Blog Post 2

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            While browsing the technology section of The New York Times website, the article "Burst of Technology Helps Blind to See," by Pam Belluck struck me as especially fascinating.  The article is about the project called The Artificial Retina, which is developing technology which could eventually allow people suffering from blindness to be able to read, write, and recognize faces.  There are currently 37 participants involved in the project and all of them are experiencing some sort of visual sensation. 

            The technology involves surgically implanting a sheet of electrodes in the eye.  The person then wears a tiny camera on a pair of glasses, with the camera attached at the bridge of the nose.  The belt-pack video processor, which is worn at the waist, translates the captured images into patterns of light and dark.  "The video processor directs each electrode to transmit signals representing an object's contours, brightness and contrast, which pulse along optic neurons into the brain."  The current images are of a crude nature due to the fact that the implant only has 60 electrodes.  Scientist are planning on testing 200 and 1000 electrode versions that could allow possibly allow enough resolution for reading.  However, there will eventually be a limit to the amount of electrodes implanted.  An electrode count of too high could potentially burn the retinal tissue.  It is important to be very careful that the scientist carefully research how many electrodes can safely be used.

             This issue of safety is a good concern that the public may want to raise in regard to The Artificial Retina.  It is crucial that the scientists don't become overzealous in their attempt to attain, as the article put it, "...one of science's most-sought-after holy grails: making the blind see."  Just hearing it referred to like that makes me question the priorities of the researchers.  Are they more concerned with the overall well being of the blind, or are they only focused on becoming the first to "cure" blindness with technology? 

            Another interesting social component that relates to The Artificial Retina technology is what the attitude towards the technology will be among the blind culture.  There is somewhat of a divide in the deaf community when it comes to the use of cochlear implants that allow them to experience sound.  Many deaf people are very excited about the opportunity to hear, while there are others who believe that the surgery is wrong.  They believe that being deaf is not a crippling disability, but an opportunity to show immense perseverance through an extreme disadvantage.  I am curious to see if there will be any sort of controversy like this within the blind community if these technological advances continue to be successful. 

-          Dan Aleckson

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Technological Fixes Getting Us into Fixes


According to the New York Times Article, "More Cows, More Milk, but More Headaches" a high-technology method allowed farmers to sort dairy bull sperm in order to manipulate the number of female calves born who would eventually grow up to produce milk. The article says that now several thousand of these cows are able to produce milk and the demand for milk no longer exists as it did prior to the economic down turn. This is a fine example of a technological fix gone horribly wrong. Granted, no one could have predicted the gravity of the economic drop which is really the catalyst for this problem. The scientific ramifications of this problem are two fold. We are presented with an astonishing accomplishment, the ability to manipulate chromosomes for a desired outcome is monumental, however, it is as chilling as it is exciting. If humans are capable of choosing the sex of cattle, can they choose the sex of subsequent generations of humans? If so, what are the ramifications of this for the future?

"A fertility institute outside Washington is studying whether the same technique can be used safely in people. If it won approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the technology would let parents choose their baby's sex."

The article cites nothing on the progress of this procedure for humans, but for the cattle the sorted sperm produce 90 percent more female offspring. Conventional methods usually maintained a 42 F/52 M ratio. Because of the surplus of heifers, many thousand (230,000 to be exact) have been culled or selectively slaughtered. The sexed semen will bring 63,000 heifers to milk this year, that number is expected to double by next year and double again in 2011, the article says. This appears to be a blatant waste of resources and a costly one. Not only are these researchers using several thousand (if not million) dollars to conduct this research but the amount of land, water, and feed used to sustain these animals while they are useful to us, must be obscene especially if they are in as much surplus as the article implies.

Even more frightening is how easy it might be for this procedure to work in humans (that is based on body size comparisons alone). Even more terrifying to wonder is what might we be able to "select" next? If the possibility of choosing the sex of a fetal human is this close now, what might we be able to choose in the next ten or twenty years? We have already isolated most on the genes in human DNA. My fear would be the actual CRAFTING of, if not a "master race" a eugenically pure one. How creepy to choose the hair and eye color, nose shape, or facial structure of your child? Or worse to have them chosen FOR YOU based on "health specifications."

This maybe a bit extreme. This article does in fact, deal ONLY with cattle. But I must assert and strongly urge that at this juncture we as Democratic citizens, as humans, pause to consider what we are doing. We must consider exactly what it is we are on the brink of discovering and what we are going to do with this information. My initial response to this seductive discovery is to press on. Let's flex our muscles and see what we can really do. But at the same time my earlier fear is lingering and resonating: Are we in this American machine on the verge of creating a monster? We MUST know what we are in for before going any further.

~ Kim Melchert

Technological Fixes Getting Us into Fixes

According to the New York Times Article, "More Cows, More Milk, but More Headaches" a high-technology method allowed farmers to sort dairy bull sperm in order to manipulate the number of female calves born who would eventually grow up to produce milk. The article says that now several thousand of these cows are able to produce milk and the demand for milk no longer exists as it did prior to the economic down turn. This is a fine example of a technological fix gone horribly wrong. Granted, no one could have predicted the gravity of the economic drop which is really the catalyst for this problem. The scientific ramifications of this problem are two fold. We are presented with an astonishing accomplishment, the ability to manipulate chromosomes for a desired outcome is monumental, however, it is as chilling as it is exciting. If humans are capable of choosing the sex of cattle, can they choose the sex of subsequent generations of humans? If so, what are the ramifications of this for the future?

"A fertility institute outside Washington is studying whether the same technique can be used safely in people. If it won approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the technology would let parents choose their baby's sex."

The article cites nothing on the progress of this procedure for humans, but for the cattle the sorted sperm produce 90 percent more female offspring. Conventional methods usually maintained a 42 F/52 M ratio. Because of the surplus of heifers, many thousand (230,000 to be exact) have been culled or selectively slaughtered. The sexed semen will bring 63,000 heifers to milk this year, that number is expected to double by next year and double again in 2011, the article says. This appears to be a blatant waste of resources and a costly one. Not only are these researchers using several thousand (if not million) dollars to conduct this research but the amount of land, water, and feed used to sustain these animals while they are useful to us, must be obscene especially if they are in as much surplus as the article implies.

Even more frightening is how easy it might be for this procedure to work in humans (that is based on body size comparisons alone). Even more terrifying to wonder is what might we be able to "select" next? If the possibility of choosing the sex of a fetal human is this close now, what might we be able to choose in the next ten or twenty years? We have already isolated most on the genes in human DNA. My fear would be the actual CRAFTING of, if not a "master race" a eugenically pure one. How creepy to choose the hair and eye color, nose shape, or facial structure of your child? Or worse to have them chosen FOR YOU based on "health specifications."

This maybe a bit extreme. This article does in fact, deal ONLY with cattle. But I must assert and strongly urge that at this juncture we as Democratic citizens, as humans, pause to consider what we are doing. We must consider exactly what it is we are on the brink of discovering and what we are going to do with this information. My initial response to this seductive discovery is to press on. Let's flex our muscles and see what we can really do. But at the same time my earlier fear is lingering and resonating: Are we in this American machine on the verge of creating a monster? We MUST know what we are in for before going any further.

~Kim Melchert

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This page contains a single entry by aleck015 published on September 28, 2009 5:54 PM.

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