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Robots are becoming more human all the time.
I predict that in the near future, robots will be so human-like that it will seem natural for us interact with them. We'll also see the advent of people who are what I call "bionics" – those who put computer chips or other devices in their brains or bodies.
As I see it, we are fast approaching the day in which man and machine become fused together.
Just in the last few days, researchers reported major breakthroughs that promise to do just that. In a moment, I'll tell you all about it.
First, remember the new hydrogel we investigated last Wednesday – the material that could greatly improve human health and aging by replacing damaged cartilage?
Turns out there's another part of the part of the story we need to know about.
This type of hydrogel could play a vital role in the cutting-edge field of robotics, too.
See, we're getting very close to the day in which we augment robots with "smart" human tissue. We'll grow tissue in labs and equip it with onboard electronics made possible by nanotech circuits.
That's where the hydrogel would come in handy. We won't just replace damaged cartilage in people. We'll use that or something like it to link sensor-laden tissue inside robots or in people with organ transplants or artificial limbs.
Just two weeks ago, a research team from MIT and the University of Pennsylvania said they had blurred the boundary between biology and machines even further. They genetically engineered skeletal muscles for robots that work by responding to light.
This is just amazing…
The team said the goal is to use light-active tissue to build highly agile robots. They said they hope their "bio-integrated" approach will one day allow robotic animals to move with the strength and flexibility of real living creatures.
"With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor," MIT professor Harry Asada said. "This is a new direction we're pushing in biorobotics."
The MIT focused their comments on the future of robot animals. But I see no reason why it can't be applied to making robots that can at least function more like humans.
In any case, the group is the first to stimulate this type of muscle using light. This is key for two reasons.
- First, muscles respond to commands, unlike the heart, which beats on its own.
- Second, the system gives doctors a "wireless" way to control muscles. In fact, these designer muscles show quite a wide range of motion. That means that in the future, robots won't have that jerky sense that makes them seem so, well, robotic.
Turns out that just a few days before, a team at Harvard University reported that it had created what it calls "cyborg" tissue. This was the first time scientists engineered tissue and embedded biofriendly nanoscale wires in a functioning network.
Team leader Charles M. Lieber said the group came up with a system of making nanoscale "scaffolds," devices that can grow tissue after they are seeded with cells.
"Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin," Lieber said.
Harvard team members also said the research tackles a concern that has nagged at those working with bioengineered tissue for some time now: how to design systems that can sense chemical or electrical changes in tissue after it has been grown and then implanted in the body. After all, our bodies do that, naturally, every second of every day. Our nervous systems track our body chemistries for things like oxygen and pH levels and make constant changes as needed.
Lieber's team said the most near-term use for this new field is to work with drug firms. No doubt, that would be huge. It would allow firms to test new compounds with cyborg tissue that gives them in-depth feedback long before testing them on people. The process would make human trials safer and cheaper and lower the cost of new drugs.
One thing's for sure… Before long, it will be hard to tell the difference between "natural" humans and those equipped with highly advanced robotics.
Some will no doubt find all this disturbing.
Claire, an Era reader from the UK, had this warning about "our bionic future:"
I can understand Claire's hesitation. But think of the incredible benefits: One day soon, someone who has lost two limbs in an accident (or perhaps in a war) could be up and running again in no time, as if nothing had happened.
And that's one of the great things about all this cutting-edge high tech. In the long run, it will make life better for all of us.
It's all part of what I call the Era of Radical Change. What was once science fiction is becoming science fact.
Indeed, researchers are reporting so many advances in so many fields at once that no one person on earth can hope to make sense of it all. That's exactly why we're building this community.
Many of you have been sending me breakthroughs and advances you come across in your own research. I just love these emails. Please, keep it up. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.