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Technological Advances that Seemed Like Magic Part 2

by Beth Divine 15 Jun 2018

I am fortunate that in my lifetime (and I’m not incredibly old) I have seen a wave of technological advances the like of which put the Industrial Revolution to shame.

The biggest and best advances have been in the field of medical science. Days when polio, measles, and even the flu were guaranteed to impact on a high percentage of the population – in the 40s and 50s, if you didn’t have one of these illnesses, you knew someone who did, or who had died from them – are now a thing of the past thanks to microscopy, vaccinations and regulations advocating the protection of the population. Sexually transmitted diseases are no longer a lifetime shame, they can usually be sorted out with a bout of celibate antibiotic consumption – even AIDS, a huge killer in the 80s has been controlled and tamed with drugs that keep HIV+ people living relatively healthy normal lives for a long time. It is no longer the death sentence within five years that it used to be.

Prosthetics, too, are almost unrecognisable from previous times, with heavy, awkward limbs made from rubber, leather or wood, now being manufactured from plastic and metal, often containing electronics and robotics to make the limb function in some way similar to the one that has been lost.

Burn victims no longer have to spend their whole lives as the object of stares and pity – skin grafts and treatment techniques have made it so that scarring and impact is minimal, as is the pain that used to come with scar tissue.

Polio victims often died. There was a genuine fear in 40s and 50s America that public swimming pools were not safe, and that if your child got the illness, it was almost better to wish them dead, rather than trapped inside an Iron Lung – a large apparatus in which the patient’s entire body was encased, with only their head sticking out. Sufferers spent the rest of their lives in these machines which helped them to breathe. These days, vaccines have pretty much eradicated the condition, but if it were to make a comeback, conditions are now hugely improved, with quality of life being given almost as much weight as keeping the patient alive.

Speaking of people with complete paralysis, they are no longer locked into their own worlds, trapped and unable to communicate. If they can make even the slightest controlled movement, be it a finger twitch or a blink, computers can be set up to respond to this. In fact, thanks to research done by the likes of Google, computers can even respond to eye movements, tracking where the patient is looking (this is why Google-designed sites are so wonderfully intuitive to use – they have spent hours and hours tracking the eye movements of computer users to find out – amongst other things – the first place a person looks on a screen.

It may be that within the next few years, people who have severe spinal injuries might find themselves back on their feet again. Research is promising when it comes to bypassing the injured part of the spinal cord using fibre optic cables and microchips. Much of the body’s systems are very similar to electrical circuit boards and motherboards – by creating the machines, we have unwittingly stumbled on how to repair the body…