Advances in medical technology have made cyborgs real, and they walk among us now. However, their cybernetic parts concentrate more on replacing or enhancing damaged or lost limbs, unlike the darker motivations of the Terminator and other sci-fi cyborgs. Here’s a list of ways some humans are already cyborgs.
Back in 2003, an artist named Neil Harbisson, who is color blind, had an implant attached to his head that detects the color frequency of objects in front of him. The implant translates the frequency into sound and transmits it via his skull bone to his brain.
With Harbisson leading the way, technology now exists that allows implantable microchips to help individuals complete daily tasks. These microchips can communicate with payment systems via RFID and even control devices, such as light switches. Additionally, do-it-yourself inventors have come out with microchip systems for automatic insulin pumps that do the work of calculating how much insulin to deliver throughout the day. While it’s not common yet, people can find such devices on the commercial market.
Although it hasn’t been introduced yet, innovator Elon Musk has founded a company called Neuralink to develop a mesh BMI (Brain Machine Interface) where a trained robot will implant read-write electrodes into the brain. The idea is to allow the brain to communicate wirelessly with the devices Musk claims already make us cyborgs—our phones, tablets, and laptops. Musk contends that the interface is the problem, relying on clumsy and slow keyboards instead of direct neural connection.
While this may sound a little far-fetched, Musk may find success sooner than you think. Direct brain connections, or BMIs, already exist to restore at least partial vision to the blind. Additionally, while not a direct brain connection, there are cochlear implants that send messages from an external microphone via a wire embedded under the skin that leads to the inner ear.
Amputees have more ability to communicate with new prosthetic limbs than ever before. Researchers at MIT have discovered that reuniting a muscle that has lost its “muscle mate” with muscle from another part of the body helps amputees relieve the sensation of the phantom limb and be more aware of where their prosthetic limb is in space.
Advances in robotics and surgical techniques now allow amputees to control their artificial limbs with muscle movements, or even through a neurological-muscular connection that allows them to control the limb with their brain, going so far as to feel different temperatures and the pressure the limb asserts on objects.
The pioneering patients who agreed to be the first to try devices that enable human-machine interaction help to improve medical device design by assisting researchers to better respond to the user experience. Designers of dialysis machines, implantable drug delivery systems, and a variety of point-of-care diagnostic devices all benefit from research on the user experience.
While devices that interact directly with the nervous system or brain to restore damaged functions (prosthetic limbs, artificial eyes, and cochlear implants) have already turned some humans into cyborgs, eventually, users may be able to “upload” their reactions directly via brain-machine interfaces such as Musk’s implanted Neuralink mesh.