Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bionic Nose Implant World First

Just kidding. But there is this announcement of the first bionic eye implant. This can also be called a retinal prosthesis. There's also cochlear prosthetics, for the hearing impaired. And there's even people who can see with their tongues. (And don't forget the hand that feels.)

They all work by turning sensory stimulus, either photons or sound waves, into electrical signals for the brain to understand, and using whatever nerve fibers are available. These artificial sense organs are examples of reverse-engineering - to know how something works so well that you can detail its operations from beginning to end and everything in between.

It is generally understood that Science does not know enough about olfactory perception to reverse-engineer it, and will not know for a long time. The way aromatic molecules stimulate olfactory nerve receptors is still under debate (shape vs. vibration), and what happens after that is even less understood (although the popularity of deep learning neural nets might change that, as they have a lot in common with the olfactory bulb). Smell continues to be the most mysterious of our senses.

Not to mention, smell is (I think) the only sense where we can see evidence of evolution-in-action - people differ in the way they can smell things down to the individual genetic profile, depending on genes that are still in the process of change today. If you're reading this, you have a 2% chance of one of your 'smelling genes' being junk. So you can't smell asparagus-piss, or skunks, or semen, or sixty other possible candidates. Therefore, to create an artificial 'olfactory prosthesis' is to undoubtedly intervene in the trajectory of human evolution, in real-time.

read about our individual "smell fingerprints"

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