is.

    What could happen to some extent is that various industries end up deciding on these issues themselves, and then the legislation just adopts most of those decisions.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Kaj Sotala you passed Google's spam filters, so it must be fine. 🙂

    It still doesn't solve the problem of getting lawmakers to create policy around near-future possibilities, though.

  6. Kaj Sotala

    +Christine Paluch: If you're interested in the topic, I think Nick Bostrom's papers on it are good (though maybe you're already aware of them), e.g.

    * Bostrom & Savulescu (2008) Human Enhancement Ethics: The State of the Debate. http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/human-enhancement-ethics.pdf
    * Bostrom & Roache (2008) Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement. http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/human-enhancement.pdf
    * Bostrom & Sandberg (2009) Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges. http://www.nickbostrom.com/cognitive.pdf

    Or if you want to go a little more speculative, I recently co-authored a paper on some of the theoretical implications of various brain implants…

    * Sotala & Valpola (2012) Coalescing minds: Brain-uploading related group mind scenarios. http://kajsotala.fi/Papers/CoalescingMinds.pdf

    (Hopefully this comment doesn't come off as too spammy; I can delete it if people prefer.)

  7. Sophie Wrobel

    +Christine Paluch Absolutely agree. DIY implants are already at the stage where makers can augment their senses – perhaps not to the level of a bionic eye, but enough to mix realities of the conventional and exploratory worlds.

    But ethics and policy aren't there yet. And that poses a very big problem. It's a devil's chase, too, trying to develop policy for some 'spooky sci-fi possible directions' that have not yet reached technical maturity.

  8. Craig Perko

    An artificial eye should be able to act as an AR device (have a "HUD"). It's just different software.

    But if I had one, I'd want it crazy-looking. What's the point of having one that looks normal?

  9. Christine Paluch

    Sophie, I think we need to consider, this is probably the first step to more sophisticated augmentations down the line, and we have to consider the ethics of things beyond just eyes.  Some seemingly esoteric questions raised by science fiction are becoming very real considerations.  Everything from the ethics of artificial intelligence to augmentation now have real meaning.  We are in a position now where whether or not somebody should lose more of a limb to get better prosthesis, but when you are talking about implantable technology those questions begin to expand. Would somebody with bad vision want bionic eyes or should it be reserved for just the blind?  What would be the risk? Is it worth it?  You are right, inter-connectivity is the next question, supposedly the people who worked on glass worked on contacts that did just that, and the military already has that technology.  Not far fetched at all. 

    It is no question to me that we should use this question to resolve disabilities.  But there are more sophisticated questions of neural perception that are also there.  I know people who are legally blind, not because of their eyes, but because of their brain structures.  Neurological augmentation alone is a complicated path, but it is one that we will ultimately have to go down to address other disabilities.  Again though, it opens doors to other ethical questions about the use of this technology.

    However the real lesson here should be "no one defies artificial light".  The technology is going to move forward no matter what because there are real problems that need to be resolved.  The question becomes what we should do about the development in terms of regulation and ethics, if anything at all.      


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