Friday, March 14, 2014

Who Wants To Be a Cyborg?

Neil Harbisson: "the world's first cyborg."
In June of last year, Rich Lee, a Utah resident who formerly worked in finance in Hong Kong, had a pair of invisible headphones implanted in his ears.

He asked a body modification expert, who normally does piercings and tattoos, to implant two magnets under the skin of his ears. That done, Lee slipped an induction coil -- the type of wire used in physics classes to demonstrate how an electrical current influences a magnet -- over his head like a necklace and connected it to an amplifier. By plugging the headphone jack of the amplifier into his phone, he can listen to music privately without wearing headphones. The electrical current in the coil causes the magnets to vibrate, playing music in his ears. 

The invisible headphones are not a temporary experiment. The magnets are coated in silicone so that they are (relatively) safe to keep in place, and Lee has been wearing them for over 8 months. 

If you ask Lee why he did this, as we did, he’ll reply, “I realized that if I want to be a cyborg, I have to do it myself.”

Lee recognizes that this “is not a goal that everyone has now.” But he is not alone in his ambition. Lee associates with a loose-knit community of “grinders,” people interested in augmenting their human bodies with implanted technology. Other enthusiasts have implanted magnets in their fingertips so that they can feel electromagnetic fields, placed a device that sends biomedical data to the Internet via bluetooth under the skin of their forearm, and built hardware that allows them to experience color as sound. 

For decades, technologists and science-fiction writers have speculated about a future in which humans meld with machines. New technologies like Google Glass, meanwhile, lead to comparisons with The Terminator and speculation that it is the first step down the path to an augmented reality.

The grinder community, however, is not waiting for the future to arrive; they’re building it by tinkering with their own bodies. And their first, do-it-yourself steps toward becoming cyborgs show that humans can already modify or augment their experience to a surprising degree.

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