Designing Ourselves: A Future of Cybernetics for Everyone: Page 2 of 4

Neil Harbisson envisions a cybernetic future of artificial sensory organs for the masses.

if there's no light.” He said his ability to sense ultraviolet also helps him in sensing intense sunlight and helping him know when he's been outdoors too long. Today Harbisson's Eyeborg affords him a 360-degree perception of the color around him and allows him to perceive an infinite number of colors by assigning each color a unique tone. “There's no way of counting the number of colors,” he said. “There are 360 hues and you also factor in saturation and light levels.” Since his initial implantation he's also added Bluetooth functionality to his Eyeborg to allow for easier software upgrades as well as Internet access (he lets friends share images with him directly via Internet so he can perceive colors remotely). 

Given all of the different tones coming at him constantly, Harbisson describes his day-to-day as a rather musical experience. “All of my other senses have awakened a bit more. You find connections. The smell of orange makes my brain create the sound of F-sharp. I might hear a sound and relate it to a specific color or a smell.”

His favorite place to visit? “I really like supermarkets. Walking around the supermarket is a very unique experience. You don't really find the combination of colors placed that way in aisles anywhere else and the light is always really good in supermarkets.” On the other hand he said he doesn't really like spaces with a lot of violet coloring since it can be very high pitched.

Harbisson is far from the only person like himself. In 1998 Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, became the world's first cyborg when he implanted with himself with an RFID chip that allowed him to control lights and machines around his lab. Warwick has since removed the chip from his body, but an entire underground movement has sprung up – mostly through online forums and websites – around biohacking and personal cybernetics. There are even annual conventions like BodyHacking Con .

Biohackers, or “ grinders,” as some members of the community have branded themselves, are conducting often risky DIY experiments into implanting themselves with chips and other devices for reasons varying from medical to pure entertainment. They even have their own online stores dedicated to selling homemade implants as well as the required surgical tools – all with full disclaimers of course. A biohacker named Amal Graafstra recently gathered attention for a proposed project to use RFID implants to create smart guns that only fire when they're being held by their owner ( Graafstra has already demonstrated a working prototype, using himself as a guinea pig).

While he hasn't declared himself a part of the grinder movement, Harbisson himself has started the Cyborg Foundation – a platform dedicated to bringing together individuals around the world who want to become cyborgs, and “come out of the cyborg closet” according to its website. “There are lot of people that are in the cyborg closet ... We believe that everyone should perceive the world as they wish. And this platform exists to give you the


Michael Bandel's picture
Interesting article and well written, but the idea of replacing body parts, upgrading human capabilities, and/or fixing defective ones is pretty old. It's good to see the work being done, as well as where this technology may go. I can only add that as they say in Westworld, "It doesn't look like anything to me."

How long before brain-connected implants would lead to some form of mind control? Even if they could not implant thoughts and ideas they could certainly be designed to provide pleasure sensations, or even pain. So they could certainly be set to control actions. Pavlov proved that years ago. just imagine a crowd of cyber-pleasure addicts being persuaded to follow some set ofinstructions to get their next "cyber-fix".

Jerald Cogswell's picture
This shows that humans are still evolving. Perhaps we will become several new species. Dear Editors: It used to be possible to save an article in your profile for future reference. It looks like this feature has been lost in the new website.

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