On the way to the cyborg

For some people, wearables are just a first step: they want to merge technology with their bodies, thereby enhancing their human capabilities on a permanent basis. They call themselves cyborgs, and are proponents of the “Internet of Us”.

Neil Harbisson is the first person to be officially recognised by a government as a cyborg. The colour-blind artist uses a device permanently fixed to his cranial bone which translates colours into a range of different sounds. He has become an icon of the global cyborg movement. The term cyborg – a short form of “cybernetic organism“ – refers to an entity that is a combination of a human being and technology. It sounds very much like science-fiction, but today’s cyborgs are more likely to be tech geeks looking to permanently enhance their bodies and human capabilities by implanting artificial components, or possibly people with a disability wanting to restore their health.

Mobile data medium in the hand

Cyborgs at present are mostly employing modest technical aids. Visitors to the Digiwell stand at the 2016 Cebit computer fair, for example, were able to have NFC chips the size of a grain of rice implanted between their thumb and index finger. These can be used as mobile data media, enabling the person to unlock a house door without using a key, for example. DIY-cyborg, bio-hacker and IT manager of Grindhouse Wetware Tim Cannon had such a device implanted as far back as 2013. He also has a chip fitted to his forearm which transmits his physical data to Android systems via Bluetooth, as well as incorporating LEDs which subcutaneously illuminate his tattoo. And he has a magnet in his fingertip, acting as a “sixth sense”. But at present, it is mostly about playing with gadgetry and curious experimentation with new technology.

Tuning for the brain

The prospect of also implanting chips into the brain in future as a means of tuning it is becoming increasingly realistic, however. Such “neuro-implants” already exist – in the form of cochlear implants, for example. Once established, the technology will be usable for a range of other applications. Memory chips are just one of the potential options. What at first sounds rather alien is something which many people can imagine doing: a 2015 survey by market research organisation TNS Emnid in Germany found that 51 per cent of those polled were in favour of having implants for improved concentration and memory. That is in line with the vision of the so-called “transhumanists”. They explicitly promote the use of technology for self-enhancement. Their leading proponent is US information theorist and futurologist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil predicts that neurosciences, IT and nanotechnology will converge over the next few decades, and sees the humans of the future as cyborgs who will optimise their brains by means of computer technology. That might well also entail linking the brain directly to the Internet and streaming information. Instead of the “Internet of Things”, it would be an “Internet of Us”; people themselves would be part of the Internet.

(picture credits: Fotolia: kaprikfoto)

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