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June marked one year since my last eye surgery, the fifth in a series of intrusive procedures I underwent starting in October 2016. So, it was only fitting that, as the anniversary passed, I was editing a story related to advances in medical technology. Tim Hornyak’s piece about how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are transforming healthcare (page 34) gives me hope that, one day, the vision in my left eye could be restored.

Science Fiction?
If you regularly read my column and features, you know by now that I am a lifelong fan of science fiction. Since my eye problems first started in 2014—when I had cataract surgery and an artificial lens was placed in my left eye—I have thought back to the blind chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise, Geordi La Forge. While the first image of him that will come to your mind is one with the hair barrette-like visor across his face, the one that I go back to is from the film First Contact, in which the visor was shed for bionic implants that looked like real eyes. Could such a thing be possible?

Science Reality
I recently read in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journal, about research into artificial eyes being conducted at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. This technology could bring to those with impaired vision the kind of autofocus, auto­zoom capabilities of La Forge’s implants.

The implant in my left eye is a rather new type of omnifocal intraocular lens (IOL), one that goes beyond the traditional mono or bifocal properties of IOLs. Mine has the ability to focus anywhere—at any distance—almost instantly, like a natural eye—or it did before the retinal detachments and surgeries. But what the Harvard researchers have developed is a silicon-based adaptive metalens that is mounted on a transparent, stretchy polymer film. The material allows electronic control over three major contri­butors to blurry images: focus, image shift, and astigmatism—a common eye defect in which the shape of the eyeball is somewhat oval rather than spherical.

Help in Sight
Blurry vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses is the problem with which I currently struggle, and the only hope right now is additional surgery. Another procedure, however, could introduce new problems, so I have chosen to live with it.

But new advances such as the adaptive metalens give me hope that my blurry, dim, distorted vision may not be a lifelong condition. There is a long way to go before the technology can be applied to human sight, but it is something that seemed like pure science fiction when I first saw La Forge shed his iconic visor for implants in 1996. We’ve come a long way in 23 years. Imagine where we’ll be two decades hence. And it’s all being made possible by advances in technologies that are growing exponentially and are, in large part, inspired by the science fiction of yesterday.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.