Neuralink, a startup researching cerebral implants owned by Elon Musk, has a unique objective. They wish to add computers to your brains to enhance intelligence and memory. The SpaceX CEO says that it could work; he also says that it is supposed to save the future of the species. His other projects with similar goals include electric cars to improve our chances against global warming. They are proof of the growing interest in the science behind cyborgism. Then there’s the permanent human settlement on Mars that could counter large scale risks like climate change, asteroid collision, a nuclear war that could spell the end of our species.
Musk has a bigger goal in mind: he sees no way of preventing AI progress from making computers smarter and the science behind cyborgism. He assumes a strategy where humans could be saved if we are hooked up to computers ourselves. This would help us to be as clever as new AI.
This isn’t a new concept, and people have electronic devices implanted in them. One prime example is the use of the artificial cardiac pacemaker that was introduced over sixty years ago. Then, from 1998 onwards, patients who are paralyzed have devices implanted in their brains. This device lets them move a cursor on a screen using their mind. There are more advanced versions of this that entail moving an artificial hand to grasp things.
Such devices, as wonderful as they are, give us back our abilities as a normal healthy person, and not extend our abilities beyond that. Neil Harbisson, an artist with an antenna implanted in his skull aids his color blindness. It lets him hear frequencies that correspond to different colours, even the UV and infrared light. Harbisson refers to himself as a cyborg with technologically enhanced capacities.
We need more scientific breakthroughs in cyborgism
In order to move ahead, we have to advance ourscientific research efforts. This could be a challenge as most subjects in the experiments are nonhuman animals, and decades of harm inflicted on them makes those efforts ethically dubious. Musk intends for his plan to succeed; these experimentations will be unavoidable. Terminally ill or incurably disabled patients can volunteer for medical research. Neuralink plans on beginning with these patients but may have to move beyond that in the science behind cyborgism.
What is a cyborg
Musk’s new projects are already well on their way. In fact, his team of researchers have developed an injectable mesh-like neural lace that can be fitted on the brain to give it digital capabilities. So, are we anywhere near this cyborg goal? What exactly is a cyborg? From a technical point of view, it’s an acronym for a cybernetic organism and refers to someone made up of biomechatronic and biological parts.
Matthew Joordans, Roboticist and Associate Professor at Deakin University’s School of Engineering, describes a cyborg as a part machine, part biological but have human brains. For example, someone with a pacemaker or a cochlear implant could be termed as an early cyborg. In his opinion, an artist with a surgically implanted antenna is definitely a Cyborgismm Cyborg.
We’re referring to artist Neil Harbisson who has achromatism. This antenna lies at the skull base, with the tip laying just in front of his forehead. It has a sensor that picks up light waves converting them to sound waves. So Harbisson hears and feels colour and uses it as inspiration for his art.
There are others like him: cybernetics professor atthe University of Reading Kevin Warwick inserted an RFID tag in his arm. It lets him open doors,turns on lights automatically.
That was in 1998, in 2007, Stelios Arcadiou an Australian performance artist had a cell-cultivated ear attached to his left arm. The ear is connected online via a wireless miniature microphone so that people listen in.
Moon Ribas, a friend of Harbisson, chose atiny magnetic sensor in her left elbow. This vibrates each time there’s an earthquake as it’s connected to online seismographs.
Harbisson is just one of the few people that possess unique capabilities via cyborg technology? He and several others are considered as cyborgs, combining organic and mechanic body part for improving certain bodily dysfunctions or enhancing capabilities.They are examples of the advancements made in technological innovations and show where this field is headed.
Very soon, we will be able to augment our bodies with more machines and in a transformative way. It could move from aiding dysfunction and disability to eventually make perfectly healthy humans much faster, stronger. This goal will raise a lot of ethical and philosophical debates and the limitations of cyborgization.
The future of cyborgism
The future of cyborgs could be one that will involve phases of coexistence, with the first phase focusing on improving human capability. Synthetic biology merged with nanotechnology and robotics will help us program our bodies to be better. The best example would be hearing aids, pacemakers, and other such devices we’ve seen before.
Next is the cyborg evolution phase that may see the merging of machine and biological intelligence, where the computer shares an interface with the brain. It involves the enhancement of sensory, cognitive abilities to create transhumanism. We can already see this phase unfolding with the likes of Harbisson, Ribas, Warwick and Arcadiou.
Simultaneously, the news on the future of cyborgs is flooded with advancements being made at an impressive rate. You already wear glasses and lenses but imagine if those lenses could use tears to assess glucose levels using AR. The Google Glasses might’ve failed but it’s evidence that the near future will be filled with glasses that let you see in the dark. Vision is just one area of interest to researchers in AI, robotics, though.
Starkey Hearing Technologies is developing hearing aids that detect falls, measurephysical activity. They are also working onadvanced sensors too.
Robotic structures called exoskeletons are one more useful development in the Future of cyborgs. These exoskeletons help human beings’ lift heavyweights, move around faster. This could helpnurses,surgeons, soldiers, andwarehouse workers work faster by extending their physical capabilities. For example, a similar suit used for gaittraininghelped Matt Ficarra, fully paralyzed, walk down the aisle down to his wedding.
The third stage as purported by Musk, is when machines become human to a point where both are indistinguishable. And 1000 years down the human timeline, there will be no telling apart humans, machines, and humanoids – and this all depends on what we do next.