Researchers at Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities used a 3-D printer to create bionic ears with auditory powers far beyond the natural human endowment. A look at the implications.

All Ears for a Revolution

By DANIEL AKST

The singularity may not be near, but it’s getting close enough that you might just hear it coming—if you had the kind of synthetic ears scientists recently developed.

The singularity is a term used by futurists for the merger of human and machine into an infinitely malleable, self-determining species with powers of intelligence that flesh-and-blood-mortals can only dream of. Although superhuman mental powers aren’t yet on the horizon, the new ears remind us that our future is very likely bionic.

Human ears are a problem for plastic surgeons. But writing in Nano Letters, researchers at Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities described how they used a standard 3-D printer to create bionic ears with auditory powers far beyond the natural human endowment. The technique lets scientists mimic the structural complexity of the ear while achieving a wider range of audible frequencies through the embedded electronics. They used the printed ear to culture genuine cartilage in vitro from calf cells.Once they had one ear, the scientists printed another that was the mirror image, and then had both listen to Beethoven’s “Für Elise” while linked to loudspeakers. Researchers were able to assess the sound quality—which was good.

All human progress is in some sense an effort to transcend biology, so it’s no surprise that the body itself has become a focus for innovation. Scientists and medical device firms are developing a range of inventive therapeutic devices, including artificial kidneys, retinal implants and sensors such as electronic tattoos that can monitor vital signs. Already several countries have approved a partly organic synthetic heart for human implantation.

Tissue engineering, used to grow new skin for burn patients, will allow even greater advances, such as custom heart valves. Eventually these creations will surpass the originals, and the Olympic controversy over sprinter Oscar Pistorius’ artificial legs will seem quaint—to say nothing of what genetic engineering will offer.

Technology and social change are always entwined. In Western societies, people can already choose to a great extent who they are, including their own gender. It can’t be long before a host of superhuman powers will be available and the meaning of the term “human” is contested.

Which superhuman powers would you want? Be careful: Just look at King Midas, granted his wish to be able to turn everything into gold.

In the future, we’ll have the power to change our very natures. En route, for better or worse, we’ll just have to play it by ear.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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