Guns for Armes: The Amazing True Story of the World’s First Real Life Superhero

Posted by on December 6th, 2013

By Klint Finley

Every night dozens of people around the world don masks and costumes and venture into the streets to fight crime.

Phoenix Jones and Master Legend are perhaps the most famous, but there are hundreds of costumed would-be crime fighters and their activities range from attempting to apprehend criminals to watching over the homeless while they sleep to make sure their positions aren’t stolen.

These caped crusaders aren’t mutants, aliens or cyborgs — they’re just concerned citizens. They have no superhuman powers. But with advances in technology — such as exoskeletons and bionic limbs — you might think it’s only a matter of time until we see the first grinder superhero.

Actually, we’ve had him for quite some time.

J.J. Armes courtesy of photographer Adam Hicks via Wikipedia - This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

The first real-life superhero may have been J. J. Armes, a private detective who has been active in El Paso since 1958. His super power? A gun implanted in one of his prosthetic hook that he could fire with his biceps — without using his other hook.

Armes lives in a mansion, surrounded by lions and tigers. He always wears three piece suits, and travels by limo driven by his body guard cum chauffeur. It’s no wonder Ideal Toy Company manufactured a line of action figures based on his likeness, and comic book mogul Stan Lee wants to make a movie based on his life.

Origin Story

Armes lost both his hands at the age of 12, he told People in 1975. A friend brought over a box that, unknown to Armes, contained railroad dynamite charges. When Armes opened it, his hands were blown off at the wrist. His friend was unharmed.

His hands were replaced with hooks, but he kept playing sports. He even taught himself how to write with the hooks. His life changed again at the age of 15 when he was recruited to appear in the film Am I Handicapped?, he told Texas Monthly in 1976. He quit high school, moved to Hollywood, and went on to appear in 13 feature length films.

But eventually he decided to turn his attention to crime fighting. He moved to New York City to study psychology and criminology and graduated with honors by the age of 19. He then returned home to El Paso and started his private investigation service, eventually becoming better known to the children of the city than the president of the United States.

He made national news in 1972 after rescuing Marlon Brando’s son from kidnappers in Mexico. He now commands multi-million dollar fees, and has, in addition to the limo, a fleet of expensive vehicles, including a Rolls Royce, a Corvette and a helicopter.
His for-profit crime fighting stands in stark contrast with Master Legend and Phoenix Jones, who work day jobs assisting the disabled and elderly. But Armes He’s deeply religious and says he stays committed being a PI, despite being so wealthy that he’d be able retire at any time, because of his devotion to God.  He doesn’t smoke, drink or swear. He doesn’t drink coffee, let alone take any illegal drugs.
And his crime fighting has come at a cost — he’s survived multiple assassination attempts and his life is in constant danger.

Secret Origin

Well, that’s the story that Armes wanted people to believe back in 1976, anyway. Texas Monthly writer Gary Cartwright did some digging that year and found that Armes story didn’t add up.

Armes’ real name is Julian Armas. He was born in 1939 to Mexican immigrants, not Italian immigrants as he claimed. His friend didn’t find the dynamite that blew off his hands next to a railroad track. They broke into a rail house and stole it.

The Academy of Motion Pictures had no record of Am I Handicapped?. NYU had no record of Armas, or Armes, ever attending the school, let alone graduating. Nor was there any record of his mentor Max Falen having taught there.

“Old friends recalled when he returned from California. Julian, or Jay J. Armes as he now called himself, drove an old, raggedy- topped Cadillac with a live lion in the back and a dummy telephone mounted to the dash-board,” Cartwright wrote. “He would pull up beside the girls at the drive-in and pretend to be talking to some secret agent in some foreign land.”

There was also no indication that he really had a vast network of PIs at his disposal.

He does own a big house, but it was it was located in a poor part of town and was only worth about $50,000 in 1975. The helicopter certainly wouldn’t have been able to fly. What money he had likely didn’t come from his PI work, Cartwright wrote, but from lucrative real estate deals facilitated by his wealthy friend Thomas Fortune Ryan.

It’s apparently true that he brought Brando’s son back from Mexico, but other PIs are dubious about his methods. “They didn’t believe the part about the three-day helicopter search in which Jay Armes survived on water, chewing gum, and guts, but they all know the trick of grabbing a kid,” Carwright wrote. “You hired a couple of federales or gunsels. The problem wasn’t finding the kid, it was getting him out of the country.”

Armes came mostly clean in his autobiography, published later in 1976. He admitted his real name is Julian Armas. He didn’t admit to having broken into the railhouse himself, but didn’t claim that the other boy had found the dynamite charges either. Rather than claiming that a Hollywood director came showed up in El Paso and recruited him, Armes admitted that he went to California after high school. He wrote that he appeared in several films, but only in bit roles. He didn’t repeat the story about a mentor at NYU, and claimed only to have gotten a degree in criminology in California before returning to El Paso to become a private investigator.

Better Than Fiction

And not everything about Armes was a lie.

J. J. Armes Mobile Investigation Unit playset with J. J. Armes Action Figure with Custom Suit

Jay J. Armes "Mobile Investigation Unit" (Center) Jay J. Armes Doll w/custom made suit crafted by Armes' personal tailor. (Right) - Via http://www.spymall.com/investigators/action_figures.html

“It is true that Jay J. Armes drives around El Paso in the damnedest black limo you ever saw, armed to the teeth,” Cartwright wrote. “That pistol in his hook is the real McCoy; I watched him fire it.” And he really does have a fleet of vehicles, a flock of wild animals roaming the premises and a closet full of three-piece suits.

Today, at the age of 81, he’s still the head of the Investigators company. And his son Jay J. Armes III, who is an Investigator himself, has expanded the business into online retail with Spy Mall.

Even if you strip away the fabrications and exaggerations you’re left with an astounding tale. As Carwright wrote: “The real story is of a Mexican-American kid from one of the most impoverished settlements in the United States, how he extracted himself from the wreckage of a crippling childhood accident and through the exercise of tenacity, courage, and wits became a moderately successful private investigator. There is more sympathy, drama, and human intrigue in that accomplishment than you’re likely to find in any two or three normal studies of the human condition.”

Why then has his story largely been forgotten by the national media? Maybe it’s because of the tall tales in the beginning. Or maybe it’s because the media has little time for aging, disabled minorities.

Either way, J.J. Armes is a name worth remembering.

J.J. Armes did not respond to our request for comment on this story.
Special thanks to Trevor Blake.

External Links

Texas Monthly article

Investigators official site

Great photo shoot from 2008

A better photo of the action figure

The Real Life Superhero Project

Superheroes Anonymous

Klint Finley is a Wired reporter, TechCrunch columnist and the co-host of the Mindful Cyborgs podcast.  He can be found on Twitter as @klintron


“it’s a Sleepless world, they’re just awaking to it”

Posted by on June 9th, 2013

Warning [SPOILERS]: if you care about the plots of Nikita, Iron Man 3, The Bourne Legacy… stop now, go watch ‘em all then come back. Hi!

Philosophy so physical makes for a very handsome tribe.

http://www.vimeo.com/67976111

This scene from Canadian science-fiction drama show Orphan Black is the best rendering of a Grinder Bar yet seen on screens small or large. In fact, I’m not even sure what the others are.

And it’s a good reason to take a whip-around look at the world of pop culture as serious business, and re-examine the state of the #transhumanfuturepresent.

First we have the latest season of the spy soap, Nikita. Referring in-show to its “spy fi” plot elements, the absolute transhuman drama of cyborg hand upgrades and cutting edge transplant dramatic problems. Don’t bring a possibly evil hand to a knife fight or something.

The settings of Iron Man 3 and The Bourne Legacy are both unquestionably transhuman. Neither film is a journey of a character to science-fictional state (see recent highlights: Limitless, Chronicle), but rather their starting condition.

(We can wedge Hanna in here too, though it’s more properly a genetically engineered super-solider girl coming of age fairy tale, innit).

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (1.0) not only has upgraded-girlfriend-dramas (well, Red She-Hulk solutions) but the plot driver is a conflict between two competing paths of self-directed human evolution: man/machine co-evolution and direct genetic hacking (hopefully not precluding the eventual arrival of Zeke Stane (Tony Stark 2.0) onto the big screen, that plot having been mined from The Five Nightmares arc of The Invincible Iron Man).

Speaking about playing Aldritch Killan, Guy Pearce mentions that Extremis also upgrades the subject to become one of the beautiful people:

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In The Bourne Legacy, our hero, who totally isn’t being chased by the mutant wolves of The Grey as it opens, is the latest iteration of the super-soldierspy program. His motivation is to hold onto his upgraded self, lest he reverts back to being the guy from The Lawnmower Man, or something.

Once you’ve gone transhuman…

Back in Canada, and actually set-in-Canada Canadian drama Continuum, which apart from featuring an absolutely bad-ass tech suit rather a lot like Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s (itself a bridge between its low-grade #peakcyberpunkfuture and today, a cyborg hand reaching back to the present), combines transhuman future cop trapped in the present drama, with standard procedural drama, and excellent sociopolitical critique. Honestly, the first show on TV that I wish I was writing for ([blink]%HIRE ME%[/blink]).

Plus in the actual RL, we have Google Glass, already getting surpassed by the Meta. Pioneers like Steve Mann and Neil HarbigesenSports stories speculating on specific upgrades already being outdated… and other things I’m sure I’ve missed. So tell me!

and while we’re talking, let’s discuss the anti-posthuman agenda of Star Trek, most recently seen in Into the Darkness:

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Litmus test: who is the real villain in X-Men: First Class?

And we leave you with the trailer for Elysium, grinder revenge pr0n if ever there was one:

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Death of a Cyborg [PIX]

Posted by on November 29th, 2012

by Shorra, via @PopBioethics | BoingBoing


XFF wants your Grinder tales

Posted by on November 14th, 2012

Our friends at the Extreme Futurist Festival are looking for true tales of DIY Transhumanism to feature in a short film. Details follow:

This will be a 20 minute film focusing on the Transhumanist/Futurist/Biohacking underground. We are interested in hearing your stories and would like to screen this film at the next Extreme Futurist Festival.

Please send us clips of you discussing your views on this new emerging subculture. extremefuturistfest2012@gmail.com


TRANSHUMAN FUTUREPRESENT NEWS DUMP 14/12/2012

Posted by on November 13th, 2012

The Continuing Merger of Man & Machine:

  • DARPA’s Pet-Proto Robot Navigates Obstacles:YouTube Preview Imagethanks Carsten Kolassa!
  • 1st Bionic leg propels man up 103 flights:
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  • ‘Terminator’ arm is world’s most advanced prosthetic limb:
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  • Batteries not required, just plug into ear cells:

    The team behind the technology used a natural electrochemical gradient in cells within the inner ear of a guinea pig to power a wireless transmitter for up to five hours.

    The technique could one day provide an autonomous power source for brain and cochlear implants, says Tina Stankovic, an auditory neuroscientist at Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The device works well for short durations but long-term use of the electrodes risks damaging the sensitive tissue inside the ear. The next step will be to make the electrodes even smaller, reducing their invasiveness.

    Stankovic says that this is proof of concept that biological sources of energy exist that have not yet been fully considered. “A very futuristic view is that maybe we will be able to extract energy from individual cells using similar designs,” she says.

  • Assembly of nano-machines mimics human muscle:

    …for the first time, Giuseppone’s team has succeeded in synthesizing long polymer chains incorporating, via supramolecular bonds (1), thousands of nano-machines each capable of producing linear telescopic motion of around one nanometer. Under the influence of pH, their simultaneous movements allow the whole polymer chain to contract or extend over about 10 micrometers, thereby amplifying the movement by a factor of 10,000, along the same principles as those used by muscular tissues. Precise measurements of this experimental feat have been performed in collaboration with the team led by Eric Buhler, a physicist specialized in radiation scattering at the Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot).

    These results, obtained using a biomimetic approach, could lead to numerous applications for the design of artificial muscles, micro-robots or the development of new materials incorporating nano-machines endowed with novel multi-scale mechanical properties.

  • What made us human? Being ARMED with lethal ranged weapons -Early kill-tech let us beat Neanderthals, dominate world:

    “When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach,” explains Professor Curtis Marean, an expert in stone weapons who was instrumental in the research.

    These early moderns probably also had higher levels of pro-social (hyper-cooperative) behavior. These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe,” he adds. “This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.”

  • gilding primal instinct’s new Prosthetic Jewelry:

  • Nyodyme from Imagina Technologies (already SOLD OUT):

    Nyodyme Magnets give their users the ability to “sense” electromagnetic waves. The technology behind the Nyodyme Magnet is created from a beautiful gold and nickel-plated neodymium magnet that is placed within Imagina’s specially made glue that has magnetic iron filings mixed into it to enhance the vibrations.

  • Military makeup will protect soldiers from bomb-blast burns:

    A new type of camouflage makeup is able to protect wearers from skin burns. Scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi developed the makeup for use in combat situations, but the team plans on developing a transparent version for firefighters. The new material acts like sunblock, forming a barrier thinner than a sheet of paper that can protect skin from extreme heat for up to 15 seconds. After that time, the makeup itself may rise to a temperature where first-degree (mild) burns may occur, but the extra time should help soldiers to find shelter from any explosion. In some tests, the scientists found that the face paint shielded its test subjects for up to 60 seconds.


TRUE SKIN [short film]

Posted by on October 11th, 2012
http://www.vimeo.com/51138699

via Digitalyn


hand fixing hand [PIC]

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012

by Shane Willis


1500s prosthetic hand by Ambroise Paré

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

From io9, this prosthetic hand was designed in the 1500s by Ambroise Paré:

It was a hand that was operated by multiple catches and springs, which simulated the joints of a biological hand. When he showed his design to colleagues it was such a sensation that they worked up a prototype, and in 1551, a movable prosthesis was worn into battle by a French army captain. The Captain claimed it worked so well that he was able to grip and release the reigns of his horse.


Hacking your Enlightenment and other transhuman future titbits

Posted by on August 22nd, 2012
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Particularly fascinating interview with Jeffery A. Martin here, not just for his research into the Enlightened, but for his eventual synthesis towards a speculative life for the newly near-immortal.

Other transhuman future titbits from around the web of late:


The Gift (sf short film)

Posted by on June 30th, 2012

An advertainment from Philips, better than just about everything HollyWood will force upon the masses this year.

http://www.vimeo.com/33025640

via transceiverfreq


cyborg feelings

Posted by on June 19th, 2012
http://www.vimeo.com/43688296

When confronted with random materials, the robot would make a number of intelligently-selected exploratory movements (like rubs, wiggles and pokes) before identifying the material. It got the answer right 95 percent of the time.

Via WIRED UK we learn of the great work from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

The robot was equipped with a new type of tactile sensor built to mimic the human fingertip. It also used a newly designed algorithm to make decisions about how to explore the outside world by imitating human strategies. Capable of other human sensations, the sensor can also tell where and in which direction forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.

Like the human finger, the group’s BioTac® sensor has a soft, flexible skin over a liquid filling. The skin even has fingerprints on its surface, greatly enhancing its sensitivity to vibration. As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates in characteristic ways. These vibrations are detected by a hydrophone inside the bone-like core of the finger. The human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, but the robot finger is even more sensitive.


The Mutant Future is NOW

Posted by on June 6th, 2012

Let’s get this TED Talk out of the way first: Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species?

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Next, as we remind ourselves, anything that can be done to a rat…

The new study, which appears in Science today, takes a different approach. Instead of trying to repair the main information superhighway from the brain to the body, Grégoire Courtine, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and colleagues focused on alternative routes. Most spinal injuries in people do not sever the spinal cord completely, explains Courtine. To approximate this situation in rats, his team made two surgical cuts in the spinal cord, severing all of the direct connections from the brain, but leaving some tissue intact in between the cuts. Then they had the rodents begin a rehab regime intended to bypass the fractured freeway, as it were, by pushing more traffic onto neural back roads and building more of them.

This regime, which began about a week after the rats were injured, lasted about 30 minutes a day. During each session, the researchers injected the animals with a cocktail of drugs to improve the function of rats’ neural circuits in the part of the spinal cord involved in leg movements, and they stimulated this area with electrodes. With its spinal cord thus primed for action, a rat was fitted into a harness attached to a robotic device that supported its weight and allowed it to walk forward on its hind legs to the extent that it was able. At first, the rats could not move their legs at all, let alone walk.

But after 2 or 3 weeks, the rodents began taking steps toward a piece of food after a gentle nudge from the robot. By 5 or 6 weeks, they were able to initiate movement on their own and walk to get the food. And after a few additional weeks of intensified rehab, they were able to walk up rat-sized stairs and climb over a small barrier placed in their path. Rats that did not undergo rehab, in contrast, showed no improvement at all. Rats suspended over a moving treadmill that elicited reflex-like stepping movement, did not improve either, suggesting that full recovery depends on making intentional movements, not just any movement.

 

 

What does every Mutant teen want? Mutant kicks:

Rayfish, a custom footwear company, is marketing leather sneakers that come in every color from shimmering gold to neon green, in patterns that mimick giraffes, zebras, leopard, and lady bugs. And they claim that these designs are grown directly on the hides of custom-engineered stingrays.

 

 

And again via our good, good acquaintances at io9:

Susan Dominus has penned a remarkable piece for the New York Times about Krista and Tatiana Hogan, the 4-year old conjoined twin girls from British Columbia who are attached at the head. Scans show that the two girls have brains that are interconnected by a never-seen-before “thalamic bridge,” an indication that they might share conscious thoughts. And if their early behavior is any indication, this may very likely be the case.

 

Finally, our friend Chris Arkenberg tells us to ‘ware the body net hackers. That’s right, #transhumanproblems:

Security concerns for the nascent field of wireless implants are certainly welcomed but the event stands more broadly as a glowing sign of the times. The relentless ubiquitizing of computation is working its way into our bodies. As has been noted elsewhere [pdf] the path of finance and innovation for these waves of emerging technology typically follows the military-medical-consumer pipeline, walking down the line of survivability from being blown up by an Afghani IED, past spastic hearts and hungry cells, into urban navigation and caffeine acquisition. And maybe transdermal metabolic sleeves for networked jogging or ward implants for not-so-bad convicts squeezed out of overcrowded prison farms and remotely monitored for geofencing violations or the odd spike in muscular adrenergics. The military has the money to develop the tech and treat its soldiers, who are summarily discharged into hospitals that facilitate the transfer of technology into the private sector. Point being, if you’re starting to save up for that cybernetic occipital mat implant, you’d be most well-served to enlist the ready hand of McAfee Security to guard your mind meats from the shady legions of digital malcontents. Standard fees, of course, do apply.


Autodesk test implanting electronics in cadavers

Posted by on May 14th, 2012

From New Scientist:

Researchers at Autodesk, a software company in Toronto, Canada, checked to see whether the methods we currently use to interface with our gadgets work when the device is implanted in human tissue. The answer was a resounding “yes”.

A button, an LED and a touch sensor all functioned appropriately when embedded under the skin of a cadaver’s arm. The team was even able to communicate transcutaneously using a Bluetooth connection and charge the electronics wirelessly.

“That’s the bottom line,” says Christian Holz of the Autodesk team, who presented the work this week at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Austin, Texas. “Traditional user interfaces work through the skin.”

There are also clear benefits to implanted electronics. “The device is always there,” says Holz. “You cannot lose it.” And implants provide new interface methods. A gadget similar to a smartphone could provide a calendar alert by means of a gentle sub-skin vibration, for example.

And that creepy feeling? It is a common reaction now, but may lessen as people become familiar with the technology. The idea of using a machine to assist a human heart was once deemed unnatural, for example, but the insertion of a pacemaker is now a routine procedure.

“In general, the trend has been that people are more and more willing to incorporate bits of the machine world into themselves,” says Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The perception [of this technology] 10 years ago would differ from today and from what we would get in 10 years’ time,” agrees Holz.

Turkle wants society to think seriously about the potential downsides of implanted electronics, including tracking. But she has also studied how people relate to their cellphones and notes that some talk about them as if they were cyborgs.

“People literally cannot be without this device,” Turkle says. “They don’t feel the same when they are not connected. We live with our phones as if they are part of our body.”


TSA break 16y.o.’s insulin pump with scanner

Posted by on May 9th, 2012

From ABC4:

After participating in a DECA conference in Salt Lake City with several classmates last week, Savannah, who is a type one diabetic and wears an insulin pump 24 hours a day, says she ran into TSA agents who were not prepared to deal with her medical situation. “I went up to the lady and I said, I am a type one diabetic. I wear an insulin pump. I showed her the pump. I said, what do you want me to do? I usually do a pat down – what would you recommend?”

Savannah then showed agents a doctor’s note explaining that the sensitive insulin pump should not go through the body scanner. She says she was told to go through it anyway. “When someone in a position of authority tells you it is – you think that its right. So, I said, Are you sure I can go through with the pump? It’s not going to hurt the pump? And she said no, no you’re fine.”

The 16-year-old walked into the scanner with some serious reservations “My life is pretty much in their hands when I go through a body scan with my insulin pump on.” She was right to be worried. She says the pump stopped working correctly. “Coming off an insulin pump is rough. You never know what is going to happen when you are not on the insulin pump.”

via Cat Vincent | /.


Las bio(mecánicas)

Posted by on May 7th, 2012

This “video of last year’s cyborg dance intervention at the Tijuana border crossing” comes via Chris N. Brown:

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Man and Machine

Posted by on March 25th, 2012

Nice bit of contemporary cyborging in this advertisement for BMW:

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and Da Vinci wept (#WINGS)

Posted by on March 20th, 2012

Maybe it’s a real angel with fake wings – LIFE

WINGS… who doesn’t want them? Now you can upgrade from the expensive, cosmetic pretties to this, thanks to WIRED:

Using videogame controllers, an Android phone and custom-built wings, a Dutch engineer named Jarno Smeets has achieved birdlike flight.

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According to Smeets’ calculations, he needed approximately 2,000 Watts of continuous power to support his roughly 180-pound frame and 40-pound wing pack. His arms could only really provide 5 percent of that, so the rest would have to come from motors. His arms and pecs would basically serve to guide the device and to flap the wings.

He built his electronic, wireless wing set out of Wii controllers, accelerometers harvested from an HTC Wildfire Android phone and Turnigy motors.

When he landed after the 60-second flight, he said, “At one moment you see the ground moving away, and then suddenly you’re free, a really intense feeling of freedom. The true feeling of flying. A [bleep] magical moment. The best feeling I have felt in my life.”

Well, only if you’re brave enough.

(Interesting to see wing-less angels being part of the plot of The River too)

UPDATE – as was suspected by many, this was a hoax. This doesn’t mean Wing Culture isn’t a fascinating opposition to Drone Culture.


Sorry, are my mechanical bits showing? (TATTOO)

Posted by on March 20th, 2012

via BLASTR


From 2023 with Love (#meetthenewgods)

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain.

~ Tesla (via @NikolaTeslaBot)

 

Viral video of the year goes to:

Meanwhile in the DANGERZONE… err, WIRED’s Dangerroom, fusing man and machine:

The body’s own nerves are arguably the biggest barrier towards turning the dream of lifelike replacements into a reality. Peripheral nerves, severed by amputation, can no longer transmit or receive any of the myriad sensory signals we rely on every day. Trying to fuse them with robot limbs, to create a direct neural-prosthetic interface, is no easy task.

“We think the interface problem is key to enabling the neuro-prosthetic concept,” Dr. Shawn Dirk, one of the researchers behind the finding, tells Danger Room. “And solving that is how we’re going to give amputees their bodies back.”

Dirk, alongside colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, set out to develop a synthetic substance that could act as a scaffold — that is, an artificial structure that can support tissue growth — successfully merging severed nerves with robotic limbs.

Of course, researchers have already made plenty of efforts to directly integrate nerves and prosthetics. But, according to Dirk, they typically “didn’t use technology that was compatible with nerve fibers,” which are tightly bundled and flexible. “Nerves need to grow and move around; they’re not going to integrate well with a stiff interface.”

Yes, the material comprising the scaffold had to be flexible and fluid, but it also needed to be extremely conductive. Nerve signals are highly localized, and also very, very subtle. An effective neural-prosthetic interface would need to transmit thousands of different signals per second to mimic the behavior of a real limb and its relationship to the brain and body.

To create that ideal interface, Dirk and his colleagues developed their own biocompatible polymers, meant to mimic the properties of nerve tissue. The material is also porous, so that nerves can extend through it, and lined with electrodes, to vastly enhance conductivity.

“There was a very limited inflammatory response,” Dirk says. “That’s important, because we’re looking for an interface that won’t be rejected by the body. We want something that can last years, decades, and hopefully entire lifetimes.”

The finding marks a huge, huge improvement over previous research efforts. Even Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm and a leader in prosthetic science, couldn’t seem to figure out a direct neural-prosthetic interface that was adequately sensitive and had a lifespan longer than a few months. In 2010, the agency asked for new research proposals that’d solve both those problems.

And while new prototype prosthetics have some incredible abilities, none of them include a direct interface. In fact, they’ve been designed to avoid one altogether. One Pentagon-funded project used “targeted muscle reinnervation surgery” to develop prosthetics that transmit signals from a bundle of nerves in the chest. Another, led by Johns Hopkins scientists, uses brain-implanted micro-arrays to transmit cues to an artificial limb.

A direct neural-prosthetic interface still remains years away. But if this polymer holds up in subsequent tests, it’ll mean prosthetics far more lifelike than even the most impressive artificial limbs currently in development. Most importantly, in the words of Darpa, prosthetics hooked right into the nervous system “would incorporate the [artificial] limb into the sense-of-self.”

 

But wait, perhaps I can interest you in immortality? Meet Brooke:

“Brooke is a miracle,” says her father, Howard Greenberg. “Brooke is a mystery,” says Lawrence Pakula, her pediatrician. “Brooke is an opportunity,” says Richard Walker, a geneticist with the University of South Florida College of Medicine. They all mean the girl from Reisterstown, a small town in the US state of Maryland, who may hold the answer to a human mystery. At issue is nothing less than immortality: Brooke Greenberg apparently isn’t aging.

She has no hormonal problems, and her chromosomes seem normal. But her development is proceeding “extremely slowly,” says Walker. If scientists can figure out what is causing the disorder, it might be possible to unlock the mysteries of aging itself. “Then we’ve got the golden ring,” says Walker.

He hopes to simply eliminate age-related diseases like cancer, dementia and diabetes. People who no longer age will no longer get sick, he reasons. But he also thinks eternal life is conceivable. “Biological immortality is possible,” says Walker. “If you don’t get hit by a car or by lightning, you could live at least 1,000 years.”

And we can’t talk about the New Gods without mentioning CHRONICLE (aka #newgodsproblems). Talkback anyone?


Telekinetic Boarding (sport of the futurepresent)

Posted by on February 22nd, 2012
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Read the how & the who at Engadget…