1. The human body uses electric signals to send messages to and from the brain.
2. The human nervous system uses these signals to permit the body to sense, move, and act in the world.
3. Computer chips or electrodes might someday repair or augment that system.
For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials about the human nervous system and about cyborg technology
Computer with Internet access
1. Ask your students if they have ever heard the term cyborg. Establish that a cyborg is a human that has machine parts incorporated into his or her body.
2. Ask students if they can think of any ways that people today benefit from cyborg augmentation, or increase in some physical function due to electronic or mechanical parts. Lead them to realize that contact lenses, hearing aids, cochlear implants in the ear, artificial hearts, and artificial joints and limbs are all examples of cyborg augmentation. (Students might be interested to learn that the word cyborgoriginated in science fiction but is now used as a scientific term.)
3. Next, review with the students what they know about the human nervous system. How do messages travel to the brain from our sense organs, and from the brain to other parts of our bodies? Make sure students know that the nervous system transits electric signals to send messages to and from the brain and that these signals permit the body to sense, move, and act in the world.
4. Ask students to conjecture, with the above discussion in mind, about how cyborg technology in the form of computer chips or electrodes could be used to augment people's ability to see and hear or help people who have sensory impairments. (You might mention that recently the brains of ferrets were “rewired” so that a part of their brains that ordinarily carried only sound messages was able to carry visual messages as well. New York Times, 2/25/00.)
5. Have students research the human nervous system, particularly the ways that electric signals permit the body to sense and move.
6. Have students work in groups to create posters with informative labels about how the electrical system in the body works. Posters should indicate points at which computer chips or electrodes might someday repair or augment that system.
7. Encourage students to give oral reports and present their posters to the class.
Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students research recent news and magazine articles that report experiments or progress in cyborg technology.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Debate whether there are negative aspects to cyborg augmentation. Support your opinion with examples.
2. If you could augment your physical strength or senses, what would you change and why?
3. Explain how sense augmentations (such as thermal vision) might be used in the future.
4. Hypothesize what society would be like if the average lifespan were doubled so that people lived to be 150 years old.
5. Do you think a computer can be built that can mimic the human mind? Why or why not?
6. Just as society is accustomed to the technology and convenience of electric lights, do you think advances in human augmentation will be accepted and someday seem commonplace? Explain your response.
EVALUATION: You can evaluate your students on their assignments using the following three-point rubric:
- posters accurately depict the human nervous system, suggestions for implantation of computer chips or electrodes imaginative and reasonable (although not necessarily viable)
- posters depict the human nervous system fairly accurately, suggestions for implantation of computer chips or electrodes reasonable (although not necessarily viable)
- inaccurate or sketchy depiction of nervous system, few suggestions for implantation of computer chips or electrodes
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many suggestions for implantation of computer chips or electrodes should be included on the posters.
Have students research simple machines and tools, and then apply the concepts they uncover to invent new pieces of nanotechnology. Suggest that students focus on how their new piece of technology might work inside the human body. To get them started, provide them with an example or two, like a miniature screw that could be used to hold damaged tissue cells together. When their inventions are complete, ask them to prepare an informative brochure that explains their new piece of nanotechnology. Make sure that they include graphic displays.
Resistance Is Futile
Many science-fiction books, movies, and television shows depict future applications of cyborg technology. Lead a class discussion about the entertainment world's vision of the cyborg future. Raise the idea that, although cyborg technology is very useful to humankind, it might run amok in the future. Encourage students to imagine this kind of scenario and collaborate with classmates to write and perform a radio or television play about a disastrous situation involving cyborgs or nanotechnology. When students are confident about their performance, encourage them to record or videotape their play or perform it for other classes.
SUGGESTED READINGS: Future
Michael Tambini. Knopf (Eyewitness Books), 1998.
See beautifully colored pictures and illustrations of future home workstations, pocket-size TVs, virtual reality “robo-pals,” High Speed Surface Transport (HSST), and of cars that use a navigational computer so that they don't need a driver, brakes, or a steering wheel! You'll also find a “calendar of the future” which predicts that artificial blood and ears will be available in 2001 and robotic pets will be here in 3014. Do you agree?
21st Century Earth: Opposing Viewpoints
Oliver W. Markley and Walter R. McCuan, editors. Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1996.
Read these fascinating essays with different viewpoints on topics such as the impact of new technologies, intelligent machines, extending human longevity, making robots more humanlike, and making contact with aliens. Evaluate what you've read and decide which point of view you support.
WEB LINKS: Human Anatomy Online
Before you start bio-engineering that old body of yours, find out what it supposed to do naturally at this interactive atlas of the human body.
The Virtual Body
Columbia/HCA present a multimedia tour of the human body's brain, digestive system, heart and skeleton. Play games to test your knowledge of various bodily functions.
Neuroscience for Kids
The smell of a flower - The memory of a walk in the park - The pain of stepping on a nail. These experiences are made possible by the 3 pounds of tissue in our heads...the BRAIN!! Could we ever invent one of these for a robot?
Biomechanics Virtual Lab Tour
The engineers at the University of British Columbia invite us all on a virtual field trip to their biomechanics laboratory.
The Birth of Frankenstein
Is Mary Shelley's 19th Century story of Frankensteina wake-up call to 21st Century scientists to take it slow, and perhaps consider the consequences of reinventing the human body? Check out this short visual essay on this early techno-classic.
People can augment their muscle strength by exercising regularly.
Applied biological science; the science of applying technology to medical needs.
Applications of the science of biotechnology, such as laser eye surgery, are highly beneficial to society.
From science fiction, a person with mechanical parts incorporated into his or her body.
A human that has machine parts incorporated into his or her body is known as a cyborg.
The science of altering the genes of a plant or animal.
Through genetic engineering, scientists can create new breeds.
Something embedded, especially in human tissue.
In the near future doctors will correct people's vision by inserting a tiny computer chip implant behind the eye's retina.
ACADEMIC STANDARDS: Grade Level:
Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease.
Understands how lifestyle, pathogens, family history, and other risk factors are related to the cause or prevention of disease and other health problems.
Understands the genetic basis for the transfer of biological characteristics from one generation to the next.
Knows that hereditary information is contained in genes (located in the chromosomes of each cell), each of which carries a single unit of information; an inherited trait of an individual can be determined by either one or many genes, and a single gene can influence more than one trait.
Knows the chemical and structural properties of DNA and its role in specifying the characteristics of an organism (e.g., DNA is a large polymer formed from subunits of four kinds [A, G, C, and T]; genetic information is encoded in genes as a string of these subunits and is replicated by a templating mechanism; each DNA molecule in a cell forms a single chromosome).
Knows ways in which genes (segments of DNA molecules) may be altered and combined to create genetic variation within a species (e.g., recombination of genetic material, mutations, errors in copying genetic material during cell division).
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Knows the levels of organization in living systems—including cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, whole organisms, and ecosystems—and the complementary nature of structure and function at each level.
Knows that multicellular organisms have a variety of specialized cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that perform specialized functions (e.g., digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control and coordination, protection from disease).
Understands cell differentiation (e.g., the progeny from a single cell form an embryo in which the cells multiply and differentiate to form the many specialized cells, tissues, and organs that compose the final organism; each cell retains the basic information needed to reproduce itself).
Understands the structure and functions of nervous systems in multicellular animals (e.g., nervous systems are formed from specialized cells that conduct signals rapidly through the long cell extensions that make up nerves; nerve cells communicate with each other by secreting specific excitatory and inhibitory molecules).
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows that scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences (e.g., scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world that are always tentative and evolving, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations; both science and technology depend on accurate scientific information, and they cannot contravene scientific laws).
Knows that science and technology are pursued for different purposes (scientific inquiry is driven by the desire to understand the natural world and seeks to answer questions that may or may not directly influence humans; technology is driven by the need to meet human needs and solve human problems).