Cyborgs Among Us

By: Richard Brown

(This was originally going to be a comment on another bloggers site, but I couldn’t finish it up quick enough to really post so I decided to finish it up here!)


As a futurist, I too watch these emerging fields quite closely. And since the whole “cyborg” thing is one of my favorites I just had to stop and check out your content.

I’m going to assume by the fairly large amount here that you’ve at least been around this block a couple of times yourself and are probably more than aware of just how close all that “future” is.

But if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment and help let some of your readers in on it a bit more.

Let’s take the word “cyborg” itself for example. (I’m going to use Wikipedia’s definition though as Websters defines a “cyborg” as simply a “bionic” human.)

Wikipedia defines “cyborg” as: …”A cyborg, short for “cybernetic organism”, is a being with both biological and artificial (i.e. electronic, mechanical, or robotic) parts.”

If we use this definition as a common understanding of what a “cyborg” is, it becomes clear quite early on that we literally have cyborgs among us even as we speak.

Take Oscar Pistorius as a great example. Oscar is a 25 year old, South African man who was born without “fibula’s.” (These are the outer and usually smaller of the two bones between the knee and ankle in the hind or lower limbs of vertebrates.)

At just a year old, Oscar had to have both legs amputated below the knee. Something Oscar views as just part of a larger journey. A journey that has taken him all the way to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As a world class runner in the 4 x 400 Meter relay, and 400 Meter dash. He is the T44 world record holder for the 200 and 400 meter events, and was previously the world record holder for the 100 meter as well.

Oscar has been able to accomplish these amazing feats due in large part to his Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fibre transtibial prostheses. (His cyborg legs.)

Although the Olympic committee did not view Oscar’s prosthesis’s as giving him an unfair advantage in the Olympics, his high tech legs have certainly done so during the course of everyday life.

But it doesn’t stop there. (In fact, it starts much earlier.)

Devices designed in order to help enhance auditory function have been around since 1898. Known as the “Akoulallion,” it is a far cry from the current level of technology in the Cochlear implant (Bionic Ear) which is actually surgically implanted into the patient.

Then there’s the pacemaker, the insulin pump, the artificial heart, and various other prosthetic s.

But if that’s still not enough,

In 1978, a man by the name of Dr. William Dobelle was one of the first scientists to produce a working brain interface to restore sight.

A single-array BCI containing 68 electrodes was implanted onto the visual cortex of a man named “Jerry.” This prototype succeeded in producing phosphenes, or, the sensation of seeing light.

The system included cameras mounted on glasses to send signals to the implant which allowed Jerry to see shades of grey in a limited field of vision at a low frame-rate. This also required him to be hooked up to a two-ton mainframe computer, but shrinking electronics and faster computers made his artificial eye more portable and now enable him to perform simple tasks unassisted. (Can’t get much more cyborg than that!)

In 2002, Jens Naumann, also blinded in adulthood, became the first in a series of 16 paying patients to receive Dobelle’s second generation implant. The second generation device used a more sophisticated implant enabling better mapping of phosphenes into coherent vision. Immediately after his implant, Jens was able to use his imperfectly restored vision to drive an automobile slowly around the parking area of the research institute.

And this technology is getting even better.

But all that isn’t what we want to really hear now is it?

No way!

I’m sure what your readers want is something out of the movies!

“Laser rangefinders” for eyes, “slaved” to a “CNS enhanced precision firing platform,” combined with a state of the art, “covert communications system, all tied into an implanted CPU designed to run it all.

Unfortunately though, I believe Google and iWear have ruined that future for now with their “augmented-reality glasses.” Because devices such as these do not require any type of invasive surgery and will be able to display content from virtually any device in the near future,  I can’t see the general public moving towards commercial development of surgically implanted processors or similar devices.

But so what. So I have to keep the processor in my pocket for now.

I can still have the rest today!





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