Two New Advances Fusing Man and Machine

7 | By Michael A. Robinson

Robots are becoming more human all the time.

I predict that in the near future, robots will be so human-like that it will seem natural for us interact with them. We’ll also see the advent of people who are what I call “bionics” – those who put computer chips or other devices in their brains or bodies.

As I see it, we are fast approaching the day in which man and machine become fused together.

Just in the last few days, researchers reported major breakthroughs that promise to do just that. In a moment, I’ll tell you all about it.

First, remember the new hydrogel we investigated Tuesday – the material that could greatly improve human health and aging by replacing damaged cartilage? Turns out there’s another part of the part of the story we need to know about.

This type of hydrogel could play a vital role in the cutting-edge field of robotics, too.

See, we’re getting very close to the day in which we augment robots with “smart” human tissue. We’ll grow tissue in labs and equip it with onboard electronics made possible by nanotech circuits.

That’s where the hydrogel would come in handy. We won’t just replace damaged cartilage in people. We’ll use that or something like it to link sensor-laden tissue inside robots or in people with organ transplants or artificial limbs.

Just two weeks ago, a research team from MIT and the University of Pennsylvania said they had blurred the boundary between biology and machines even further. They genetically engineered skeletal muscles for robots that work by responding to light.

This is just amazing…

The team said the goal is to use light-active tissue to build highly agile robots. They said they hope their “bio-integrated” approach will one day allow robotic animals to move with the strength and flexibility of real living creatures.

“With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor,” MIT professor Harry Asada said. “This is a new direction we’re pushing in biorobotics.

The MIT focused their comments on the future of robot animals. But I see no reason why it can’t be applied to making robots that can at least function more like humans.

In any case, the group is the first to stimulate this type of muscle using light. This is key for two reasons.

  • First, muscles respond to commands, unlike the heart, which beats on its own.
  • Second, the system gives doctors a “wireless” way to control muscles. In fact, these designer muscles show quite a wide range of motion. That means that in the future, robots won’t have that jerky sense that makes them seem so, well, robotic.

Turns out that just a few days before, a team at Harvard University reported that it had created what it calls “cyborg” tissue. This was the first time scientists engineered tissue and embedded biofriendly nanoscale wires in a functioning network.

Team leader Charles M. Lieber said the group came up with a system of making nanoscale “scaffolds,” devices that can grow tissue after they are seeded with cells.

“Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin,” Lieber said.

Harvard team members also said the research tackles a concern that has nagged at those working with bioengineered tissue for some time now: how to design systems that can sense chemical or electrical changes in tissue after it has been grown and then implanted in the body. After all, our bodies do that, naturally, every second of every day. Our nervous systems track our body chemistries for things like oxygen and pH levels and make constant changes as needed.

Lieber’s team said the most near-term use for this new field is to work with drug firms. No doubt, that would be huge. It would allow firms to test new compounds with cyborg tissue that gives them in-depth feedback long before testing them on people. The process would make human trials safer and cheaper and lower the cost of new drugs.

One thing’s for sure… Before long, it will be hard to tell the difference between “natural” humans and those equipped with highly advanced robotics.

Some will no doubt find all this disturbing.

Claire, an Era reader from the UK, had this warning about “our bionic future:”

“The idea of having implants in my eyes to take video pictures or electronics in my brain so that I could access wireless internet sounds like a total nightmare to me.

If this really does happen then the human race will divide into two species, cyborgs and people who want to remain human. If you become a cyborg you will lose contact with your human emotions. Transhumanism is a dark future that is presented as wonderful but which will alienate those who embrace it from their humanity.

The future of our species lies with spiritual growth and transformation, not with turning ourselves into machines. You will not need love because the chips will stimulate your brain chemistry.”

I can understand Claire’s hesitation. But think of the incredible benefits: One day soon, someone who has lost two limbs in an accident (or perhaps in a war) could be up and running again in no time, as if nothing had happened.

And that’s one of the great things about all this cutting-edge high tech. In the long run, it will make life better for all of us.

It’s all part of what I call the Era of Radical Change. What was once science fiction is becoming science fact. Indeed, researchers are reporting so many advances in so many fields at once that no one person on earth can hope to make sense of it all. That’s exactly why we’re building this community.

Many of you have been sending me breakthroughs and advances you come across in your own research. I just love these emails. Please, keep it up. Email me at

7 Responses to Two New Advances Fusing Man and Machine

  1. IAN WYLLIE says:

    Hello folks

    For some time now I have been studying articles such as this one, trying to establish a commolink; is it ‘3-D PRINTING?

    As a semi-retired Architect, anxiously await 3-D printing of ‘materials for building’

    All power to your elbows

    Thank you enormously

    Best regards


  2. David says:

    Fascinating ! When can we see 3-D people?There is no limit:is there?Marrying all this new technology is a natural progression of science anyhow,so we shouldn’t be surprised ,no matter what occurs.


    Dear friends, I am chilean architect, on 1984 I visited a Fair in Tokyo inTsukuba and I was surprised to see a japanese robot that played the piano just looking the paper with the writen music in it . A few month later I read in a magazine that the Tsukuba robot used a mix of materials that acted as muscles , and was not using motors….. because of that … the robot could play the piano in a limited span of time ….get “tired ” increasing the temperature and loosing power.
    The technical explanation of the robot was not given by the people in Tsukuba ….I found it in an american technical magazine. In Japan when asked I receided just smiles.

  4. walter mitchell says:

    Soon this will be old hat! How will this link with deep, extra deep space travel? We will need to repair ourselves as in a hospital either on a palanet or flying to it.

  5. Philip DiRusso says:

    seems like the clowns are messing with the creation that our lord has given us.*life..ask van dam he is a cyborg in the movies.

  6. steve says:

    The more we become mechanized, the more we will need to be civilized.

    Helping people regain ability is certainly laudable. But the same technology can be used for nefarious deeds in a world where government restrictions for the safety of society are increasingly loosened in the name of “too much government!” and officials increasingly bow down to the god of profits while reciting the mantra of “progress”. Big business effectively dictates government policy already. Democracy is increasingly a paper shell.

    What is good is that the youth coming into the world now are, through the use of technology, more quickly and widely exposing the wrong actions and directions of the world. It’s getting harder to get away with dirty deeds.

    But it will be the rising use of technologies of consciousness that will fundamentally change the world to a better place. In fact, technologies of consciousness are the ONLY way to create a better world since change always begins within.

    Desiring to know will attract the answers, desiring to have will stimulate the laws of nature to fulfill, through technologies of consciousness. Much more effective and satisfying! And it’s already happening and growing. Robots are useful but such childsplay by comparison. With technologies of consciousness, there are no limits to human achievement. It’s quite beyond imagination. Ultimately, all this cyborg stuff won’t be needed. Mind will always trump matter. It’s how the universe is designed.

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