Sunday, August 10, 2008

Human augmentation via bacterial biome

Human augmentation of physical and mental capabilities by bringing electronics on board seems a likely future. The early stages have already been realized, 10% of Americans are cyborgs today in the sense of having synthetic items permanently implanted: hearing aids, teeth, pacemakers, hip and knee replacements, RFID chips etc. Cochlear implants interfacing with hearing cognition for deaf children are routine. Neuroengineering research has been progressing in the implementation of electroencephalography-based computer controllers. Brain cap video game headsets may become the norm.

There are at least three ways for achieving human-electronic interfaces; physical implants, wearables and a third as yet unconsidered possibility, exploiting the human bacterial biome.

The 1,000 trillion bacteria that are part of each human (10x the number of human cells) could be an ideal augmentation substrate.
There are trillions of them, they are already on board and pass easily and unobtrusively in and out of the human. They are easy to obtain, test and experiment on in the lab. They are expendable. Functionality could be enabled individually, or distributed over the 500 – 100,000 classes of bacteria.

Augmentation applications: communications and processing
The two most important augmentation applications are communications and processing, both of which could potentially be conducted via the human’s microscopic bacteria. Communication is required between the bacteria, which they are already doing to some extent, and externally, to the Internet using wireless, Bluetooth or some other, possibly to be developed protocol. What a vast improvement on board connectivity would be, never having to depend on the vagaries of PC wireless cards, modems and Bluetooth devices.

The second main application is processing, the initial killer app being a memory aid. Coordinating the bacterial biome into a distributed biocomputer for searching, downloading, accessing and delivering information would be an obvious first goal. Other applications could include continuous lifelogging perhaps (literally) through eye cam bacteria, personalized biosensing and remediation of the external environment as it interfaces with humans, virtual reality and nutrient and waste cycling. Electricity from the body could possibly facilitate these computations.

Easy upgrade and maintenance
The continual turnover, ingress and egress of bacteria in humans means that upgrade cycles and retirement of dead or non-functioning elements could occur seamlessly. Bacterial updates could be printed regularly from a 3d printer or automatically dispensed in smarthome air or water. Mechanically, the updates might be delivered through the air, in the shower, or by a nutrient blanket during sleep.

Nanobot intermediaries
Enhancing the human bacterial biome would really just be extending the life support functionality it already provides and could be a nice intermediary step to the more robust bionanodevices and nanobots envisioned in molecular manufacturing. Existing bacteria could be enhanced, much of the human microflora does not appear to be doing anything anyway, or additional bacteria could be engineered and brought on board.

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