How wonderful is the human body? Under the skin of 4.5 square meters, we have 3 million sweat glands and 16 million hair follicles. Our heart is like a perpetual motion machine, constantly contracting and expanding to transport blood. We know that the academic world has been working on the digitization of the brain, so is the digitization of the human body also valuable? Can we simulate every tendon, nerve and even all cells to explore the mysteries of human growth and aging?
Digitizing the human body does not seem to be that difficult compared to a complex brain with an innumerable number of neurons. So what step has our human body digitization reached today? What role can it play? Basically, the human body digitization is divided into three steps. The first step is physical digitization, the second step is physiological digitization, and the first The third step is the digitization of intelligence. Physical digitization is to synthesize the three-dimensional pattern of the human body structure in the computer, and restore every bone and organ in detail. When calling and viewing it in the computer, it is like dissecting a corpse.
Physiological digitization is to track various improvement data of the human body, from heart rate, body temperature to blood pressure and blood sugar, etc., and strictly record the physiological response of human functional applications, so that the human body can be “alive” in the digital world. As for the digitization of intelligence, the concept is very close to the analog brain, mainly to understand how human consciousness works. With the above steps, you can collect dynamic and static multi-source data on the real human body, and build a digital human body through geometric, physical, physiological and intelligent modeling.
At present, the digitization of the human body is in the first and second steps, and the third step is relatively far away. First of all, we can take a look at how the physical digitization of the human body is realized. It is a bit scary to say that the physical digitization of the human body is achieved by freezing the human remains and then slicing them. Only in this way can the human body be accurately restored to a digital image.
Globally, the United States is the first country to start this program. Preparations began in 1986 until 13 years later, in 1993, when a male death row inmate participated in the project. At that time, there was a lot of controversy about the identity and voluntary nature of the remains. In 1994, a woman who died of a heart attack joined the program, and it remains a mystery whether she volunteered or not. The two bodies were cut into 1-millimeter and 0.33-millimeter slices, respectively, and recorded as CT, MRI and anatomical images, making the data available to 4,000 medical institutions around the world.
In the digitization of the physical human body, the most famous volunteer is a woman named Susan Porter. After she learned that she had cancer in 2000, she took the initiative to contact relevant institutions and said she was willing to donate her body. For the next 15 years, she toured the future where she would handle her own scalpel and cutter, and even mingled with the participating medical students. When he passed away in 2015, the technology of digitizing the physical human body has also made great progress. Susan’s body was cut into 27,000 pieces, which is the most delicate processing method so far. Now medical institutions are delineating and labeling Susan’s various tissues, organs, blood vessels, etc., and more detailed digital human data will be released in the future.
In contrast, the biological digitization of the human body is immature and is mostly dominated by mobile health startups. Larry Smarr, a professor at the University of California, is a supporter of digital human body records. He wears a device on his belt every day to record 150 items of data such as his heartbeat, blood pressure, exercise volume, etc. in different states. In addition to this, he records his blood indicators and intestinal flora data once a month.
Combining these data, Larry Smarr believes that he can quantify his life status through calculation, like building a car dashboard, so as to know when it is time to “maintain the car”. What’s more, an entrepreneur from Oakland has been recording his physical signs since fifteen years ago, and even faithfully recorded his heart rate during the first kiss.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 75% of people who use a physical sign recording device such as a wristband are willing to share their data with others. Apple’s ResearchKit, once launched, also advocates that users of various Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease and other applications around the world share data for research. In just three days after ResearchKit was launched, more than 41,000 people voluntarily participated in data sharing.
While users themselves don’t mind data sharing, the process itself is legally sensitive and time-consuming. At the same time, some scientists said that recording their own physical symptoms data all the time can easily lead to neurosensitivity and hypochondriasis. It is not known whether to rely on their own physiological natural reactions to judge the health status, or rely on the data on the device.
From a physical point of view, the digitalization of the human body perfectly solves the shortage of medical anatomy resources. Anatomy of a corpse is an irreversible process in itself, which is in short supply in medical institutions and medical schools. With a digitized human body, the process of dissecting and “recovering” can be repeated indefinitely. Especially when combined with VR and AR technologies in the future, these data-based human bodies can play more roles in teaching and scientific research. Perhaps medical students no longer need to be surrounded by laboratories, and can conduct remote scientific research work and study through VR glasses from all over the world.
Physiologically speaking, the digitization of the human body can play a role in experiments with drugs, treatments, and more. Through the recording of human body sign data, the life style and physical condition can be mapped through machine learning, and the relationship between sleep, exercise, etc. and physical health can be mapped, so as to provide reasonable lifestyle guidance. If the physical simulation at the molecular and cell level can be realized, virtual experiments and clinical experiments of drugs can be carried out, which can greatly reduce the drug development cycle and reduce the need for human testing drugs.
Of course, the digitization of the human body means the processing and transmission of massive data, all of which are also based on the support of machine learning, 5G transmission, cloud platforms and other technologies. Compared to more complex brain simulations, human digitization is already on the way. It is believed that in the near future, those who selflessly contribute remains and data to the digitization of the human body will be able to play more value in the history of human medical development.
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