The University of Tokyo and Sony are working on a new gadget, called PosessedHand, that could enable people to play songs on the guitar without having to learn them. The device simply straps onto a user's forearm and is completely noninvasive. It sends electrical impulses into the arm, but the electricity is too weak to force the hand to move. A user just gets a gentle sensation of how to move the hand and fingers. Basically, this device could instruct you how to play a song that you have never learned, potentially in real time.

The PosessedHand has been met with some controversy. It could help users play better while wearing it, but they might not actually learn anything. While using it, you can just complacently follow the impulses. The brain does not need to be very active, so a player's skill might not improve at all. Musicians worry that genuine talent might suffer from the use of the device.

Another possible use for this type of gadget is for sign language. An interpreter's job would be much easier if the device told the hands what to do in real time. A computer could record speech, convert it to text, then to sign language, and the corresponding signals would be sent to the hands. What you get is real time, flawless translating from speech to sign language, and the translator does not even need to learn any signs.

So far the best application of artificially stimulating muscles is in helping victims of paralysis. As mentioned in the prosthetics post, medical science is still unable to reliably heal nerve damage. But the utilization of electrodes seems to be making better progress. A young man who was made paraplegic by a car collision has had electrodes implanted in his lower spinal chord. Within a week he could keep his balance while standing. He has also regained bladder and bowel control. The doctors are quick to advise caution, but this story is a great source of hope for anyone in similar circumstances. It shows the promise that electrode technology holds for humanity.

If you strengthened the electrical impulses from the PosessedHand, then the muscles would move involuntarily. There would be no need for the user's attention. This concept has already been employed for some physical fitness gadgets. It is easy to suppose expanding this technology for the entire body. Imagine a suit, perhaps even a tuxedo, that electrically controls a wearer's muscles with great precision and sophistication. At the touch of a button, a user can perform dance sequences, execute advanced martial arts techniques, or play musical instruments without any prior knowledge. If the suit could also detect and understand brain signals, then paralytics could use it as a noninvasive solution to their paralysis.

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Prosthetic limbs. When an arm or leg is lost—either by amputation or injury—it cannot be regenerated as some salamanders are able to do. Our ability to regrow body parts is limited to our fingertips. The only option for an amputee is to get an artificial appendage, made of plastic and metal rather than flesh and bone.

Prosthetics is an ever-advancing field of technology. Last century, hands were replaced by mechanical hooks, but nowadays you can get a sophisticated robotic hand, including an opposable thumb. Mechanisms of the past relied on physical movements of the shoulder and arm to operate, but the newest prostheses sense electrical signals generated when users simply think of using their hands.

Prostheses are no longer limited to amputees, though. People with paralysis are getting involved. Multiple patients in Austria have chosen to have their hands amputated and replaced with prosthetic ones. They had nerve damage in their arms, rendering their hands paralyzed and useless. They could have endured years of surgery and rehabilitation with little chance of success. But circuits and software are more easily and reliably manipulated than nerves and sinew. So those patients chose the option with a greater chance of success and shorter recovery time.

Artificial body parts are helping many people. A tiny camera can be placed inside or near the eye and connected to brain, some day giving sight to the blind. Carbon-fiber “feet” can enable an amputee to race with Olympic sprinters. Faulty hearts have been replaced with inorganic ones. Soon artificial kidneys might become available. But what if prostheses become better than natural parts?

In the future, prosthetic technology will continue to improve and be more widely used. Given the progress that has already been made, it is not unreasonable to speculate that someday a bionic hand will be superior to a fully functional, natural hand. Those patients in Austria made a logical choice: they exchanged useless hands for functional ones. If, some day, you are better off exchanging your properly working hand for a much more capable and versatile—albeit artificial—hand, would you? Natural appendages degrade with age, but inorganic parts can be updated and replaced with relative ease. Customization could be easy, too. Instead of a hand, you could have a tentacle, claw, multi-tool, or even scissors. How about eyes? Would you trade one or your eyes for a cybernetic one that could see infrared and ultraviolet light? Would you give an eye for an eye that could see in the dark and through walls? Maybe far in the future we will have whole prosthetic bodies available.

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