By the time a person reaches their 80s, many will have had hip or knee replacement surgery and possibly a pacemaker inserted under their skin to moderate heart beats. I often write about robots becoming more human with the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI), but the question might be asked in the reverse. With technological advances to assist the blind, robotic limbs for amputees, and brain implants to control other physical malfunctions, how much replacement must occur before a human qualifies as a machine?
The question isn’t frivolous. Neil Harbisson, 34, who lives in the U. K., is the world’s first legally recognized cyborg. (“Do-It-Yourself Transhumanism,” by Adam Popescu, Bloomsberg Businessweek, Feb 20-March 5, 2017, pgs. 34-35.) Harbisson, who is colorblind, lodged an antenna between his eyes and uses it to translate color into musical tones. His partner, Moon Ribas, 31, has a Bluetooth implant in her left arm which she uses to analyze seismic movements. Because these devices allow Harbisson and Ribas to sense the world in new ways, they call themselves, not humans, but a transspecies.
To aid their research, the couple created a London startup, Cyborg Nest. Their Chief Executive Officer, for example, has a compass chip implant, a device less obvious than Harbisson’s antenna, but with it, an individual can detect magnetic fields. Says one representative of Cyborg Nest, “If you’re alive today, you’re probably going to end up having at least one electronic attachment.” (Ibid pg. 35.)
Such devices don’t seem weird to Michael Snyder, Stanford’s genetics department chairman. He employs similar augmentations to detect Lyme disease, colds and to asses diabetes risk. He thinks of these chips as radar devices. (Ibid pg. 35.)
Already, Cyborg Nest is looking ahead. On its drawing board is a Bluetooth dental implant for silent communications; a way to detect pollution; and something every parent will want: eyes for the back of the head. The big challenge will be to teach the brain to process all these new sensations.