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I'm creating a post climate disaster world set several hundred years in the future. During the breakdown of society as we know it the vast majority of tech companies turned to creating implants to help humans adapt to living with less food, underground, etc. I just want a second opinion on if these are feasible

The implants I have so far are:

Ocular implants: A set of permanent contact lenses that display an AR HUD

Aural implants: Surgical alterations to the ears so that, when activated, allow people to hear noises normally unheard or else to hear from father away

Cerebral implants: Basically a way to boost someone's memory, both in size and recollection speed

Bio-monitors: A small device that constantly monitors the user's blood and vitals, detecting known illness as soon as it appears

Muscle reinforcers: Artificial elastic strands woven alongside the muscles to reinforce them and preventing them from tearing

Nutrition implant: An implant that accepts pods of a fluid highly dense in calories and nutritional value, allowing the subject to go longer periods with less food

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    $\begingroup$ Your query is in the vote to close queue. While I disagree with the chosen rationale (lack of focus), I do think you could improve your question greatly by giving us some idea of what kinds of technology and level of science you envision for 300 years from now. Is it Star Trek like technology or Mad Max like technology? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I think the question is not specific to the technological era but rather to whether or not such devices will ever be possible given the physical makeup of humans. $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ Please don't award the green checkmark for at least a day or two after you ask a question! Not only is it bad form here, but you're also signalling that others' answers aren't terribly welcome. I'm not saying that the answer I'm writing right now will be better than the one you've already got, but you should keep your options open for a couple days! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Rafael -- I concur. This is an important aspect that I'm addressing in my own answer! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:30

4 Answers 4

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In the order listed:

  • Ocular Implants - almost certainly not, not as described. Eyes move around a lot without humans noticing - these movements are called saccades - and as a result, "displaying" anything on a lens attached to the eye itself is computationally difficult and would be far more likely to result in motion sickness than any useful display. A HUD is much more reasonable on goggles. Because saccades are not conscious movements of the eyes, solving the problem is not a matter of computational ability, but a matter of being able to read neurological signals perfectly before they reach the muscles of the eye. If you can do that, it's simpler to feed data to the optical nerve (and read data from the retina) than to do so on the lens.
  • Aural Implants - sure. We've got cochlear implants right now. All you're after is a more advanced hearing aid with better microphones. Not a problem.
  • Cerebral Implants - Yep. They're working on it now. I don't know about "increasing the size of memory" - human memory is kind of incredible, so it would probably be easier and sufficient to just enhance it in-place than try and find a way to load things in and out.
  • Bio-Monitors - Sure. Now, detecting illnesses is a different trick that may be more difficult to manage, as detecting viruses and bacteria is not an instantaneous operation, but blood chemistry could be monitored pretty regularly.
  • Muscle reinforcers - There are a lot of tricky things here. Muscle fibre is meant to tear; that's how you get stronger muscles. Preventing it would be capital-B Bad for the recipient. Moreover, muscle - as with other tissues - is self-repairing. Any elastic substance would not be. So weaving artificial elastic into muscle tissue seems like it would do more harm than good and introduce something that could permanently wear out and need to be replaced. (This is perhaps why there have been no medical efforts in that direction.)
  • Nutrition implant - it's hard to see how this improves on "having nutri-bars in your backpack", but Parenteral nutrition is a thing. It wouldn't reduce the need for water, but could keep its bearer "fed" for longer.

The medical and technical requirements for these varies wildly, and in at least some cases (as indicated), it's hard to see what benefit the implant would provide, but aside from the ocular implants (as described), they all seem possible and plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ I mean, I can't say enhancing memory is impossible but it's probably the most outlandish on the list. Given the complicated and organic nature of neural networks, finding some method to modify it in a way that makes it better in a repeatable way would be almost ridiculously hard. And I actually see (no pun intended) ocular implants as far more reasonable: We already have LASIK and the AR display can be mounted on the retina, not the lens. $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ This is great, thanks very much for your input, definitely gives me some good idea for reworking the premise of some of these. $\endgroup$
    – Liam B
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Rafael - mounting on the retina has the same problem. The eye moves around, and the brain stitches the images together without the motion, but the images arriving on the retina still have saccades. Our optical cortex is really neat, in terms of the tricks it can pull. But displaying a stationary AR HUD on any part of the physical eye has the same problem. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Dec 27, 2020 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ Mounting anything on the retina is a disaster waiting to happen. The retina is exrhinophoquingstremely delicate. Doesn't take much to dislodge a retina. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 27, 2020 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ "Ocular Implants - almost certainly not" With advance techonology, why wouldn't motion stabilizers be part of the package? Surely they eye implants would be in the middle of the eye and would use technology to stabilize in the face of... well... your face... Doesn't need to just be "software" but could also be hardware based stabilizations. $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Dec 27, 2020 at 12:12
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Lots of great answers already offered, so I will cherry pick a few alterations to the existing proposals...

Ocular Implant... If you have enough understanding of the human brain to implement the cerebral implant, then inserting a heads up display into the incoming visual feed shouldn't be a challenge. The proper place to insert is not in the eye but rather in the portions of the brain which is already responsible for interpreting visual signals.

Aural, Ocular and Muscular Implants... As for improving the functionality of these systems, implanting biological devices into the body is okay, but xenotropic genetic manipulation has a lot more potential. The animal kingdom is rich with functionally superior systems in all of these areas. Bat hearing, Eagle vision and Orangutan muscles perform way above human specs. During the next few centuries, it is very likely that we will learn how to splice these already debugged improvements into our own genome. While we are at it, we will also probably find some synthetic improvements like full-spectrum disease immunity, accelerated wound repair and reflex response times which would shame a hummingbird.

Nutrition Implant... Again, this is a place where genetics trump implants. New organs to filter out contaminants from food and water would be very helpful. Simply adding the ability to digest cellulose would greatly expand our food options and I am sure we could borrow a few calorie conservation tricks from hibernating bears.

Science could and probably will equip our descendants with the tools necessary to survive in the eco-challenged future. ... but not all of those tools will be implants.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 on noting that working cerebral implants should make ocular implants for information display redundant. $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Dec 27, 2020 at 16:26
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As with many such miracle medicine queries, the answer is both YES and NO.

There are a couple things going on here that need to be addressed. First is the technical side of the question. From a merely technological perspective, the answer for most of these implant types is almost certainly a resounding YES. And many are a quite sure yes, even with present day technology.

The main problem your scientists (and our real world scientists) will have to face with some of these implants is getting the body to get with the programme.

Ocular implants: this is a no brainer in the YES column. We can already implant some pretty amazing things into the eye. If you place this implant within or upon the natural lens, perhaps using some kind of nanofibre attachments, then normal eye movements and focus adjustment will not be an issue, as the HUD will always be directed at the fovea (central vision).

The issue that will have to solved is how the brain interprets the data! As has been mentioned, the eyes are in constant motion. We don't notice it because we've had squillions of years of evolution and our brains are simply used to that motion and have adapted to "ignore" loads of extraneous data.

I am thinking that, perhaps, the problem could be solved by implanting the HUD, not inside the eye, but within the eyelid: the brain would properly interpret such a display as a (relatively) static visual input that is outside the eye and its constant motions. A person might acclimate to this kind of display better than in an intraocular one.

Aural implants: this is another no brainer on the YES side. Hearing is basically accomplished by sound waves that push a couple tiny bones in your head that cause some fluid to slosh around the movement of which tickles some fine hairs deep inside your ear. Those hairs tug on nerve cells that transmit the signal to the brain for interpretation.

But again, getting the body to accept the data is an issue that a mere implant may not be able to immediately solve.

We're bombarded by infra and ultra sound all the time, but we can't hear it, because that physical system is not set up to transmit those frequencies, and our brains aren't programmed to interpret the data. The implant is technologically feasible, but the brain is not compatible with the new hardware.

One could easily posit a workaround implant that "translates" infra or ultra sounds into audible frequencies. This would work exactly like an octaviser setting in a playback device. Basically, it translates deep tones into higher tones.

We already have implants that can boost hearing: this part of the implant will just be nanosized amplifiers.

Cerebral implants: this one I think will be the most difficult to achieve, and thus I think would be the least plausible, even for 300 years in the future. Unless we make great strides in understanding how the brain actually works, and what goes where within the brain, I don't think and implant will do what you want. It's not like we can just plug a memory card into the side of a person's head!

The main hurdle with any kind of external memory will be interfacing its circuitry with the highly individual circuitry of a person's brain. They will also have to solve various software compatibility issues between HumanOS ver.1.0 and the peripheral device.

Here, I'd posit that good old fashioned memory improving games and recall improving techniques will be more than adequate.

Bio-monitors: These are a resounding yes. There's no real reason why we can't make such a device even now. We already have devices that can continuously monitor blood pressure, temperature, blood gasses, respiration, ekg, eeg, and the like. The only hurdle to be overcome here is actually engineering an implantable device to accomplish these things.

As of 2020, we'd probably have to implant some wires to get a good ekg & eeg, but I'll give your future medical engineers the benefit of the doubt on that one!

As for disease gateway monitoring, I think that could be possible using a technology similar to that for the blood chemistry implant. Except in stead of looking for sodium and potassium ions, that part of the device will be looking for foreign chemicals: basically, an immune system analyser. I don't think this would be able to handle novel (or alien) diseases: as with the other blood analyser implants, you'd have to programme in the expected normal and abnormal parameters.

Muscle reinforcers: I think this would be a much more difficult and terribly invasive kind of implant. It's one thing to tuck an analyser somewhere in the abdominal cavity, but it's quite another to interweave foreign structures within a person's muscles.

A solid programme of weight training, cardio, and overall health & wellness will do more for muscle growth, strengthening & repair that any implant will do.

Nutrition implant: We can already create such an implant. We can feed a person through IV using specially formulated parental nutrition. As an adjunct to the other circulatory system implants that you have in place, this would be little different. We've had implantable fluid filled reservoirs for years now --- breast implants being a prime example!

Breast implants (the saline type) can be filled from an external source, and we've also long had medication reservoirs that are filled vie hypodermic needle. Your implant won't so much accept a "pod" as simply act as a direct fill reservoir.

But here again, there is the human factor that will need to be dealt with. Humans don't just need food because its nutritious, but they also need the physiological and social stimulus that comes with it. We need to chew, we need to swallow, we need to digest. We need the aromas & tastes in order to be satisfied. Ordinary people won't be able to survive on your TPN implant -- they'll just go crazy if they can't eat a pizza! The only people subjected to this kind of treatment are those whose digestive systems don't work.

As a strictly emergency nutrition, I think such an implant would be feasible. But there again, the external solution beats the internal: just carry some ymmy peanut butter & chocolate flavoured nutrition bars with you!

Conclusion: Out of six proposed implants, I think only one is truly viable as well as plausible (the diagnostic implant).

Of the remaining five, I think all but the brain implant will be technically plausile but humanly unlikely. Simply because the normal, external solutions to the problems to be solved are & will continue to be superior. Only one of the four, the auditory implant, I think would be not only useful but also the most compatible with the human host.

The cerebral implant is I think the least plausible of the six. I would argue, though, that if your future engineers can solve the outlined issues, then there is no reason why they couldn't simply make a pair of bionic eyes and a pair of bionic ears and simply replace the ordinary human organs entirely. Just hook polyfocal & multispectral audio~visual input devices directly to the optic & auditory nerves!

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  • $\begingroup$ For the ocular implant, the OP mentioned explicitly that they wanted an AR HUD, which means making it stationary (eyelid) won't work - it's meant to overlay things in the real world. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Dec 27, 2020 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jdunlop -- That's true. I consider it a trade off: which of the desiderata is most important? I think you put paid to the computational aspect in your answer. I also think it's fair to offer less difficult alternatives. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 27, 2020 at 17:11
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Sticking mainly to the nutrition implant, the highest calorie-density food food we can digest is pure fat, and this will give us energy (better suited to long slow efforts than peak efforts) but is insufficient for long-term survival. We also need carbs and protein as well as micronutrients. Water is a major consideration, especially as using fat for energy takes quite a lot of water.

One thing to note is that digestion isn't completely efficient, so we could augment some of the processes and extract more energy from food that's eaten- perhaps genetically engineered gut bacteria would be a start.

But you want the subject to go longer periods with less food, rather than to go without food, so can we provide some energy to do stuff via your implant, and get the broader nutritional needs from ingestion? It won't be easy. Energy is mainly delivered to muscles as glucose and molecules based on glucose and converted via pyruvate to adenosine triphosphate at the point of use, by glycolysis (detailed Wikipedia article; I've massively simplified here). Glucose levels in the blood are usually controlled quite tightly; diabetes is one effect of this control breaking down, demonstrating that we can't just pump glucose from a pod into the blood and hope for the best. Other answers have mentioned that we may be able to deliver it quickly to the right parts of the digestive system, which would have some small benefit.

At this point I think you should connect your nutritional implant to your augmented muscles. Have them run directly on glucose, consuming far less energy than real muscles when not in use. In some way, probably chemically, signal your nutritional implant and/or augmented gut flora to push glucose into the blood, which doesn't cause too many problems with blood sugar because the augmented muscles use it immediately. It could be delivered to the arteries feeding the muscles that need it, via new plumbing.

Alternatively take an approach like a hybrid car - fuel the artificial muscles on something the body can tolerate in reasonable quantities, delivered by nutritional pod and have them do most of the work at low intensity so the real muscles don't burn food. But make sure your real muscles don't waste away from lack of use.

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