(This post originally ran over on the Genre Underground site)
Two years ago, when I sat down to start writing on my first novel, THE CESTUS CONCERN, I had it in my head that I was going to be writing a futuristic cyberpunk novel loaded with science fiction. After all, the book was populated with high tech bionic men with abilities far beyond the norm, cybernetic rewiring of brains, and computer controlled minds.
Doing research over the past few months for my second novel, The Cestus Contract, I realized that most of what I had assumed was science fiction had become science fact. Now that book two is out, I’m not quite as sure how far off the science really is…and the realization has blown me away.
The lead character in my Weir Codex series is one Malcolm Weir. A former US Army Ranger, Mal wakes up to find his arms replaced with cybernetic weapons and his mind sharing space with a computer implanted into the base of his skull. Other characters are similarly enhanced — cyborgs with no hearts, men merged into giant robotic suits, and men and women being controlled remotely by computers.
Surely, none of these things are possible in today’s world? Right? That’s what I thought…and boy was I wrong. Let’s take a look at some of what is taking place in the real world of cyberpunk that now exists just outside your window.
Craig Lewis, a 55 year old man, had a continuous flow pump surgically implanted into his body to replace a damaged heart. The device allowed blood to flow through his system without a pulse.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a an artificial “smart” skin that allows machines to mimic the sense of touch. The level of sensitivity of the skin is similar to that of a human’s fingertip. Not only is the skin a huge leap forward for robotics and human-robotic interfacing, but also for prosthetic limbs.
Right now, the US Army is testing what they can an anthropomorphic exoskeleton, the HULC, that will enable its wearer to move faster than normal and increase their strength.
The field of bionics and robotic prosthetics has exploded over the past few years. There are now powered bionic appendages that are controlled by thought. Mind controlled bionic legs that possess a full range of motion, bionic hands that feel, and bionic eyes that restore partial sight to the blind.
Robotics is coming along just as fast, with the military testing humanoid robots, robotic “mules” developed to carry equipment and supplies into difficult areas for troops, gun-wielding telepresence battledroids, bird drones, and even a flying robotic “transformer” that will potentially replace manned choppers for troop transportation and resupply missions.
Beyond robots are things like the Kuratas , a Japanese-built mecha prototype. That’s right, I said the Japanese have built a working mech. The thing is about 13 feet tall, is controlled by a pilot who rides in its chest, and can be mounted with weapons. Even more insane is that fact that the Kuratas can be ordered online…
Finally, in the scariest piece of news, a researcher at the University of Washington has performed what is believed to be the first non-invasive human-to-human brain interface. The researcher was able to hook-up and control his subject’s hand via the Internet. Telepresence via robots is one thing, but being able to control a human’s actions remotely is mind-blowing. The thought of what could be done with this particular technology is both terrifying and, now that I have children who must constantly be reminded to do their chores, intriguing.
With each passing day, Cyberpunk becomes less about the world of “what might be” and more about the world outside our windows.
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius