Friday, 1 June 2012

Modern Medical Miracles

I believe we are on the cusp of a new Golden Age, and this article supports my feeling. Go ahead and read it, but these were the bits that stood out for me:

Imagine the leaps we can make as a species if we [lived to 150]. In the early 1900s, for example, life expectancy was 30, so inventors, artists, scientists and engineers reached their peak in their twenties. Today, those same people (sic!) are at their prime in their forties and fifties. [...] But imagine [...] if they were able to carry on inventing and discovering for another 30 or 40 years. The Renaissance may have been a direct result of the development of reading glasses. which enabled older people to participate in a way that they couldn't before because their eyes were not working properly.

You can say that again. My late father's brain was as alert and active at age 80 as it was in his younger days, but he had to give up reading and translating Japanese because his eyesight was a lot worse.

A professor is working on "quantum dots" - microscopic, photosensitive flecks of silicone that could one day be used to "inject" new information into the brain and provide non-invasive treatment for Alzheimer's, epilepsy and blindness.

And autism, hopefully.

He and his team had managed to put mice into a state of suspended animation using hydrogen sulphide. [...] A mouse that had been fully suspended has no heartbeat, but the cells have also stopped dying. After six hours, Roth was able to bring it "back to life". [...] Trying to get the medical community on board would be challenging, though, Roth admits. He thinks inducing a partially suspended state ("dimming the lights rather than turning them out completely") would be more acceptable.

I think the human race has a skewed sense of ethics. We worry about the naturalness of new things, right from the earliest view of medicine as interfering with the suffering that God has purportedly willed for us, to today's debates about stem cell therapy. Influenced by my background in IT, I view the human being as nothing more than software running on hardware, - an electro-chemical consciousness (or "state" in IT terms) running on complex, but fragile, organic hardware. That's why I don't believe there is a mystical "soul", and why I have no moral qualms about messing around with hardware, swapping parts, suspending system state, and the like. Anything to keep the operating system stable and running, because that's what we are :-).

If we were to take [hydrogen sulphide] at night, to suspend instead of sleep for example, would we live twice as long?

Make it available at my chemist, and I'll buy it :-).

He needs an organ transplant, so Satava instructs the computer built into the surgical robot to print one using the soldier's stem cells. [...] because there was no internet connection in the middle of the desert, they used a transponder on an unmanned aerial vehicle hovering overhead.

Of course, it's got to be for soldiers first! The military must always come before the civilian. What's really obscene about our civilisation is how the improvement of our peacetime lives is so often just a spin-off from the improvement in our ability to kill each other.

Chizeck says they're also working on creating "no fly zones" around certain anatomical structures that a surgeon doesn't want to touch.

Yup, it would be great if organs not involved in a surgical procedure could be "greyed out" so a remote surgeon couldn't accidentally "click" on them and do damage.

In short, we are all IT people now. Banking and financial services are nothing but computer systems these days, and often some systems guy knows the business logic better than the business executives themselves. It'll be cool if someday a nerd in a computer room somewhere knows more about surgery than the surgeons themselves...

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