The Bionic Eye
August 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
A team of researchers called Bionic Vision Australia have successfully implanted the first prototype of a bionic eye into a blind woman. In this prototype, a device is implanted behind the retina and 24 electrodes are connected to a small wire which leads to an external source. The woman then sees images through flashes of light created in the laboratory through a connection with the external source. There are plans to increase the number of electrodes to 98 and 1024 and to test these in patients in due time. Eventually when the patient’s interpretation of the flashes of light into images is better understood, the system will be revised to include a camera.
An excellent science fiction story could be built out of this development in technology through examining the integration of technology and human thought processes. The reliance on technology to produce a sensory interpretation of surroundings suggests humanistic aspects of the technology, therefore taking a step toward the idea of a “bionic man.” The question then becomes, if a blind person that has never before seen an image sees it through this technology for the first time, do they interpret the image in the same manner as the rest of us, or does a sort of alternate technological interpretation then exist? Our eyes merely collect light and give us a picture of our surroundings. It is the job of our brains to make meaning out of that picture. Can a bionic eye provide the connection between an image and its emotional meaning? Will things that hold significance to normal seeing individuals, such as a national flag or scenes of a horrific event, provoke feelings of loyalty or pain in a person with a bionic implant, or will the images provided by the implant only allow the individual to assess that there is a piece of cloth woven in different colors and patterns before them or there are other biological units going through a phenomenon that is causing them to cease functioning? Therefore, the question could be raised in a science fiction story whether or not humans are still “human” if they do not experience emotions, or if the lack of emotion due to technological interface transforms them into a separate species or race: a bionic man. The story would then explore the social and moral consequences of having a category of individuals who have the same physical and mental abilities of humans but none of the same reasoning, empathy, or love.