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The future of healthcare: engineering the senses

Have you stopped to consider what the future of your healthcare could look like? Just look how far we have come, both in terms of technological advancements, and scientific and medical knowledge too, in recent years.

The healthcare that your parents experienced as children, differed significantly to the healthcare that we experienced as children, and with technology set to transform the healthcare industry in the next few years, it will differ again for our children.

But how could that look?

According to Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at University of Reading, by 2035 we will be able to upgrade our five senses to many more, with implants that detect more signals (radio waves, X-rays, etc).

What does that mean exactly?

Warwick doesn’t believe that we should accept the limitations that evolution has placed on our bodies. With our ever advancing technology, he asks why not merge robotic capabilities with a human body, to enhance what we already have?

We already interact with the world around us through our five senses, why leave it there? Why not add to our repertoire?

Warwick believes that there are so many other ways we can look at the world. You only have to look at the animal kingdom to see where his thinking is going: snakes have their infrared vision, enabling them to see in the dark, bats have their sonic hearing. He says why not harness the power of radio waves or X-rays, and view our surroundings in a whole different way?

We humans can only sense a tiny portion of the world around us, we can only see visible light, a tiny part of the light spectrum, and we can only hear sounds close by us. And when we lose one of our senses, we feel the need to replace it with another one, for example using touch to read Braille for blind people.

But what if we could add to our senses rather than simply find a replacement? Our brains are just gigantic computers at the end of the day, capable of learning a multitude of skills, if we unlock their potential, we could experience the world around us in many different ways.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman and his team have been doing just that. They have been working on a way which allows deaf people to experience sound, through the power of vibrations. Eagleman has created a vest that enables deaf people to not feel sound, like a blind person feels Braille, but rather to be exposed to the sensations of sound, through vibrations.

Eagleman tested his vest out on a deaf man, who after 5 days of wearing it, was able to understand words being spoken to him, as his brain started to unlock what the data it was receiving meant.

How did it do this?

Eagleman believes that our brains are ‘general-purpose computational devices…[able to] take any kind of data stream and figure it out’.

If this is the case, the possibilities for human sensory advancement are limitless!

And it doesn’t stop there. The technological advances on the horizon for healthcare are incredible. To find out what is likely to be possible within your lifetime, take a look at the graphic below.

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