Becoming cyborg

Or what if we told you that you are one already?

“What we are doing today with smartphones or ChatGPT will be the brain-machine interface where you can connect the brain directly with the machine to overcome all the current hurdles like typing, voice, etc. Then we as humans will reach a completely different level. That’s why I think the cyborg, a strong almost natural connection between humans and machines, will come first and not general artificial intelligence.“

After our interview with Merantix founder and AI expert Adrian Locher, Wilhelm and I jumped straight down the rabbit hole to find out – are we already cyborgs? And, if not, what might a real modern cyborg look like? The power of our smartphones helps us to imagine what it might feel like to become an AI-enabled cyborg (especially with the ChatGPT app store release). However, the terminology offered by Clynes and Kline (1960), two of the first researchers on the subject, still matters after over 60 years of technological developments:

“The cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments.” (P.27)

The first cyborg?

“One of the first Cyborgs, this 220-gm rat has under its skin the Rose osmotic pump designed to permit continuous injections of chemicals at a slow controlled rate into an organism without any attention on the part of the organism.”

If you want to take a walk down cyborg memory lane, we can truly recommend their work, which gave us an understanding of one of the first living cyborgs. We have come a long way from calling this pioneering rat a cyborg towards humans deliberately incorporating exogenous components into their bodies, interlocking them as both human and machine. But when will this development arrive within mainstream society? With relevant technology evolving faster and faster than ever, we asked ourselves…

How far away are we from becoming the real thing?

New wearable technologies and devices, such as the Apple Vision Pro, will arguably reshape the way we connect with and through technology. But it is still something we can take off. It hasn’t broken the intimate barrier of inserting a device into our bodies. Nevertheless, there are already plenty of technological inventions on the way to challenge the integrity of that barrier.

One of the most prominent examples is Neuralink, a brain-implant company founded by Elon Musk, which aims to rethink the way humans and machines interact in the future. Their latest chip has just been approved for human testing in certain people (such as the ones impaired with loss of vision, hearing and/or the inability to speak). So, while the human-machine cyborg may sound far-fetched, it feels like we are almost there. Our fellow NEXT author Adam Tinworth also wrote a fascinating article about the brain as our final frontier towards a holistically integrated user experience. So, if you want to find out more about Neuralink and Apple’s approach to brain interfaces, look no further.

What are modern cyborgs?

Fortunately, we can also rely on human curiosity and our desire to go beyond the biology we are given at birth to get a more tangible example of a modern cyborg. Even if implants such as automatic heart pumps and artificial arms are becoming more common in modern medicine, the first officially recognised cyborg is the artist, Neil Harbisson. Harbisson was born colour-blind, but with the help of an anonymous doctor, he altered his brain by implanting an antenna, so that he could experience the world in full colour. You can watch a video of his fascinating experiment below:

Why not become a cyborg?

Beyond the incredible story of Neil H, there are people who run do-it-yourself experiments to enhance both their bodies and their minds. These people call themselves biohackers.

Biohacks range from putting all kinds of electric devices into bodies, to playing around with CRISPR/Cas for gene editing.

But there are also more family-friendly experiments on a smaller scale, like implanting yourself with little magnets.

If you are interested in some personal cyborg experimentation, you can buy yourself a DIY kit here for $129.

The idea behind implanting magnets is to enhance your senses. You can instantly feel what is magnetic or become more sensitive to electricity. You become a sort of lo-fi cyborg with a little spider sense that tingles when your magnet detects the nearest magnetic object or electrical field around you.

But even without biohacking your body, you could argue that some of us are already cyborgs.

The proto-cyborg

Returning to the idea mentioned above: Smartphones are now so integrated into all aspects of our lives that it almost feels like a physical need to recharge them when the battery runs out. We are highly dependent on this technological extension of our bodies. Building on this hypothesis of us being device-dependent cyborgs, we will undoubtedly soon become AI-enabled cyborgs.

With ChatGPT now available in the App Store, the Apple Vision Pro on its way, and clever people combining objects like a monocle with AI technology, we can count on machine support almost instantly. By getting instant feedback on what you could say in any conversation, you could become omniscient without even looking at your phone.

With ChatGPT at your fingertips, why not ask it how to live your best life? This is precisely what Vice reporter Maxwell Strachan tried, and we highly recommend you read his experience. This behaviour seems strange today. In the future, however, it may be completely normal.

So, why not connect AI to your body permanently, then?

This is the end of our initial explorative three-part series on AI, but we will stick with the topic in our work. So, we will see you soon. Bye, bAI!