This was a year in which science and technology made serious headway in fusing our brains and bodies with machines, making the human form—like our phones, our cars, and just about everything else — just a little more high-tech.
Here are some of the craziest ways that technology changed the human body in 2015.
The era of the cyborg, it turns out, may already be here. In 2015, incredible strides were made in the science of human-computer interfaces, chips implanted in the brain that interact with the brain's electrical signals to do anything from moving a robotic arm to helping ease the strain of PTSD. This year the Department of Defense's research arm, DARPA, revealed that it has begun testing implanting “brain-neural interfaces” by temporarily implanting electrical arrays into the brains of volunteers undergoing surgery for other neurological issues. Scientists at Brown University's BrainGate program, which is experimenting with how to use such implants to translate thoughts into action for people with neurological impairments, also achieved breakthroughs in the allowing paralyzed patients to control a computer cursor with their thoughts.
In 2013, the FDA approved the Argus II, a bionic eye implant made by US firm Second Sight. It simulates for the blind a grainy black-and-white version of the world by using a digital camera mounted on a pair of eyeglasses that act as the eye’s rods and cones. It wirelessly transmits visual data to a computer chip implanted on the side of the eye that converts that data into "vision." The Argus II had already been used to restore some vision to patients who are blind as a result of a rare condition called retinitis pigmentosa, but this year surgeons in the U.K. for the first time succeeded in using it on a patient with the most common cause of sight-loss in the developed world, age-related macular degeneration.
When one bluetooth device communicates with another, the human body is a major obstacle, causing devices to drain their power since radio signals don't easily pass through the human tissue. But researchers at U.C. San Diego this year pioneered an alternative: a prototype of a way to use magnetic fields to turn the body into a vehicle to deliver magnetic energy between electronic devices. Using our bodies to power all of our electronic devices can't be too far behind, right?
Stelios Arcadiou, an Austrailian performance artist known as Stelarc, this year reimagined what an ear fundamentally is. After two surgeries, Stelarc grew a human ear on his inner forearm, which he eventually plans to outfit with a miniature microphone and wirelessly connect to the Internet so that anyone who wants to can listen in on his life. "This project has been about replicating a bodily structure, relocating it and now rewiring it for alternate functions," Stelarc told CNET. "It manifests both a desire to deconstruct our evolutionary architecture and to integrate microminiaturized electronics inside the body."
One of the great promises of technology is the ability to choose. With Netflix, you can choose to watch anything you want when you want it. With food delivery apps, you can eat whatever you want from wherever you want without leaving your couch. And with Doppler Labs' earbuds, you can filter out the world to hear what you want, too. Think of it as a mute button for the real world.
Unlike Superman or Spiderman, superheroes like Batman and Iron Man get their powers from technology via supped-up superhero suits. In at least that respect, real life is starting to look a lot more like the world of Marvel comics. This year "exoskeleton" was a big buzz word, with power-enhancing suits hitting the market to help give extra strength to construction workers and help injured veterans walk. If you don't like the idea of cold metal against your skin, don't worry, there's also a soft, Big Hero 6 version in the works.
Driving glasses may become a thing of the past if one Canadian optometrist has his way. In 2015, Dr. Garth Webb unveiled an implantable bionic lens that he claims will give anyone perfect vision "no matter how crummy your eyes are" or even allow them to see up to three times better that 20/20 with a simple surgery that only lasts a few minutes. The technology is still awaiting clinical trial. "Perfect eyesight," Webb told the CBC, "should be a human right."