The World’s Most Famous Real-Life Cyborgs
In the future of humankind, brain implants could improve our memory. Implanted magnets or RFID chips implanted in our fingers could replace passwords and keys. Exoskeletons could boost our strength, and augment a whole range of our human capabilities. So, it will never be more important to keep the features that make us human, such as empathy, creativity or the ability for change. It is not easy to find the right balance between technology and being human, though. Here, I enlisted real-life cyborgs who might show us positive examples how to do it.
Tiptoeing around humans with machine parts
With an antenna implanted into his head, he looks like a giant ant led from behind by a piece of bread on a stick. Coupled with his light mop haircut he looks like the main character would in a Wes Anderson sci-fi if he ever directed one. Harbisson is actually an artist born with achromatopsia or extreme colorblindness meaning he could only see in black-and-white. At first, he received his specialized electronic eye, his “eyeborg” to be able to render perceived colors as sounds on the musical scale. He is capable of experiencing colors beyond the scope of normal human perception: Amy Winehouse is red and pink, while ringtones are green.
Harbisson has been living as a cyborg for more than 10 years already. He believes that humans have a duty to use technology to transcend themselves and that it will happen in the future. It will start with a third eye on the back of the head or an implanted sensor indicating whether there is a car behind you.
2) Dr. Kevin Warwick
He has been known as “Captain Cyborg” and teaches at the University of Reading as a cybernetics professor. Warwick has experimented with different electronic implants since 1998 such as installing a microchip in his arm which lets him operate lights, heaters or computers remotely. As dedicated as he is, Warwick also gave an implant to his wife, so that when someone grasped her hand the man was able to experience the same sensation in his. It is jaw-dropping and awkwardly scary at the same time.
He is the founder of Project Cyborg using himself as the guinea pig on a mission to become the world’s most complete cyborg. Beyond his work on himself, he is involved in AI research. He faced serious criticism in 2014 over claims that the “supercomputer” called Eugene Goostman passed the “milestone” Turing-test for Artificial Intelligence.
3) Jesse Sullivan
Sullivan worked as an electrical linesman when in May 2001, he suffered a life-threatening accident: he was electrocuted so severely that both of his arms needed to be amputated. This, however, led to him to become the world’s first “Bionic Man”. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago offered him to replace his arms with robotic prosthetics, which opportunity he gladly took. He was fitted with a bionic limb connected through a nerve-muscle grafting.
He has control over his limb with his mind: when he thinks about lifting an arm, for example, certain muscles in his chest contract instead of muscles in his original arm, and the prosthetic replacement interprets this contraction as an instruction to move in a certain way. Moreover, he can also feel temperature as well as how much pressure his grip applies.
4) Nigel Ackland
He worked as a precious metals smelter until his accident at his workplace involving an industrial blender. This led to a severe crush injury of his right forearm. He underwent six months of operations and infections before deciding to have a below elbow amputation.
Over the years, he tried several prosthetic types, but finally, he received a bebionic3 hand. With its help, he can independently move to grip even delicate objects. He controls the arm through muscle movements in his remaining forearm. The range of movement is truly extraordinary. He can independently move each of his five fingers to grip delicate objects, or even pour a liquid into a glass.
5) Jerry Jalava
The Finnish programmer had a terrible motorcycle accident when he lost his left ring finger. It was just a week after he bought his new motorbike that he accidentally hit a deer. Right after it happened, he lit a cigarette when he realized that he misses the upper half of his finger.
Then he decided against a traditional prosthesis and rather went for something “useful”: a 2GB USB port was embedded into his prosthetic. It doesn’t upload any information directly into his brain though. He is the perfect example of how you don’t need to be a robotics mastermind to become a cyborg…
6) Cameron Clapp
Until his life-changing accident, Cameron lived the life of the “California teens”: he loved to surf, skateboard and hang with friends. He was 15 when he wandered over to some railroad tracks near their house and passed out after drinking with his brother moved by the 9/11 tragedy what happened around that time. When a train passed, he, unfortunately, lost both of his legs plus an arm.
He got fitted with a couple of prosthetic legs controlled by his brain with the help of a microprocessor. Since then, he has become an athlete and an amputee activist. His advice to struggling patients? “Surround yourself with good people… good doctors, therapists, family, and friends. Set reachable goals, work hard and maintain a good attitude.”
7) Professor Steve Mann
The Canadian tech-crazy professor designed a headset that is outfitted with a number of small computers and through it, he can record and play video and audio. He was one of the, if not the first, cyborgs in the world. Mann definitely experimented first with wearable computing in high school in the 70s. At MIT he literally bristled with equipment, wearing 80 pounds of computing equipment to class.
Mann was allegedly also the victim of the world’s “first cybernetic hate crime” in 2012: he was at a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris with his family when three different McDonald’s employees attempted to forcibly remove his “Digital Eye Glass” from his head.
8) Claudia Mitchell
Mitchell is the first woman to have a bionic arm and just as in the majority of the listed cases, her transformation into a cyborg life was also due to an accident. Although she spent four years in the Marine Corps she did not lose her arm during military service but in a motorcycle accident. She lost her left arm completely.
She told several newspapers that she used to peel bananas using both feet and one hand before she received her bionic arm. The robotic limb comes from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago just as in the case of Jesse Sullivan and was developed for $3 million. She cried when she first peeled a banana one-handed.
9) Stelios Arcadio
He is also known as Stelarc. He is a performance artist who believes that the human body is obsolete. To prove this, he has had an artificially-created ear surgically attached to his left arm. In another show, he hooked up electrodes to his body to allow people to control his muscles through the Web.
He has his particular views how humans should look at technology and the symbiosis of the two. In an interview, he said that “we shouldn’t have a Frankensteinian fear of incorporating technology into the body, and we shouldn’t consider our relationship to technology in a Faustian way – that we’re somehow selling our soul because we’re using these forbidden energies. My attitude is that technology is, and always has been, an appendage of the body.”
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