Nearly as long as there has been the capacity for mass publishing, there have been examples of people using fiction to explore the possibilities and potential dangers of science. What we would today call ‘Science Fiction’ (or its vulgar abbreviation ‘sci-fi’), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein often cited as the earliest example with Jules Verne, the proverbial grandfather of the modern genre as well as a major influence on 21st century ‘steampunk’ aesthetics, following close behind.
This inclination toward future-looking continued along its now recognized path, making several startlingly accurate predictions as the decades and centuries passed, including Submarines in 1870 (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), fighter jets in 1908 (The War In the Sky) and CCTV surveillance in 1949 (1984). Another author-proved-prophet was Gene Roddenberry, particularly the ‘Next Generation’ installment of the Star Trek canon. In addition to voice-activated software, which was in development but nowhere near where it is now, something else the show got right was the notion of a device to allow people with compromised vision to see. This has been made possible with the Argus Bionic Eye.
While slightly more cumbersome than the screw-in eye-band depicted on the program, the Argus II Bionic Eye, is as close to a cure for certain types of blindness as humanity has ever come.
How the Argus Bionic Eye works
Argus II Bionic Eye is a prosthetic implant with exterior control mechanisms produced by California-based Second Sight Medical Products, and is meant for use by people with cases of severe retinitis pigmentosa. It works by translating images via a tiny video camera built into a pair of glasses into a stream of electrical pulses and signals that reach the visual cortex of the brain.
While not 100% effective, 60% of test participants were able to safely walk to a door at a distance of 20 feet, it is still better than half and only 5% could do so without the device engaged. Not quite repairing a warp-drive on the fly or battling a hive of Borg but we are getting closer all the time.
At a price $115,000, the device is financially out of reach of many people but there are several places in which they can be received for free from government health care administrators. This most recently happened in Britain, the National Health Service announcing this week that 10 of the implants were given to people determined to be in need of them.
A different kind of normal?
As can sometimes happen with potential cures for naturally occurring conditions, there may be questions of ethics. If this newest iteration of the sort of drive toward normalization that saw several children diagnosed with ADHD, sometimes dubiously and indiscriminately prescribed Ritalin, sometimes with devastating and unexpected consequences?
There was a surprising amount of resistances to the Cochlear Implant when they were first released by people within the deaf community, who generally were of the opinion that they were not, in fact, broken and did not need to be fixed. This can largely be avoided by being careful how the device is presented. Is it something that can fix what is broken? Or is it a new option for people who want it?