“YOU WILL BE UPGRADED.” *cheesy robot voice. (I can’t help loving Doctor Who.)
You guessed it! Today’s topic is cybernetic implants! You probably think I’m going to talk about pacemakers. Think again.
The human body is pretty amazing. It’s highly adaptable, able to survive in intense environments and perform impressive tasks. Even further, our minds allow us to adapt even further by developing tools to extend our reach, amplify our abilities, and survive in environments and circumstances that would otherwise overwhelm our natural ability to… exist in the vital sense. It’s impressive — amazing, really! But it’s just not enough for some of us.
Those tools that we create to expand our range of abilities have grown steadily and then explosively from simple machines like the wheel and the lever to complex machines like engines and computers. Our inventions have been evolving over time to require fewer and fewer moving parts and rely more on chemistry and molecular physics to do the job. What does this have to do with cybernetic implants? It’s the difference between having a glass eye and having a glass eye that interfaces with your optical nerve and restores vision, with the added possibility of relaying the video to your smartphone over wifi.
If I’m correct, the first time literature gave us a person made up of mechanical parts was in the 19th century, when Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story called The Man That Was Used Up in 1839. The short story depicts a (literally) dismantled war veteran, most of whose limbs and various parts have been replaced by prostheses. In the story, the man must be reassembled every morning by his servant before greeting company. Then in 1942, Jerry Siegel gave us the eloquently named, Robotman! In Siegel’s comics, Robotman was a scientist who was fatally shot and whose brain was then wired up inside a super-strong robot body to wreak havoc on evildoers as part of the All-Star Squadron.
Now to the cool stuff:
Introducing British citizen and real person, Neil Harbisson, who is the first person to be officially recognized by a government body as a cyborg! Normally, electronics aren’t allowed in passport pictures, but his antenna is a permanent fixture to his skull, so they were forced to officially recognize it as an electronic component to his otherwise organic body. Ergo, Neil Harbisson, a cyborg.
Harbisson was born completely color-blind in 1984, so in 2004, he had an antenna permanently fixed to the back of his skull. The end of the antenna sports a light sensor that reads color data and translates it to corresponding frequencies, which vibrate in his skull, allowing him to listen to color! It took him time to learn to associate sound with color, but now he can perceive colors in the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums! You can hear him describe it in his TED Talk. Harbisson affectionately calls his antenna his “eyeborg.” He has even had it upgraded to send and receive phone calls directly to his skull!
And cyborgism doesn’t end there! According to The Guardian, Harbisson’s friend, Moon Ribas, has an implant in her arm that vibrates if there is an earthquake. The author of this Popular Science article has an RFID chip inside her hand, essentially an NFC chip that can unlock her front door or her partner’s android phone, and perform various other simple tasks. And they aren’t the end either! According to Harbisson, countless opportunities exist to meld man and machine. He even founded an organization to encourage others to become cyborgs.
What do you think about cyborgism? Do you support it? Do you Find it creepy? Let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to follow me on social media!