Have you ever imagined a time when your natural body parts could be easily swapped out for bionic versions? That's not possible now, but science is getting us closer to realizing that scifi scenario. In The New York Daily News, Braden Goyette writes about a
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According to The New York Daily News' Braden Goyette, a blind British man named Chris James can see again thanks to a digital chip that doctors installed beneath his retina. The success of the procedure is somewhat limited, however, With 1,500 pixels on a three millimeter surface, the chip is similar to a cell phone camera and offers an area about the size of a CD case held at arms' length. Furthermore, James can see basic shapes in grainy black and white, though doctors hope that his brain will adjust to the newly recovered sense and offer more resolution. Let's not get discouraged by the limitations, however. Remember: this is a blind man who can now see.
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This medical miracle won worldwide attention last year when a video of a young woman hearing her voice for the first time went viral. Sarah Churman, the woman in the video, cried at the sound of her own voice, which she's been able to hear thanks to an advanced type of cochlear implant called Esteem. Cochlear implants, which have been around in various forms for decades, connect to the middle ear to help translate sound waves into electricity that the brain's aural nerves can interpret. While different types of hearing loss require different types of devices, it's now possible for some deaf people to hear with the help of one of these machines. There's also a fair amount of controversy in the deaf community over whether or not this is a good thing.
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We're going to stretch our definition of bionic slightly with this one. Those without a voice have always been able to depend on text-to-speech technology to talk, however software is getting much better. After losing his lower jaw and voice to cancer treatments, Roger Ebert worked with the software company CereProc to reproduce his voice thanks to hours upon hours of commentary from his television program and other audio. For those who don't have an archive of TV appearances like Ebert, scientists are hard at work to develop more natural-sounding and effortless-to-operate bionic voice boxes. They can even do it without surgery.
This is where things start to get really cool. For all kinds of amputees and those born without fully developed limbs, prosthetics have developed beyond simple artificial limbs. In many cases, prosthetic limbs are more powerful than their natural equivalents. Take, for instance, Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter who was denied entrance into the 2008 Olympic Games since his spring-like carbon-fiber feet were viewed by the International Association of Athletics Federation as providing him with a competitive advantage. (Pistorius appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport who decided that he had no competitive advantage. Unfortunately, Pistorius did not have a qualifying time for the Olympics, and so he could not attend nevertheless.) Or Carrie Davis, born without a right forearm, who uses an almost fully functional carbon-fiber arm to do everything from shake hands to drink wine. Lately, scientists are even making progress in building prosthetics that can feel. We can only imagine what's next.