Blurring the lines between biology and technology is quickly becoming a common theme, embedding itself into medical technology, art, body modification and physical enhancement. While they are not “Living tissue over metal endoskeleton”, these self-made cyborgs are pushing the boundaries of what humans are capable of by replacing or augmenting their bodily functions using technology.
With the barrier to these technologies slowly crumbling, one might expect that humanity would proceed to universally pursue a “perfect” human, each with the perfect balance of aesthetics, senses and physical ability.
Gennady Stolyarov, transhumanist author of the controversial children’s book about life extension, “Death is Wrong”, disagrees.
The native of Minsk, Belarus, envisions a world where each individual is free to pursue their own personal desires, resulting in an explosion of diversity in the human race. Individuals would augment themselves in the way they most desired, with some becoming better runners, others with vision capable of perceiving wavelengths of radiation far beyond the human eye, and indeed, there may be some who augment their intelligence or memory.
While Stolyarov’s longevity activism may ruffle some feathers, his prediction may not be far from reality.
This rich future of diversity appears to be fast materialising with some body modification parlours offering simple “biohacking” procedures like magnetic finger implants to allow the user to literally feel electromagnetic fields using neodymium magnets implanted in a fingertip. The subtle fields produced by electric motors, power lines and other equipment register as a tingle or throb in the implanted fingertip as the magnet moves through them.
Others have taken a more practical approach, with RFID chips implanted in the flesh of the hand between the thumb and forefinger, users can unlock and start a car or open security doors.
And yet another, more radical group of biohackers has chosen to take it one step further by implanting electronics and implants (also known as “wetware”) under their skin like Grindhouse Wetware’s “Northstar” implant, an LED lighting array that illuminates when placed near a magnet.
While purely aesthetic, Northstar represents our crude first steps into the realm of consumer level cybernetics, one for purposes other than prosthetics and therapy.
Neil Harbisson represents the amalgamation of these two movements, he could be the first cyborg to be recognised by a federal government, owing to the fact that his Eyeborg implant was included in his passport photograph. Born colour blind, Neil wears the device which translates colour information into vibrations that are received by an implant in the back of his skull, effectively allowing him to “hear” the colours he could never see.
Neil plans to graft the Eyeborg permanently to his skull. This upgrade will incorporate a new sensor that allows him to perceive wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye.
The number of cyborgs among us is steadily increasing and with brain-computer interfaces advancing in sophistication, humanity is beginning to react to it in two very interesting ways. One, as above, sees us embracing cybernetics and pushing the envelop of what we can acheive with it.
Elsewhere though, the reaction isn’t so enthusiastic.
Dr Steve Mann. PhD, the “father of wearable computing,” was physically assaulted while visiting a McDonalds in Paris, France when staff insisted he take off his Eyetap “Digital Eye Glass” device. Because of its similarity to Google Glass, Mann’s device, which was permanently attached to his head, prompted the fast food restaurant staff to attempt to forcefully remove it.
His implant invariably recorded the first cyborg hate crime.
It’s clear that cyborgs are here to stay, and one day, perhaps even you will be in some way connected and augmented with technologies that make life better, or enhance your basic abilities. When that day comes, which side will you be on?
Feature Image is a screen capture from Doctor Who. Doctor Who is copyright © by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). No copyright infringement is intended.
If you’d like to know more about cybernetics or simply want to watch a few amazing videos, click the links below:
- Hugh Herr – The head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, designer of some of the most advanced bionic lower limbs in the world, be sure to watch till the end of the linked clip to see Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a cyborg dancer whose bionic leg’s movements are indistinguishable from a biological
- Jesse Sullivan – One if the world’s first cyborgs, in 2009, Jesse was fitted with a prosthetic arm connected via nerve-muscle graft. Jesse’s cybernetic arm display an astonishing amount of fine control.
- Kevin Warwick – Professor of Cybernetics in the University of Reading, invented “BrainGate” an implanted chip that helps him operate computers, lighting, heating, electronic doors and even a mechanical hand using gestures.
- Moon Ribas – Cyborg artist who can feel tectonic movements aropund the world in real-time
- Neil Harbisson – Overcame his colour blindness with a sensor hardwired into his skull that converts colour into sound
- Jens Naumann – In 2002, Jens became the first human to receive sight from a bionic vison system. Electrodes in his brain receive signals from an external camera, enabling the once blind man to perceive lines and shapes.
- Nigel Ackland – Recipient of a carbon fibre mechanical hand after losing his own in 2006.