bionic matt

This is a story inspired by a article I read this morning.

I opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed, apart from a queasy feeling in my stomach, were the irregularities in the plaster on the ceiling. They were perfectly clear, like a perfectly white sea, turned upside down and frozen in time.

“Well I’ll be. It worked!” I said, to myself.

“Clear as crystal.” My father’s voice was a mixture of wonder and euphoria. He was not speaking to me, but someone else in the room. “Told you I could do it.” I heard Luke say. “all it took was a thousand lines of Perl and a few microprocessors.”

“and who designed those processors,, eh?” this was mark.

“Oh shut up you two!” said mum. I smiled at the realisation that I was taking my traditional role as spectator in my brother’s arguments. Old habits die hard.

“Quite.” I said “it just occurred to me that I can move my legs with greater precision than ever before, and unless you want me to kick both your arses, I suggest you shut up.”

There was total silence in the room. As usual, I was unsure that anyone had understood even a word I was saying/ I began again “I said…”

“we understood you matt.” Mark said. I heard mum start to weep. I smiled, and decided to try out a few things. Under the hospital coverlet, I touched my index finger with my thumb. “So far so good” I thought ”now for the others. One, two, three, four. Good. Now for the left. One two, three four. Excellent.” I lifted my head, and saw my family at the foot of my bed. They were standing there in silent awe, tears of joy rolling down mum’s face. “now this is rather cool”, thought.

I turned my head to look at the bedside table, upon which sat a glass of water with a straw in it, which I had drank front to swallow the anaesthetic roughly five hours before. A idea occurred to me, both mischievous and poignant. I lifted my hand from beneath the cover, and slowly it glided towards the glass, reaching up and behind me. I must admit it felt odd doing this: there were none of the usual tugs of tension, my arms did not feel as if they wanted to suddenly jerk back into the Moro position; all I felt was freedom.

The processors in my cerebellum were working. They had been implanted by Professor Tipu Aziz, whose pioneering work using computers to replace misfiring neurons successfully treated conditions like Parkinson’s and motor-neurone disease. Similar work had been done by Ed Tarte, of Cambridge, in the area f spinal chord injury. It was, however, my brothers who had posited, after I had made a particularly large mess one mealtime, that similar technology could be used to bypass damaged neurons responsible fore movement.

When quite large amounts of the brain have been damaged, for example, through oxygen deprivation at birth, surrounding brain tissue is gradually trained to replace the function of that which is lost. Such training is never perfect, and thus we get the decreases body co-ordination we see with cerebral palsy sufferers, for example. However, if neural implants could be used to replace damaged tissue, .recovery would be much better because, my boffin brothers suggested, the computer programming would be much more efficient than the tissue the brain uses to compensate with.

Of course, there had been some debate over the possible abuse of this technology. It had been argued that it could lead to a ‘bionic man’ being made. Others had argued that it could lead to a form of mind control, and I had been quite amused that bioengineers at the State university of New York had given one lab rat implants which effectively turned it into a remote controlled toy. Nevertheless, my family had felt, like the majority of the scientific community, that the benefits of this technology by far outweighed the dangers.

Thus these computers, tiny as a grain of sand, were calculating the trajectory of my right arm as I reached for the glass. I suddenly felt he cool container between my fingers and thumb, and knew, in an instant, how much pressure to apply. And then, in a moment that I had waited twenty-five years for, I picked the glass up, put it’s rim gently to my lips, and drank from it.

See Sunday Times magazine, 20th June 2004, p45

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