Neil Harbisson, who is the first legally recognized Cyborg, has made it his mission to helping people find their own inner-Cyborg. As a founder of the Cyborg Foundation, his goal has been to provide a safe and open platform for people to start re-defining what it means to be human, and equally the role in which technology plays in our lives. For Neil, he isn’t simply using technology to help overcome a deficiency of his own – achromatopsia – rather he sees himself as technology! I was able to speak with Neil, as we discussed Cyborgism and the future. Below I’ve provided the transcript of that conversation.
Q: Cyborgism was always considered as this wild sci-fi dream that would only occur hundreds of years from now. Thanks to the roboticist community, however, and even DIY biohackers spreading across the world, we’re witnessing it occur today. What do you foresee of the current state of Cyborgism?
A: When I became a cyborg I was foreseeing cyborgism as an art movement based on the creation of one’s own senses and the creation of art works through new senses. This form of cyborgism is still not happening, so I feel I’m still waiting.
Q: Cyborg always attained this physical definition of a symbiotic relationship between biology and cybernetics, from when it was first coined by Manfred Clynes in his infamous “Cyborgs and Space” write-up, up to now. But are there other means of which we can define Cyborgism, for example an identity similar to the struggles of the Transgender community?
A: Although both transgenders and cyborgs might face some similarities with their own social, political and bioethical challenges, there is a clear difference between their aims and origins. The aim of sex reassignment surgery is to change the body, whereas the aim of cyborg surgery is to change the mind, not only the body. For many cyborgs, changing the body is a consequence, not an aim. The other difference is that there is no such thing as a unique “cyborg body”, whereas sex reassignment surgeries have very clear bodies in mind.
I feel a bit closer to the struggles of trans-species. I feel becoming a cyborg goes beyond gender and beyond being human, it’s about identifying yourself as a cybernetic organism – a new species that aims to be able to survive in outer space.
Q: There are plenty of social policies needing to be established to ensure the safety of those wishing to make the transition. Even in terms of getting people used to the idea of them becoming Cyborgs. Where are we in terms of achieving a Cyborg future?
A: Social policies evolve in different speeds and in different directions depending on each country. Some countries are centuries behind any type of change or acceptance in achieving a cyborg future. Others might start leading the research and exploration. Some governments saw the creation of technology to explore space as an important priority in the 1950s and 60s. Hopefully we’ll soon find a government that will see the transition to cyborgs as an important priority to extend our perception of reality and therefore allow us to continue exploring not only where we are, but also who we might be.
Q: Right now there are a limited means of achieving Cyborgism, given the lack of resources, technologies, and medical oversight. But clearly a future of Cyborgs is in our midst. What do you envision this future will look like and what potential will people have in the next 10-15 years?
A: I think we will see a whole lot more biological cyborgs in the late 20’s. My grandparents’ generation saw the arrival of technology in peoples’ homes; my parents’ generation saw the arrival of technology in people’s lives; and the current generation is seeing the arrival of technology in peoples’ body. The next generation will explore technology inside the body. so I’m sure there will be more means, resources and medical acceptance sometime around the late 20’s.
Q: You started the Cyborg Foundation as a means of helping people convey their inner-Cyborg. How well is the organization going and are there any interesting new projects being developed?
A: The Cyborg Foundation is moving to New York this year, so we are currently looking for collaborators and organizations interested in joining forces for the creation of a cyborg lab in New York. The projects we are working on now are focused on the use of the internet as a new sense and about the different possibilities of sending our senses to space.
Q: I don’t want to take much more of your time, Neil. My final question to you is, given the growing interest of topics like Cyborgism, Transhumanism, Longevity, etc., what advice do you have for everyone who are moving towards this future you’re trying to help build?
A: My advice is: Beware not to use the future as an excuse to ignore living in the present. Instead pretend that tomorrow is today.
Photo Credit: Uncube Magazine