Who Are Today’s Cyborgs?
For a century, the vision of human enhancement, a hybrid between man and machine, was the purview of the science fiction novelist and the pulp writer. Termed “cyborgs” in the 1960s, these cybernetic organisms have gained occasional footholds into the world of science fact in subsequent decades with medical or prosthetic breakthroughs. Today, however, there are new faces representing a new way of looking at this fantastic concept. Rather than leaving it to the world of theoretical research, today’s Cyborgs are taking matters into their own hands, and their own bodies.
As of today, there is an energetic community of cyborgs who span the globe. Some engage in human augmentation for artistic purposes. Others want to push the limits of what humans can make themselves into, following the goals of transhumanism. Still others rely on and pioneer bionics and cybernetics because of a need for prostheses and a desire to be able to do even more with their replacement body parts. These cyborgs operate independently, augmenting themselves with the help of like-minded individuals and a community excited to see what humanity and technology are capable of together.
Perhaps the most well-known of these new Cyborgs is past BDYHAX speaker Neil Harbisson, an artist with a sense no others have. Completely color blind since birth, Harbisson implanted a new sensory organ in his skull in 2004. An electronic device perceives colors and transmits this information directly into his skull in the form of vibrations. This unique sense gives him gives him access not only to the visible spectrum, but to perception of infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths as well. He can even receive color information via wireless transmission, meaning that others across the globe can send him sensory information at any time. He’s used these abilities to create myriad works of art and performances in the intervening years, and was a co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation.
Fellow cyborg artist Moon Ribas co-founded the foundation in 2010, and this organization encourages and promotes humans becoming cyborgs. Ribas’ cybernetics include Speedborg earrings which enable her to glean the speed of any movement around her, and her seismic sense, an implant in her elbow which allows her to feel all earthquakes around the globe, both of which she has used to create artistic works. Similarly, Rob Spence’s Eyeborg project involves him placing a camera where his right eye (blinded in childhood) used to be. He seeks to push the boundaries of filmmaking with the unity of man and machine.
Not all cyborgs are artists, however. The world of body modification includes the grinders, individuals who augment their own bodies on their own. This subset of the biohacking community includes notables such as Lephy Anonym, who uses subdermal implants such as magnets and RFID sensors to augment human sense and capability. Anonym also created “Southpaw” and “Northpaw,” a pair of devices which allow the user to be aware of magnetic North at all times. Rich Lee, another grinder and a transhumanist, is best known for a pair of implants in his ears which allow him to connect his hearing directly to devices of his choosing, something which he hopes to upgrade to echolocation. Among his other implants are magnets and a thermal sensor which allows him to monitor his own body temperature.
Of course, some cyborgs truly to look the part. Hugh Herr sports a pair of prosthetic legs which allow him to rock climb with greater ability than before he lost his legs in 1982. The many advancements he’s pioneered include the ability to alter his height on the fly, as well as a pair of computer-controlled knees to respond to the dynamic pressures of climbing. For over a decade, he has pushed the boundaries of what a hybrid of human body and cybernetics can accomplish. Far from hulking machines or purely hypothetical, today’s cyborgs vary as much as today’s humans do. They’re finding new uses for technology every day, and are encouraging more people to join them in discovering how they can improve not just their lives, but their own bodies.