The Cyborg Age is Upon Us

Illustration for article titled The Cyborg Age is Upon Us

We live in a world full of cyborgs, though most of us don't notice it.

More than 200,000 men and women around the world wear cochlear implants - devices that look like hearing aids, but which actually convert sounds into direct nerve impulses that travel down the auditory nerve bundle and into the wearer's brain.

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On February 13th of this year, the FDA approved the world's first bionic eye, the Argus II. The Argus uses a small video camera on the eye glasses to pick up light. That then wirelessly sends signals to a retinal implant that converts the image into impulses in the optic nerve, sending them straight into the brain.

Meanwhile, in the lab, we've placed implants in the brains of paralyzed men and women that allow them to move robot arms just by thinking about it.

In animals, we've gone further - augmenting memory and intelligence, and even bridging the gap between multiple animals. In rats we've used implants to restore and boost memory, even beyond normal rat memory. In monkeys we've used a brain implant to boost primate IQ, improving their performance on a pattern matching test well beyond those of un-enhanced monkeys. We've even wired the brains of two rats together allowing them to transmit crude thoughts back and forth while they were thousands of miles apart.

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The technology behind this - brain computer interfaces, neural prosthetics, cyborg tech, or whatever you want to call it - is opening up a whole new frontier. Starting with the goal of helping people who are paralyzed, blind, deaf, or have suffered some sort of brain damage, we're inching up on the ability to make humans smarter, faster, and more able to communicate with one another than ever before.

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This blog, Upgrade, is a place where we're going to track developments in these areas - and others that are related.

Each of us who'll blog here comes from a slightly different perspective. Me, I'm a lapsed computer scientist. I've written about this topic in my sci-fi novel Nexus and my non-fiction book More Than Human. It's a topic I keep coming back to because I find it so fascinating and so potentially revolutionary.

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You'll hear from my co-bloggers shortly as they introduce themselves. And you'll hear from us again as new developments pop up. We hope you'll join us on this ride. It's sure to be a wild one.

R.N.

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DISCUSSION

I'm all for the implants that "cure" or "correct" a condition. like deafness or blindness and etc.... The question I have is, what happens when we begin to add devices that enhance or change neurological mechanisms such as memory or cognition. I think it's safe to say that everyone has a unique perception of their surroundings, yet we all share an underlying understanding of those surrounds with other individuals. For example the sky is blue, but by adding a mechanical device does the underlying understanding of the sky is blue change? Does one's point of view (POV) become even more differentiated from others' POV or are we looking at the possibility, since the device its' self will be the same for everyone who has it, a more homogenized perception? How will this affect society, will the sky be bluer for some not others, will a new social class or subculture arise? Will we need laws regulating enhancements?