Cyborg - Pixabay

How close are we to cyborgs being a practical reality? Some say that Dr. Kevin Warwick became the first cyborg back in 1998. While at the University of Reading in the U.K., he decided to implant a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip in his shoulder. He wanted to see how well sensors within his office building could pick up the chip’s presence and respond by turning lights on or off and giving him access to locked doors. In 2002, Warwick proceeded to up the ante considerably by having a surgeon implant a device called the BrainGate. With its 100 electrodes, it tapped directly into the nerves of his arm, giving him remote control of a robotic hand.

More recently, Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas have integrated other forms of technology into their bodies. Harbisson, whose U.K. passport shows he’s the first legally recognized cyborg, was born colorblind. He designed an antenna which translates colors into one of 360 musical tones he’s memorized. At first, he connected it to headphones and a laptop. Eventually, he persuaded a surgeon to drill into his skull, implant a chip and fuse the antenna to his occipital bone. Ribas has a Bluetooth implant in her left arm designed to analyze the earth’s seismic movements. The implant vibrates at different intensities based on data from online seismographs. Harbisson and Ribas say the merging of technology with their bodies has created new senses.

Cyborg Nest, a London startup, is manufacturing DIY kits to enhance senses and bring transhumanism to the mainstream. The first kit, the North Sense, is essentially a $425 wearable implant. “It does one simple thing,” says co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Liviu Babitz, who was fitted with one in December. It produces “a short vibration every time you’re facing north.” That doesn’t sound like an advantage worth body modification, but Babitz likens the experience to a second childhood. “I remember my son discovering things as his senses developed and the look in his eyes when it happened,” he says. “I feel the same.”

Stanford genetics department chairman Michael Snyder says these implants aren’t as fringe as they sound. He employs similar medical sensors to detect colds, Lyme disease and diabetes risk. He calls the North Sense “analogous to the radiation monitor that I use.” The World Economic Forum says Cyborg Nest’s type of biohacking could be commonplace by 2020. “If you’re alive today, you’re probably going to end up having at least one electronic attachment,” Babitz says.

It’s not just startups that see a human-technology integration as reality versus science fiction. Google has a vision for cyborg eyes that goes well beyond the idea of smart contact lenses. The Alphabet-owned company filed a patent on the idea of replacing the human eye’s natural lens with an electronic lens implant. Such a cyborg eye implant could replace normal eyesight functions and correct for eyesight problems. The concept’s existence also hints at future possibilities for putting the capabilities of a smart contact lens directly inside the eye.

The Google patent application envisions a laser drilling a hole in the lens capsule that protects the human eye’s natural lens, according to research provided by legal technology firm ClientSide. Ultrasonic vibrations would help shatter the eye’s natural lens so that the fragments could be suctioned out the hole. That would clear the way for the injection of the electronic lens device and a fluid capable of solidifying into silicone hydrogel. This would produce a new electronic lens that can adjust its shape to provide the appropriate focus for normal eyesight — or correct for problems such as nearsighted vision without requiring extra contact lenses or glasses.

A cyborg eye implant like this could change its shape and adjust the wearer’s vision by using technologies such as liquid crystals , micro mirrors and tiny micro-fluidic pumps. It may also include additional lenses to help fix eyesight problems such as myopia (nearsightedness) or astigmatism.

The implant could wirelessly send data to a smartphone, tablet or laptop that has an Internet connection. These devices could pass on the data to an optometrist’s office or a clinic. In response, an optometrist or another medical expert could send signals with commands to change the programming that controls the electronic lens vision. This would equate to a wireless update for corrective lens prescriptions.

Some argue that cyborgs are not just a reality–they are a necessity. At the World Government Summit, Elon Musk warned that humans must become cyborgs if they are to stay relevant in a future dominated by artificial intelligence. Musk argued that as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, it will lead to mass unemployment. He stated, “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot can’t do better.”

If humans want to continue to add value to the economy, they must augment their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence”. If we fail to do this, Musk contends we’ll risk becoming “house cats” to artificial intelligence.

While you may not see the Terminator, the Borg from Star Trek or even the Six Million Dollar Man walking down the street today, you can certainly find real examples of technology integrated with the human body. We may not know enough to tell if this transhumanism could prevent us from becoming house cats. However, evidence does suggest it can provide solutions to address vision problems and other medical issues.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Cyborg, Pixabay)