Bionic eye: seeing the future

FDA just approved an implant for certain people with severely limited vision. This “bionic eye” does not restore sight but it does help “detect light and dark and help [people] identify the location and movement of objects.” So it could be a big help from a functional standpoint for certain individuals, even though it’s far from perfect and may not be completely safe.

Fast forward a decade or two or three and imagine a time when implants (or some other approach) can restore vision to normal. That will be pretty cool for the many people whose vision is relatively poor and there will likely be a lot of demand for such treatments/devices, even from people that we would not consider visually impaired today.

But then imagine that the technology keeps advancing and gets to the point where technology can improve on natural vision, so that someone with a bionic eye becomes more like the Six Million Dollar Man, especially if they get enhancements not just to the eye but to other body parts as well. I’m in my mid-40s and have a reasonable expectation of living to the time when this moves from science fiction to reality.

If you think about it, we are already starting to get there in limited cases. ¬†Oscar Pistorius, now infamous for other reasons, shows that a double amputee can be as fast or faster as Olympic runners. How soon until other Olympians –who already commit their lives and bodies to the pursuit of excellence– will want body modifications to improve competitiveness?

Obviously the path of medical technology will raise all kinds of ethical issues. It’s time to start the discussion.

February 15, 2013

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