October 28, 2013
Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto
Directed by: Tom Coveney
Source: Smithsonian Channel
Overview: Ever wondered how close we are to making a real artificial, cybernetic life form? A robotic android (”Roboid” as I would prefer to call them) like Lt. Cmdr. Data?
Well, a couple of guys thought it would make for an incredible thought experiment… and, they went through with it earlier this year. Richard Walker (the bearded dude) and Professor Alexander Seifalian got together, along with Bertolt Meyer (psychology professor with an artificial arm and hand) as the model, and the most advanced bionic/cybernetic prosthetics and implants available and built TIBM (my name for him). The result… not bad for a first attempt, but it does have a long way to go to be Data. It does show, however, that we’ve come a long way from peg-legs and hook-hands (deal with it, pirates!). You can watch the video online at the Smithsonian Channel’s site or on YouTube.
Some assembly required.
So what is needed to build your own TIBM? Well, you need a body-frame to install everything on, otherwise things fall apart very rapidly. Next, some limbs would help. Prosthetic arms and legs have been around for some time, but today’s computer technology practically makes them indistinguishable from the real thing, provided you wear long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants. Next, a skull made from a synthetic, bone-like material to house your cyberbrain… once that’s been made. A microphone for ears, special glasses for eyes, a latex “skin” face… so far TIBM is shaping up real good.
What about inside, where it counts? Another synthetic material has been developed that can be made into any shape, but for now it serves as artificial blood vessels. That should work with the artificial heart and nano-particle “blood” being used. They have an artificial kidney that uses real kidney cells, and a prototype pancreas. The Internet-based chatbot serves as the brain, albeit a primitive and imperfect brain.
So TIBM is looking more human, but what about moving like a human? Piece of cake for the hands and arms, but as for walking, the legs themselves don’t do it alone. That’s where a motorized, exoskeleton comes in for walking. Baby steps at this point.
Better, Stronger, Faster… Cheaper. TIBM represents the advance of technology, inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man. If you want to compare price tags, TIBM costs only ONE million, so for one Steve Austin you can have a half-dozen TIBMs. One problem is that TIBM won’t have nuclear power sources of Austin.
The lack of nuclear power is but a minor nuisance, compared to other problems of TIBM. For one thing, some of the implants use Bluetooth, an unsecure wireless protocol leaving them open to hacking. Its walking ability needs much work still. TIBM is also incomplete, missing vital organs like the brain, liver, and digestive tract.
Ethical considerations were also brought up briefly; While the devices were made for people (like soldiers) who lost limbs or organs in accidents, some may try to “upgrade” themselves without a real medical need. Then there’s concern that TIBM may be the prototype of a new race that may supplant or destroy humanity.
Conclusion. We’ve certainly come a long way from peg-legs and Jarvick artificial hearts, but there is still some development to go yet before we can make fully functional androids. Even now, or as shown near the end of the show as Dr. Meyer tries a new prosthetic, developments and breakthroughs keep us moving closer to that day. And when that day does arrive… will humanity be ready? If TIBM’s fumble with a pint at the end is any indication, humans still have plenty of time to be prepared.