One color-blind artist has had an ‘eyeborg’ antenna implanted directly into his skull to enable him to ‘hear’ color – and his friend has had implants in her feet to allow her to ‘feel’ earthquakes.
The two are ‘transhumanists’, a growing movement of people who hope to add new abilities to their bodies using technology – with Elon Musk claiming that technology such as his Neuralink implant could enhance human memories or even allow humans to live forever as man-machine hybrids.
The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence has sparked a new interest in the idea of surgically modified humans.
In a new documentary due out this year, Cyborg, Neil Harbisson, who is the world’s first legally recognized cyborg thanks to his color-hearing implant, says, ‘This is happening!’ and hopes that technology will allow humans to ‘self-design’ their bodies.
The new film comes out later this year (First Born Films)
Neil Harbisson, the world’s first legally recognised cyborg thanks to his color-hearing implant (First Born Films)
Hrbisson advocates for ‘non-human’ identities (First Born Films)
Director Carey Born said that she had heard of a ‘cyborg’ who had been surgically altered to hear color, emailed Harbisson and decided to make a documentary about ‘transhumanists’ – believing it’s important that the tech doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Born said: ‘With Neil, he is completely color blind, so he wanted a sense of color, and spoke to a technologist called Adam Montandon to create a device which translated colorways into sound.
‘He can hear color: it’s been tested.
‘There are quite a lot of people who are disbelievers, but I absolutely think it’s true. He designed it, deciding how the frequencies should be aligned with which colors. We go into that in the film because I think it’s fascinating.’
Born believes that technologies such as Neuralink should spark a debate around transhumanism – otherwise technologies such as brain implants will be dominated by billionaires, governments and the military.
‘AI has been advancing at extraordinary speed,’ says Born. ‘The people around Neil are very interested in ‘biohacking’ and ‘grinding’. At the other end of the spectrum, you have people like Elon Musk who are pioneering these ideas because they have the resources to do it.’
‘I think there’s secret research going on behind closed doors. For 20 or 30 years, we’ve been talking about AI, and how it’s going to come. But now it’s come. It’s here.’
Musk’s Neuralink implanted a chip into a volunteer this year, and he has said that he hopes the devices could lead to a future in which people can ‘upload’ their minds into machines.
Moon has an implant which enables her to ‘feel’ earthquakes (First Born Films)
In a post on X (formerly Twitter) this year, Musk said that his company’s device, known as Telepathy, would one day enable “control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking”.
Believers in ‘The Singularity’ hope for a day when Man merges with machine (which former Google engineer Ray Kurzweil believes could come as early as 2045), turning people into human-machine hybrids – and potentially unlocking God-like powers.
Transhumanist experiments of blending man and machine will be key to this, according to believers.
Musk himself has said that he believes ‘downloading’ a human into a robot body might be possible. He said: ‘We could download the things that we believe make ourselves so unique. Now, of course, if you’re not in that body anymore, that is definitely going to be a difference, but as far as preserving our memories, our personality, I think we could do that.’
Biohackers and ‘grinders’ (such as some of Harbisson’s followers) favor a DIY approach, often performing basic surgery on themselves.
‘Grinders’ practice extreme body modification to improve human capabilities – with ‘grinders’ having implanted everything from computer chips to a vibrating pelvic implant called the ‘Lovetron 9000’.
Body Hacker Amal Graafstra created a ‘smart gun’ that can only be activated if picked up by someone with an RFID chip implanted in their body.
Harbisson and collaborator Moon have launched The Cyborg Foundation to promote the development of new technological super-senses, along with the Trans-Species Society which aims to promote non-human identities and the freedom of self-design.
Born said, ‘Moon is a dancer, and she decided to have chips implanted in her hand and foot, the main one was the foot one which would allow her to perceive earthquakes.
‘The way that it happens is the chip is connected to the internet by Bluetooth and then on the internet, there is a website which monitors seismic activity of earthquakes all over the world.
‘Thiis information would be relayed to Moon in the form of vibrations. So she is literally connected to the planet.’
This artificial hand lets people ‘feel’ the temperature (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne)
Other recent research hopes to offer people the capacity to ‘feel’ through artificial limbs, including feeling warmth from another human being.
A team led by Prof Solaiman Shokur at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, created sensors on an artificial hand which can relay sensations to a person’s limb, creating a ‘phantom’ feeling of warmth or cold.
Born says she believes that it’s inevitable that ‘transhumanist’ technology will be used one way or another.
‘Are we really headed for this sci-fi future?’ she asks. ‘Or is it possible to harness this stuff to really benefit people. We need to try and anticipate this, otherwise it will be the few billionaires and the military and the politicians who make all the decisions for the rest of the species.
CYBORG: A DOCUMENTARY is due to hit cinemas in Autumn 2024. Learn more at www.instagram.com/cyborgadocumentary