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Athena is a young woman living in the year 2028. Smartphones are long gone and technology has evolved to a point where its bio-compatible.

Athena might have several implants, for example one from a crash she suffered where she lost an arm and another one which can give her night vision.

I want to understand and write how those implants might function in a plausible way, so there are questions: How would they be powered? How would they interconnect with human tissue on a cellular level? How could Athena control them?

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of bio-implants, where you splice biological material (maybe harvested from intelligent animals) directly into the nervous system. you could add in things like colour spectrums of mantis shrimp, echo location of dolphins... $\endgroup$ – Chris J Aug 10 '16 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ The night vision implant could be interesting. A tiny infrared camera at the back of the eye could possibly send images to a microscopic projector, which projects the image in black and white onto your retina. These would require small amounts of electricity. You could possibly power them using electrical signals from the brain by tapping into a neurone. I have put this as a comment since i cannot form a fully-fledged answer at the moment. $\endgroup$ – Aric Aug 10 '16 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ You should look at the game series Deus Ex, which deal with thoses question, and the cultural and societal effect of widespread implant. $\endgroup$ – DrakaSAN Aug 10 '16 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ You could have just a brain implant that can send and receive from the brain, then all the prosthetics would not be attached at the cellular level. Just controlled by signals from the brain, this creates some interesting worries about hacking all of this tho... $\endgroup$ – Cand3r Aug 10 '16 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ Looks you're underestimating time - getting implant instead of smartphone in the next 10 years isn't very probable. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Aug 10 '16 at 18:17
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Power

A simple credible solution would be a chemical fuel cell that somehow hooks into the citric acid cycle. This makes the implants run on the same "fuel" that your protagonist does.

Interface

It depends a lot on the implants, and what type they are.

  • Augmentations. These are implants that do not replace existing organs, but instead simply help them. Something like for instance Heads Up Display contact lenses. These do not need an interface to the body.

  • Fully cybernetic If the implants are like what we today think of them today as — made of plastics, titanium, ceramics — then you will most likely need to create some kind of "service bus" up at the brain. Those implants will not hook directly onto the brain, nor to the nerve endings of the organs/senses that they enhance/replace. Instead there is an abstraction layer between the "wet" part of the brain and the implants.

    This service bus deals with all the messy work of dealing with translating all the signals coming in and going out, converting them between the biological "humanese" to standardized digital protocols.

    So the implants hook into this service bus instead of going directly to the brain.

  • Biocompatible replacements These are not so much "implants" as they are new and improved versions of the biological organs she was born with, like for instance eyes that have the retina mounted the correct way instead of — as in us flawdly evolved humans — upside down, backwards and with a blind spot.

    These do not need a new interface. They just replace the old organs outright and hook on to the existing nerves.

Control

Already today there are some amazing strides being made. Today they consist of a grid sensor that measure activity in the brain in many places at the same time. The pattern of activity depends on what you are thinking of at the moment. The computer then learns "For this pattern, I do this particular action. For this other pattern, I do something else".

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/paralyzed-man-moves-his-arm-brain-implant-bypass-n555516

This would probably be a function of the "service bus" mentioned above.

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  • $\begingroup$ I find it hard to imagine a biological power supply able to power anything but the most low-powered implants. With wireless power (those magnetic charging stations, for example) I think a subcutaneous battery that gets charged up periodically is much more practical for most implants. Current implants (like pacemakers) have a battery that must be surgically replaced every few years but they are extremely low-powered (except when delivering a shock). $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 10 '16 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if the implant is something like a electronic device, of which material could it be made of to be biocompatible. Circuit boards, microchips are not of biocompatible materials. So wouldnt we need transistors and batteries made out of carbon based molecules? $\endgroup$ – Iamafox Aug 16 '16 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Same goes for the brain grid sensor, i think the ones right now cause inflammation over longer periods of time or make the surrounding tissue degrade. It would need to deliver receptors and growth factors to make the human cells connect to it $\endgroup$ – Iamafox Aug 16 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Iamafox As I said: we are already today seeing such experimental devices. And not only that but brain "pacemakers" that are of amazing help to Parkinson patients. So don't count broken eggs when the chicks are already hatching. :) $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Aug 16 '16 at 16:30
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Humans are electrical too

I'm a long way from an expert in interfacing biological and mechanical/electrical systems, but I'll give this answer a shot.

Power

There's been recent developments in dissolving batteries which, with enough development, could provide your power source. Alternatively, have your scientists develop a synthetic method of power production similar to the way the human body does - releasing energy from glucose and oxygen. I'm a bit rusty on my biochemistry but I'm sure it's at least withing the realms of possibility.

Attachment

If you look at prosthetics today, they don't connect to the body on a cellular level. I'm not sure it's wise for any implant to connect directly to cells, as cells have a habit of dying all the time. You'd want your implant to last longer than your average cell.

All an implant should need to connect to would be a structural component (likely a bone) and a control component (nerves). However, this will probably be different for each type of implant, and even for each instance of each implant due to the unique nature of people's bodies. In the case of something like an implanted eye, it would need to be inserted into the eye socket and attached to the muscles. Alternatively, you could remove the eye muscles and replace them with artificial ones attached directly to the skull.

To allow for high levels of flexibility when attaching implants you're probably going to need advanced 3D printing technology as well of keyhole surgery (and some absurdly strong local anaesthetic).

Control

Nerve cells in both the brain(neurons) and the rest of the nervous system pass information through a mixture of chemical and electrical impulses. This is why it is possible to monitor brain activity using electrodes. With this in mind, it seems reasonable to me that sufficiently advanced medical knowledge would allow people to write software to interpret these electrical signals.

Of course, these signals are likely to differ wildly from person to person, so an implant would be a highly specialised and personal piece of equipment. One idea would be to separate implant systems into two parts, the implant itself and the part that interfaces directly with the body. This could allow for swapping body parts on the fly, for fun!

Things to consider

  • The human body has a tendency of rejecting implants as foreign objects, often developing inflammation where it is attached and causing great illness. You could construct your implants out of non-rejectable handwavium or do something with sequencing the client's DNA, perhaps?

Sorry for slightly muddled answer, ask any questions in the comments and I'll edit to clarify. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ It won't reject if the implants are nano-biotech seeded with the stem cells of the recipient. Aka, bio-identical handwavium. We're basically there, technology wise, there have been incredible transplants done on rabbits by using recipient stem cells to create bio-identical organs. $\endgroup$ – Daniel M Sep 5 '16 at 2:03

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