TWEET: Are cyborgs set to become a reality?

Taken from BBC Radio 4 website description of the programme:

“Diagnosed with early deafness aged 25, Frank decided to turn his misfortune to his advantage by modifying his hearing aids to create a new sense. He documented the start of his journey three years ago on Radio 4 in ‘Hack My Hearing’.

Since then, Frank has worked with sound artist Daniel Jones to detect and sonify Wi-Fi connections around him. He joins a community around the world who are extending their experience beyond human limitations.

In ‘Meet the Cyborgs’ Frank sets out to meet other people who are hacking their bodies. Neil Harbisson and Moon Rebus run The Cyborg Foundation in Barcelona, which welcomes like-minded body hackers from around the world. Their goal is not just to use or wear technology, but to re-engineer their bodies.

Frank meets the creators of Cyborg Nest, a company promising to make anyone a cyborg. They have recently launched their first product – The North Sense – a computer chip anchored to body piercings in the chest, which vibrates when it faces north.

Of course, the marriage of technology and biology is commonplace in medicine, from pacemakers to IUDs. But now ‘citizen hackers’ are modifying their medical equipment to add new functions. Dana Lewis from Seattle has created her own ‘artificial pancreas’ to help manage her Type 1 diabetes and released the code online.

To me the prospect of being able to hear wifi connections doesn’t sound particularly appealing, especially if the sounds are similar to those that will be familiar to any of us who remember listening to their modem or fax machine attempting to modulate a connection.

But I’m considering this situation as one whose hearing is relatively ‘normal’.  To those whose hearing is impaired, being able to hear more than their fellow humans could be a tantalising prospect.

I know from experience that hearing loss can be a much more isolating experience than, for example, sight loss.  Some years ago the mother of one of my colleagues suffered almost total sight loss as the result of an illness.  My colleague’s father suffered from chronic degenerating hearing loss that could not be restored with hearing aids.  Her mother was able to continue to be as involved in everyday life as she had been previously, if anything the amount of activities she was involved in increased, thanks to the support of the numerous groups for the blind and partially sighted that she joined.  Her father became increasingly introverted, separated from even his close family by his inability to follow a conversation.

There are numerous sci-fi movies / TV series where the protagonist’s hearing is amplified to superhuman levels (Superman, Heroes, Robocop, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  In the film Lucy, the lead character suffers Hyperacusia,  as everyday sounds bombard her from every direction.  However, (and here is the key to all this) she learns to filter and process her new abilities and use them to her advantage.

There are some similarities here to one of my earlier posts on play and playfulness.  Individuals hacking their medical implant and prostheses might sound alarming, or even dangerous, but who knows what new applications, new senses, or even new ways of learning, might be born out of such experimentation

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