Saturday, 22 October 2011

Stand back – I’m going to try science!

Did anyone else catch Stephen Hawking's ‘Brave New World’ on Monday? It’s the follow up to his British Genius’ programme from last year, which looked at the scientific endeavours of a host of clever bastards, and not just the well known ones either, that have helped make the world what it is today. No, not a cesspit of depravity, disorder and chaos – there is no science in banking and economics – but a world where pre-term babies have an infinitely better chance of survival than they did 30 years ago and with less chance of suffering associated developmental illnesses to boot. And when non-polluting cars driven by perpetual motion machines finally arrive it will mean that said children won’t then be killed off by the cancer-inducing smog produced by the combustion engine. Science – making us more awesome, one slow step at a time!

That’s kind of the concept with Brave New World. Looking at present scientific endeavours and unravelling their future potential benefit to humanity. Whilst it’s not quite as interesting as some of the bonkers science explored by renowned entrepreneur Cave Johnson in Portal 2 – that’s how they need to re-boot Big Brother; get the moronic participants to complete in some of his insane test chambers – it does feature some pretty remarkable stuff. A bit like Tomorrow’s World then, just much less shit, as the science in Brave New World is qualified by the testimonies of proper scientists like Hawkins, not Philipa Forrester.  

Anyway, it’s currently on 4OD at the moment and you really need to watch the following from the 32 minute mark and marvel at the mechanical legs that are helping people paralysed from the waist down to walk again.

I’m not thoroughly versed in the science behind it, but I think it has something to do with the robotics picking up the signal from the brain that can no longer reach the individuals legs and the mechanics carrying out the brain’s instructions on their behalf. Pretty incredible, huh? It also seems to have beneficial additional effects – just the process of being able to stand upright brings pain relief from the compression of the spine when constantly sitting in a wheelchair. It just seems like an incredible piece of hardware. No evasive surgery required, just strap on a pair of these bad boys and all of a sudden mobility has been restored to those it had been taken from.

Okay, so the first girl shown is not completely versed in the use of these robo-legs (to be fair she’s only been using them for a couple of months), but the second girl featured powers through and whilst full mobility is not completely restored, it still remains an incredible feat of science. The final bonus is that the drive of this motion is all generated by the mechanics of the device, meaning the individual using them provides no effort to generate movement and, consequently, suffers no fatigue from their use. Utterly remarkable! And then they show a reel of what these things can do when utilised by the able-bodied. They’re like a more compact version of the power-loaders from Aliens. You can pick up 200lbs with next to no effort. It’s probably one of the single coolest things I’ve ever seen. Why? Because they’re like the freaking power-loaders from Aliens!!

I just hope it’s not a hoax - the American professor narrating and the footage shown do make it seem like one of those inexplicable adverts for a gardening gadget at only £49.99 that subsequently doesn’t work. But if Hawking's has put his name against it, well, this must be the future. Just a shame it won’t last though. If you watch the segment before the robotic legs you have baby faced robot AIs being taught simple tricks by scientists and learning from them with remarkable ease. The guy leading the programme proclaims that in 20 years time every household will have such robots helping with the household chores. Just in time for 2027 and judgement day. I hope the company he works for is not Cyberdyne Systems. Science, so great it has the potential to heal and destroy the world in the blink of an eye. Well, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, I suppose…

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