Will We Merge With Machines?

Advances in medical science may well lead to more-than-human abilities

The pattern is familiar: Researchers develop a technology or drug to aid the ailing. Soon thereafter, healthy people co-opt it to make themselves stronger, faster or smarter. Follow this trend far enough, and we reach the augmented human. Popular Science has scoured the most promising research under way in bioengineering laboratories worldwide to take an informed look at how technology will enter and alter our bodies over the coming decades. Below, a glimpse at the man of the future.

KEY: WHEN?
" 0 - 5 years
" " 6 - 10 years
" " " 11 - 15 years
" " " " 16+ years

Telekinesis Tech
** " " "** 11 - 15 years
Researchers at Brown University and Cyberkinetics in Foxborough, Massachusetts, are devising brain implants that will enable us to communicate with machines. A microchip implanted in the motor cortex just beneath your skull will intercept nerve signals and reroute them to a computer, which will then wirelessly send the command to any of various electronic devices, including computers, stereos and electric wheelchairs.

Laser-Scanned Eyes
** "** 0 - 5 years
Researchers at Smart Holograms in Cambridge, England, have made contact lenses that tell diabetics when their blood sugar is awry. Changes in tear sugars deform an insert in the lens, altering the refractions from imperceptible dots on the surface. Next: a lens that detects blood pressure.

Cellphone By Dentist
** " " "** 11 - 15 years
Imagine never forgetting your cellphone. A German design team has designed a microvibration device and a wireless low-frequency receiver that can be implanted in the tooth. The vibrator acts as microphone and speaker, sending sound waves along the jawbone to your eardrum.

Heart of Titanium
** "** 0 - 5 years
Today's state-of-the-art artificial heart is the Abiocor. Unfortunately, the device fits just 50 percent of the male population. It also quits working after a year or two. The Abiocor II, due out in 2008, will be 30 percent smaller, fitting most men and 50 percent of women, and will last up to five years.

Drug Pusher
** " "** 6 - 10 years
ChipRx in Lexington, Kentucky, is developing a system that automatically delivers the medication you need, when you need it. The matchstick-size device is loaded with your prescription and inserted into the chest. When its sensor notices changes in body chemistry or temperature, the device pumps meds from its reservoir.

Stem-Cell Sperm
** " " "** 11 - 15 years
Scientists at the University of Sheffield in England have created human sperm from embryonic stem cells. If the procedure is commercially applied, infertile men will take DNA from their skin to clone the stem cells and then grow the cells into functioning sperm. The researchers predict that the first child born of stem-cell sperm is about a decade away.

Muscles Shocked Stiff
** " "** 6 - 10 years
One hundredth the size of a AA battery, the Bion, already used to strengthen muscles in arthritis sufferers and stroke victims, could soon bring movement back to paralyzed limbs. In clinical trials, doctors are injecting this 16-millimeter-long capsule of electrode-capped glass into lifeless muscle. The patient activates it to mimic nerve impulses, forcing the muscle to contract. This year the researchers, led by Gerald Loeb of the University of Southern California, will add sensors that take cues from motor nerves and send feedback to the Bion, making the system fully automatic.

Microchip Memory
** " " "** 11-15 years
Neural engineer Ted Berger of the University of Southern California is developing a way to enhance memory. A microchip will send signals from one healthy brain cell to another, bypassing damaged tissue that would otherwise block the message. His artificial hippocampus will first help Alzheimer's patients regain the ability to form memories, then aid the merely forgetful.

Nerve-Zapping Hearing Aid
** " "** 6 10 years
The Bionic Ear Institute in Australia is building an implant for the inner ear that will shock damaged nerves back to health. A small pump showers the nerves with stimulating chemicals while electrodes excite the cells to keep them alive.

Four-Dimensional Vision
** " " " "** 16+ years
Humans have three color-producing cones in our eyes--red, green and blue. What if we had four? Scientists at the Medical College of Wisconsin hope to give us genes for a fourth cone to enable us to see new hues that we can't even imagine right now.

Beating Band-Aid
** " " " "** 16+ years
Researchers at MIT are devising a bandage made with living heart cells. After a heart attack, it will contract along with the rest of the heart, replacing damaged tissue.

Shock Therapy For the Gut
** "** 0 - 5 years
A pacemaker created by Transneuronix in New Jersey is helping test subjects lose 25 to 40 percent of their body fat. Its mild shocks relax and expand the upper part of the stomach, and the brain interprets the distended stomach as feeling full.

High-Fiber Lung
** " "** 6 - 10 years
University of Pittsburgh researchers are working on the world's first implantable lung. The tube-shaped device will be made of gas-permeable microfibers. Carbon dioxide diffuses across the fibers and moves toward a compact pump at the hip. The pump expels the carbon dioxide and pulls in oxygen, which diffuses back through the fibers into the blood.

Kidney In A Tube
** " "** 6 - 10 years
About 62,000 Americans are now waiting for a kidney. Traditional dialysis is a painful process that removes nutrients along with the toxins. To avoid this problem, researchers at Nephros Therapeutics in Rhode Island are putting live kidney cells to work in dialysis machines. As the apparatus filters the blood, the kidney cells grab essential nutrients from the filtrate and return them to the purified blood. In the next decade, researchers at the University of Michigan hope to implant smaller versions directly into the body, in the femoral artery near the hip. As blood moves through the artery, it will filter through the artificial kidney.

Nonslip Disc
** "** 0 - 5 years
Usually when you rupture or dislocate a spinal disc, doctors have to fuse nearby vertebrae to prevent them from rubbing against each other. But now there's the Charit, approved by the FDA last fall, a disc of polyethylene and cobalt-chromium alloy that shifts and slides to allow a full 21 degrees of motion.

Freed Knees
** "** 0 - 5 years
When doctors replace a knee, they remove the anterior cruciate ligament, shifting the primary contact area from the inner edge of the knee to the outer edge. The 3DKnee made by Encore Medical Corp. in Austin, Texas, is the first to take this switch into account, so the knee feels more natural and lasts longer.

Drug Pusher

ChipRx in Lexington, Kentucky, is developing a system that automatically delivers the medication you need, when you need it. The matchstick-size device is loaded with your prescription and inserted into the chest. When its sensor notices changes in body chemistry or temperature, the device pumps meds from its reservoir.John MacNeill

Beating band-aid

Researchers at MIT are devising a bandage made with living heart cells. After a heart attack, it will contract along with the rest of the heart, replacing damaged tissue.John MacNeill

Microchip Memory

Neural engineer Ted Berger of the University of Southern California is developing a way to enhance memory. A microchip will send signals from one healthy brain cell to another, bypassing damaged tissue that would otherwise block the message. His artificial hippocampus will first help Alzheimer´s patients regain the ability to form memories, then aid the merely forgetful.John MacNeill