Published26. Nov. 2019
Neil Harbisson: The Integration Between Humans And Machines
As the line between technology and humans begin to blur, Neil Harbisson speaks to us on taking an active part in our biological evolution.
Neil Harbisson is best known for being the first person with an implanted antenna, called the eyeborg, in his skull. However, the British citizen is also a contemporary artist and cyborg activist, who has been officially recognized as a cyborg by the UK government. Identifying himself as both a cyborg and transpecies, Harbisson co-founded Cyborg Foundation and Transpecies Society to defend cyborg rights and the freedom of self-design.
Harbisson strongly supports people’s rights to add bio-mechanical parts to their bodies, and extensively promotes the possibility of extending the human senses and perception of reality. Management Events speaks with Harbisson, who will be presenting at the 3rd Annual Digital HR And Analytics, on the increasing blurring lines between humans and technology.
1. From prosthetic arms to bionic eyes, humans are increasingly utilizing technologies for our bodies. What are the biggest challenges in human and machine integration? And what solutions do you propose for these hurdles?
Becoming a cyborg, becoming technology, instead of using or wearing technology, opens up the possibility of having additional organs and senses that could extend our perception of reality.
Finding the right bio-compatible materials to create new sensory organs is one of the current challenges. Once you add a new sensory organ to your body, there might be two types of rejection; the brain might reject the new sensory input or the body might reject the material implanted. The best solution to bio-compatibility would be to 3D print the desired new body parts with our own DNA.
Moreover, the addition of new organs and senses requires new ways to feed energy. The ideal and most practical solution is to use body energy to charge any new organs instead of using external energy. A useful solution would be to use blood circulation as a charger as it is constant and available all over the body.
2. We are seeing a rise in Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G network. How will these technologies impact human-machine integration?
The use of the internet as a sense, instead of the use of the internet as a tool, can allow us to extend our perception of nature and extend our senses to outer space.
I have an antenna that allows me to extend my perception of light and sound beyond traditional senses and beyond earth. My head also has internet connection, which allows me to receive images or sounds directly into my skull from other parts of the world. Selected people – one from each continent – can send images or sounds to my head by using their mobile phone cameras or microphones.
Sometimes I might be facing a boring brick wall yet be perceiving a beautiful sunset from my Australian eye. Or I might be having an extremely boring conversation with someone yet be receiving extremely funny jokes from my American ear.
But the fact of having internet connection in my head, the use of internet as a sense, allows me to go beyond color.
I can also connect my head to satellites and telescopes, and perceive and extend my senses to space. Right now, I’m here but my head is connected to NASA’s International Space Station’s live stream. So my body is here but my sense of color is in space.
The use of the internet to extend our senses to space is a paralel line of exploration. Instead of changing our bodies to physically go to space, we can send our senses to space while our body remains on Earth. By adding internet enabled senses to our bodies that connect to sensors placed in space, we can feel space.
3. We’re pushing the limits of technology and human potential. Is there a concern that we might go beyond natural boundaries?
Becoming technology doesn’t make me feel closer to machines or to robots, but quite the opposite. I now feel closer to nature and to other forms of life. Having an antenna makes me feel closer to insects and other creatures that have antennae; hearing through bone conduction makes me feel closer to dolphins and other marine species that perceive sound through their bones; having ultraviolet and infrared perception makes me feel closer to insects and mammals that perceive these colors. I feel a stronger connection with nature now than I ever did before. Technology can bring us back to nature.
4. The distinction between humans and machines will soon be imperceptible. How far are we from a ‘Robocop’ future?
In a way, we are all consciously or unconsciously in transition of becoming biological cyborgs. You can notice it in language. Before, one would say “my mobile phone is running out of battery”. Now most people would say “I’m running out of battery” or “I have no reception” instead of “my mobile has no reception”. We are already talking about technology as if we were technology.
The fact that most people today are wearing technology is also a clear sign of transition, and some of the people who wear technology will eventually have surgery.
Right now, the reasons why many bio-ethical committees do not accept cyborg surgeries are (1) they find it unnecessary, (2) they think it might be dangerous, and (3) in my case, they were worried about “what will people think if you come out of our hospital with an antenna sticking out of your head”. My surgery was not accepted by the bio-ethical committee and had to be done underground.
Little by little, more and more people will be facing this problem, because the amount of people who want to become technology is growing.
5. What do you think the future holds for cyborg augmentation?
Human evolution no longer belongs to time alone, it also belongs to us. We are focusing too much on extending our knowledge and ignoring the fact that we can also extend our body, senses and perception. New body parts could allow us to perceive reality better and could allow us to extend our senses to the level of other animal species, which would consequently extend our knowledge.
Another change will be the negativity we project on ageing. In theory, the older you get, the more your body and senses degenerate. This theory is reversed if you become a cyborg. If you have cybernetic body parts, these will get better and better the older you get as your body parts will evolve together with the evolution of technology. This is a huge change in the way we perceive life. We might all look forward to being old in the future because we will all value the fact that the older we get, the better sense and perception of reality we will have.
I believe the next stage of human exploration is to investigate the disconnection between body and senses; and to start traveling without our bodies. Instead of going through the uncomfortable pain of traveling, we could send our senses to space, 3D print ourselves in other planets and explore space while lying in bed. In other words, the best space ship is a comfortable bed.