In normal usage, the Arke is controlled using an array of sensors that respond to the wearer’s natural movements. However, as the user gets used to the exoskeleton, they typically use a tablet to issue instructions. Since this could be too much multitasking, some might find voice commands to be more intuitive.
When train cards were invented, the idea was to make public transportation less of a hassle. Instead of taking out coins, you’d just access the train platform with a swipe of a pre-loaded card. However, cards can be misplaced, and that’s a problem Aussie biohacker Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow — and yes, that’s his legal name — was determined to never face again.
Not satisfied with the (in)convenience of carrying an Opal card, Meow-Meow decided to have the card’s near-field communication (NFC) chip implanted just beneath the skin on the side of his left hand.
To that end, he removed the NFC from the Opal card and encased it in a bio-compatible plastic, resulting in an implant about 10 by 6 millimeters in size. The implantation procedure itself was undertaken by a piercing expert and took about an hour.
Meow-Meow urges anyone interested in following in his technological footsteps to be sure to do their research and be aware that the implant is considered a breach of Opal’s terms of service. However, he does seem satisfied with his body’s new addition. “It gives me an ability that not everyone else has, so if someone stole my wallet, I could still get home,” he told ABC News.
Our Cyborg Future
Implanted devices are, as Meow-Meow pointed out to ABC News, not as rare as some may think. Usually, they serve some medical purpose, such as chips for prosthetics or pacemakers. Meow-Meow himself has two other NFC implants aside from the Opal chip, including one he uses to store documents, like an implanted hard drive.
This mirrors a number of science fiction flicks, which feature implanted devices that serve as information storage, identity trackers, and health monitors, among other things. It certainly seems like the next step into the future, as numerous companies have been working on developing technologies that meld human beings with machines.
As chip implants become more advanced, they will undoubtedly become more common in the future, but for now, this Opal implant is at least making Meow-Meow’s daily commute less of a hassle.
Cyborgs: humans who have been merged with machines; a hybrid of sorts. What was once the subject of far-out science fiction has now entered reality as a medical tool. From implants to robotics, there is a whole host of emerging technologies that aim to treat health conditions and aid those suffering from different disabilities by turning people into, technically, cyborgs.
It might seem to be going too far to use the term cyborg when discussing, for instance, new versions of prosthetic limbs. However, carbon fiber and titanium prostheses are now commonplace, and most artificial limbs are fully functional. For example, in the video below, you can see the dexterity and capabilities of one prosthetic arm. Since this video was created, prostheses have advanced even further, with researchers going so far as to create robotic hands that can be controlled with one’s brain — and they have a sense of touch.
Artificial limb technologies like the “blades” used by Paralympians are even so advanced that some have started to discuss whether or not they are more capable than organic limbs. But artificial limbs aren’t the only advancements in so-called “cyborg tech.” One Swedish company is implanting its employees with microchips to allow them to do things like access doors with the wave of a hand instead of with a key. Elon Musk thinks that his neural lace could actually make human beings smarter. Many are experimenting with the many possibilities of merging humankind with machines.
A Cyborg Future
The authors of a recent paper in Science Roboticsdiscussed the potential issues with the future of such technologies:
There needs to be a debate on the future evolution of technologies as the pace of robotics and AI is accelerating. It seems certain that future assistive technologies will not only compensate for human disability but also drive human capacities beyond our innate physiological levels. The associated transformative influence will bring on broad social, political, and economic issues.
Once we officially cross that line, once the technologies that we create to assist those with difficulties and disabilities begin to advance human capabilities beyond what is biologically possible, we will have a teeming variety of moral and practical issues to deal with. Many believe that this will be humanity’s “next step in evolution.” Indeed, if we are ever going to colonize Mars and expand our reign in the Solar System, that might be a necessary evolution. Whatever moral and ethical quandaries may exist, it might not be possible for us to take such large strides without becoming cyborgs.
So, more likely than not, the day will come and we will cross that line. Will cyborg humans have the same rights and be bound by the same laws as biologically ordinary citizens? Will cyborgs be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation? Will warfare forever change with the possible advancement of military exoskeletons? The list goes on and on. And so, while we might not all be walking around as half-machines just yet, it might be a good idea to plan ahead.
While smartphone technology has already made many of us cyborg adjacent, there are some who are truly pioneering the world of the future. Take filmmaker Rob Spence of Toronto, for example. He lost his eye due to an unfortunate mishap involving his nine-year-old self, a pile of cow dung, and a shotgun. The gun kicked back after he fired it and severely damaged his eye.
While he did not lose all sight in the eye, he was declared legally blind. Years later, the eye began to physically deteriorate, prompting doctors to replace the eye. Instead of going for the traditional glass eye, Spence worked with a friend to build an eye camera. Spence’s eye can record up to 30 minutes of footage before the battery dies. The eye is not connected to the optic nerve so he cannot use it to see.
In preparation for the release of the video game sequel Deus Ex: Human Evolution, game developer Square Enix recruited the filmmaker to make a documentary of Spence interviewing other recipients of high-tech augmentation. He even included some of the eye camera footage in the doc.
The Age of Enhancement
While the word “cyborg” is still more closely aligned with science-fiction, more and more people are augmenting their bodies with technology. Many of these augmentations correct limitations, like this Star Wars inspired prosthetic arm, or these exoskeletons designed to give paralyzed people improved functionality. However, the next wave of available augmentations could focus on enhancing human capabilities, both physically and cognitively, beyond what is biologically possible. Tech wizards like Elon Musk and Bryan Johnson are working on systems that would integrate the human brain with computers, making the subject smarter.
However, each new capability could bring along specialized ethical concerns. For example, Elon Musk’s neural lace isn’t likely going to be cheap. Could giving those who can afford to purchase this technology access to higher levels of cognitive ability only lead to a massive widening of societal gaps? This and other ethical conundrums must be carefully considered as we quickly approach this Age of Enhancement.
A company based in Stockholm, Sweden, is turning its employees into “cyborgs” using a microchip implant about the size of a grain of rice. Though not the first time such microchip implants have been used, this program is the first example of such implants being made available to a company’s employees on this sort of level.
“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter, told the Associated Press. Epicenter provides network and office space to budding digital startups, and it is currently home to more than 100 companies and about 2,000 workers. The company calls itself “Stockholm’s first digital House of Innovation,” and it only started implanting workers in January 2015.
The microchips, which are implanted in the hands of employees and startup members, function as swipe cards. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” Mesterton said, who demoed opening a door just by waving his hand near it. The implant doesn’t just open doors, though. Epicenter’s “cyborg” employees can operate their printers with it or even order smoothies with a wave of their hands.
The devices aren’t mandatory, but “being chipped” has become popular amongst Epicenter’s employees, with more than 150 now implanted with the devices. The company even hosts monthly events where participants can get the implants for free, as well as parties to celebrate those who got implanted.
An obvious concern is security and privacy. “Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do, and it was even for me at first,” Mesterton said, recalling his initial doubts about the implants, which carry information that can be transmitted to other devices via electromagnetic waves, but cannot receive information themselves.
“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone,” explained Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute. Such devices, he said, can be exploited by hackers to gain huge amounts of information.
“Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that,” Libberton added. The more sophisticated a microchip is, the bigger the ethical dilemmas that can come with them.
For Mesterton, there really isn’t a problem. “I mean, people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart,” he said. “That’s a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”
Think of it as a real life — but significantly scaled down — application of the 2009 blockbuster Avatar concept where humans control the body of an alien by remotely transferring human consciousness into another biological body. The team uses a brain-computer interface (BCI) that helps translate brain waves into commands that guide or control the movement of the turtle.
KAIST wrote in a press release, “Unlike previous research that has tried to control animal movement by applying invasive methods, most notably in insects, Professors Phill-Seung Lee of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Sungho Jo of the Computing School propose a conceptual system that can guide an animal’s moving path by controlling its instinctive escape behavior.”
Turtles are instinctively drawn towards light. The team harnessed this natural impulse by attaching a semi-cylinder that can block light onto the turtle’s back, which can be opened and closed using human thought, thus allowing them to control the turtle’s movement.
The human-turtle BCI setup features a human-operated, head-mounted display integrated with BCI, while the turtle is controlled using what the team calls the “cyborg system” — a system consisting of a camera, Wi-Fi transceiver, a computer-control module, and a battery attached to the turtle’s shell.
As much as we’d like this technology to develop into an actual Avatar-like machine that will one day allow us to control alien life forms, this kind of brain-interface tech will probably find more use here on Earth. Possible application include improving augmented and virtual reality technology, use in positioning systems, as well as military reconnaissance and surveillance, especially given its versatility.
The research team highlighted the versatility of their tech, as demonstrated by the variety of environments in which it was effective, in the study they published in the Journal of Bionic Engineering. The interface was able to get the turtles moving indoors and outdoors as well as across different surfaces like grass and gravel. The humans even caused the turtles to tackle multiple obstacles, like shallow water and trees, making it a handy tech to have during stealthy military operations.