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Improvement in prostheses could make a real difference

It seems logical to think that most people who have disabilities would change their bodies if they could to replace what was taken from them. For example, the runner Oscar Pistorius from South Africa -- who dazzled observers with his carbon fiber "legs" to compete at the Olympics with able-bodied runners -- essentially turned his physical limitations into advantages with technology.

While Pistorius' disability certainly impacts his life, he has essentially regained whatever he might have lost through the technology. For many Americans who receive Social Security disability benefits, however, this must seem almost too far-fetched to become a reality.

Except that technology that could help people regain what they have lost may be closer to a reality than many people think. Many advances in bionics have led to improvements in the everyday lives of many -- such as cochlear implants that help people with profound hearing loss hear again.

The difference between the prosthetics of old -- what were basically just pieces of rubber or plastic made to look like limbs but basically functionless -- and the new and future ones is that technology is making prostheses actually to be interactive with the human body -- and, in particular, the nervous system.

For example, an artificial hand called the i-limb Ultra is able to respond to users' thoughts. Devices implanted in the part of the brain that controls motor control can sync up with the artificial hand, allowing the brain to control each of the individual fingers of the artificial hand.

Source: CNN, "Are bionic superhumans on the horizon?" Ramez Naam, April 24, 2013

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