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Bionic beings: Living a better, healthier life is possible thanks to technology, says panel at Dubai Future Forum

Dubai: Who wouldn’t like to have a strong sixth sense? That curious ability of people to know things that are not entirely apparent. A sense that provides information without using the five basic senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell or taste.

If wearable technology develops in the predicted direction, humans could soon have that extra advantage in life.

This is because every little part of our body is full of data; They just aren’t necessarily read and analyzed to provide us with usable information. Enter wearable technology.

From rings and wristbands to even technology that can be ingested, technology has come a long way since Darth Vader walked around in a bionic suit.

“When I started working in the area of ​​bionic limbs 40 years ago, yes, I was inspired by mannequins, but also… by Star Wars. You will remember the operation in which the nerves in the hand were connected. It was science fiction at the time, it is true now,” Professor Paolo Dario, chief scientist at Dubai Future Labs, said at a panel discussion on bionics at the Dubai Future Forum.

“Today there are some examples of technological creations that can sense the hardness and temperature of an object. Not only that, scientists have been able to do something even more: make paralyzed people walk again using nerve stimulation devices. Today it is possible to create a connection between the outside world and the nervous system and we open the door to a new field of cyborgs,” he added.

However, it also highlighted the obvious question this entails: what happens when the human body is connected to limbs that may be much stronger than the original human body?

“The role of education is important. Those of us who work in this field have a different type of education because we must address not only engineering problems but also the other issues that arise. We have been having debates about regulation or education; I am for education,” he said, referring to the more important role that education plays in guiding an ethical approach to the development of new technologies.

Listen to the community

Another speaker at the panel discussion on ‘Bionic Beings’ was Ken Chua, director of the Singapore-based Inclusive Design and Technology Agency.

He talked about the need for developers to pay attention to whether the wearable technology they are creating is of real benefit to the community, otherwise it risks becoming obscure.

“A good example is the portable glove that translates sign language. There have been several such developments in the last eight years, but people don’t want to use them. Because when you bring this technology to the deaf community, you will find that it is immediately rejected by the community, because the technology somehow rejects sign language, which is part of the pride and identity of the deaf. People don’t want to use it. So it’s really about talking to the community,” Chua said.

As someone who works closely with technology that benefits People of Determination, Chua said the People of Determination community can play a critical role in developing wearable technology for society at large.

“When it comes to many cutting-edge technologies, People of Determination wait years for it to arrive. That’s where I try to raise the debate that we should have People of Determination front and center of this innovation, because when we apply such technology to those who live slightly different lives than us and look at what they do differently, it can help. improve the experience of those who have a more neurotypical way of life. I think a good example is ‘autocomplete’: technology that predicts what you’re about to type and gives you suggestions. It allows us to live a faster life. It was first developed for people with upper extremity disabilities, because they would find it more difficult to write complete sentences. Because we knew how to design for the extreme, we could design for everyone. So, let’s look at the entire human spectrum and that will allow us to discover new innovations as sources of inspiration,” he said.

Increasing life

Bionics, however, can become a useful part in almost all spheres of life and at different levels.

Bionic suits, for example, can play an important role in reducing occupational risks in the construction industry. Similarly, when it comes to people over 65 years of age, who are more likely to suffer injuries due to falls, it can help in specific cases, such as an artificial intelligence-based fall prediction system for seniors that uses wearable sensors.

Other examples are wearable diagnostic devices, which can have a critical impact in cases such as Parkinson’s disease.

“With Parkinson’s disease, being able to provide a clinical score is very helpful. “This would be an example of purpose-driven wearable devices,” said Pawel Swieboda, who runs NeuroCentury, a consultancy focused on the brain, mental health and neurotechnology.

“There is increasingly better adoption of wearable technology. The numbers have risen to 1.1 billion connected devices in 2022, up from 600 million two years earlier. So clearly there is a lot of progress. They are more comfortable and sensitive in measurement, but not all challenges have been overcome. One of the most difficult is the material: the material has to be adaptable, something that follows the curvature of the body. “There has been a lot of innovation using nanomaterials and polymers, but at the end of the day you need a bonded semiconductor, which is a rigid presence,” Swieboda said.

However, he added that as data centers become more connected and integrated, a paradigm shift in wearable technology is expected.

Imagine a technology that analyzes your body’s specific body composition, health status, and vital signs to deliver precision medicine designed exclusively for you.

“We will have a systemic change in the health system. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to start diagnosing and preventing disorders much earlier, so now even heart attacks can be attributed to incorrect cholesterol levels in adolescence. And wearables are an unbeatable way to address that problem,” she stated.

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