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Where's My Machine-body Interface?
Elias Konstantopoulos wears a special set of 'bionic' glasses that allows him to see at his home in 2011. Konstantopoulos, who has retinosa pigmentosa, was implanted with a microchip and the glasses enable him to distinguish between light and dark. Jim WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Sci-fi has long promised some version of bionics, cybernetics or brain-to-computer connection, from the physics-challenged bionic limbs of Steve Austin, the "Six Million Dollar Man," to the cyberspace interface described in William Gibson's "Neuromancer," to the cyberbrains and full-cyborg conversions of Masamune Shirow's "Appleseed" and "Ghost in the Shell." Amazingly, piece by stitched-and-soldered piece, our wired future arrived without us even noticing.

The first artificial heart was implanted back in 1969, although decades passed before a fully implantable and portable version hit the market, and it still falls far short of replacing organ transplantation [source: Parker-Pope]. Artificial pacemakers have regulated heartbeats since 1958, and cochlear implants have helped the deaf hear since the mid-1980s. Today, a chip implanted in the retina, combined with an eyeglass-mounted camera, can restore some sight to persons blinded by retinitis pigmentosa. In 2013, a software engineer from Yelm, Wash., became the first human to control an artificial leg using thought alone [sources: Brewer; Sowton, Hendrix, and Roy; Winslow].

Such examples, combined with rapidly advancing neural implants and nanotechnology, mark the leading edge of a bioscience and biotechnology tsunami. Indeed, as the next section describes, we might now stand on the threshold of a new age, one in which human or machine intellect -- combined or separately -- transcend all known limits.