The first successful human head transplant has been ambitiously slated for 2017 by Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero, who has been called the “real doctor Frankenstein” in the past.
How he will manage to conduct this seemingly impossible operation is still a mystery to most, with many experts claiming that it simply will not work.
That said, it highlights the sharp rise in technological power the human race now has access to, and how close we could be to having previously unthinkable scientific advances at our fingertips.
With this in mind, we asked applied futurist and founder of Book of the Future Tom Cheesewright when, if ever, various science fiction technologies can be expected to be widely available.
Here’s what he had to say.
Cheesewright is surprisingly optimistic about whether we could see this audacious medical advance before long.
“Looks like it!” he quips. “Though our understanding of the human body is still pretty rudimentary: every time we think we understand it there’s a new surprise.”
There’s a healthy skepticism surrounding Sergio Canavero’s audacious claims, but nobody seems to be able to rule him out definitively.
It’s an invention that would make all our lives infinitely easier, eliminating the need for commuting to work and giving humans access to the entire world at the push of a button.
Sadly, Cheesewright’s not holding his breath.
“In theory you could be teleported, but none of your original matter would move. We can transport some of the characteristics of a particle over long distances, but that’s a long way from jumping in a transporter and reappearing at the other end.”
Ever since Star Wars, people have dreamed of clutching a laser gun in their hands. As dangerous as that would be.
According to Cheesewright, the issue is power.
“They’re already here in a limited sense, but you would need an enormous battery right now just to get a single shot off, because as we all know from our phones, we need better batteries. Will you be pulling a blaster from your pocket Han Solo-style anytime soon? Nope.”
Successful human cloning
A sheep named Dolly gave the human race its first cloning breakthrough, and now, it seems very possible that human cloning could be a thing of the near-future.
“I think it will absolutely be possible in a few years’ time,” says Cheesewright, “but whether or not it is desirable is a different matter. It’s much more likely that we make individual body parts to replace those that have been damaged or diseased.”
Complete invisibility may well be impossible, but there are plenty of ways to get around it. Augmented reality is just starting to take off, and Cheesewright reckons the concept of invisibility isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.
“Scientists are pretty close to this already, in various ways. There have been experiments with cameras and projectors or screens built into clothing, and we can print displays on just about anything. There are prototype cameras the size of a fingernail that will cost less than 5p to manufacture. Stick those together and an invisibility cloak is yours.
“Even more exciting are metamaterials that have been shown to ‘bend’ microwaves: if the same capabilities could be applied to visible light you could just bend light around you.”
The singularity (the point where humans transcend biology and live as mechanic beings) is a far-off and unnerving concept, but bionic augmentation will, no doubt, be the first step towards it.
Video games and movies often show shiny plates and wires that protrude from human bodies and allow their characters to perform inhuman feats of strength, but how possible are future bionic augments?
“We’re there!” says Cheesewright. “The smartphone is an augmentation for your brain, adding storage, recall and processing power. The Paralympics is a great showcase of technologies that can take incredible physical capability and enhance it further.”
However, the futurist doubts whether any future available modifications will resemble the ones we see in movies.
“These things don’t look like the augmentations of science fiction – shiny machines implanted Borg-style into or under the skin. I think we’re mostly likely to see devices that enhance us from outside of our bodies: Iron Man-style exoskeletons already exist, and artificial intelligences are enhancing our cognitive functions.
“The human body is exceptionally capable as it is. Just trying to make robots that can get close to our flexibility and adaptability has cost billions to date, and as DARPA’s regular trials show, we’re still not there.”
The probability of humans inventing a way to live forever is slim to none, but by definition, there must be ways to make us live longer. Though Cheesewright reckons it’s all a matter of perspective.
“In some ways this is history: look how much longer we live now than even a hundred years ago – advances in medicine will undoubtedly continue to edge up our lifespans.”
As well as the natural progression of medicine though, there’s always going to be people pushing the boundaries of human life.
“Real breakthroughs, doubling or trebling our lifespan, will require a much better understanding of the process of ageing.
“Given the vast investment going into this field from Silicon Valley billionaires, I’d expect to see some dramatic steps in the next 20 years.”