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Living in the Future: Cyborgs who hear colors, real-life tractor beams, and proteins folding on “film”

This week on We are Living in the Future:

People who have been augmented with technology to aid them have long been called “cyborgs” in science fiction. For one person, this science-fiction term is a reality. Neil Harbisson was born with a rare genetic condition that made him completely colorblind. As an adult, he became friends with a computer scientist named Adam Montandon, who built a device that plays musical notes that correspond with different colors – even colors that normal humans can’t see. This device is permanently attached to Neil’s head – and led to him being ostracized in certain communities. To respond to this discrimination, he helped make a short film called “Cyborg Foundation” that reveals a positive future with augmented human beings.

Scientists in the Czech Republic and Scotland have jointly published research showing that light, under certain conditions, can actually draw objects toward its source, just like a tractor beam on Star Trek. So far, this real-life tractor beam only works on a microscopic level, but it is evidence that light can operate in this unusual manner. The relationship between light and sound also suggests that similar phenomena might apply to acoustics – with sound waves being manipulated in new ways as well.

Proteins are long chains of amino acids, that are “folded” in certain specific ways – that is, the chains are arranged in three-dimensional space in certain ways for certain proteins. But until now, this process was theoretical and not able to be observed. Thanks to scientists in Germany and Poland, the process has now been visualized using nuclear MRI technology and cold temperatures to slow down the reaction. Misfolded proteins are often indicators or causes of disease, and this new technique promises to help identify and possibly help cure these conditions in the future.