In current prosthetic applications, the C-Leg system developed by Otto Bock HealthCare is used to replace a human leg that has been amputated because of injury or illness. The use of sensors in the artificial C-Leg aids in walking significantly by attempting to replicate the user’s natural gait, as it would be prior to amputation. Prostheses like the C-Leg and the more advanced iLimb are considered by some to be the first real steps towards the next generation of real-world cyborg applications. Additionally cochlear implants and magnetic implants which provide people with a sense that they would not otherwise have had can additionally be thought of as creating cyborgs.
In vision science, direct brain implants have been used to treat non-congenital (acquired) blindness. One of the first scientists to come up with a working brain interface to restore sight was private researcher William Dobelle.Dobelle’s first prototype was implanted into “Jerry”, a man blinded in adulthood, in 1978. A single-array BCI containing 68 electrodes was implanted onto Jerry’s visual cortex and succeeded in producing phosphenes, the sensation of seeing light. The system included cameras mounted on glasses to send signals to the implant. Initially, the implant allowed Jerry to see shades of grey in a limited field of vision at a low frame-rate. This also required him to be hooked up to a two-ton mainframe, but shrinking electronics and faster computers made his artificial eye more portable and now enable him to perform simple tasks unassisted.
In 1997, Philip Kennedy, a scientist and physician, created the world’s first human cyborg from Johnny Ray, a Vietnam veteran who suffered a stroke. Ray’s body, as doctors called it, was “locked in”. Ray wanted his old life back so he agreed to Kennedy’s experiment. Kennedy embedded an implant he designed (and named “neurotrophic electrode”) near the part of Ray’s brain so that Ray would be able to have some movement back in his body. The surgery went successfully, but in 2002, Johnny Ray died.
In 2002, Canadian Jens Naumann, also blinded in adulthood, became the first in a series of 16 paying patients to receive Dobelle’s second generation implant, marking one of the earliest commercial uses of BCIs. The second generation device used a more sophisticated implant enabling better mapping of phosphenes into coherent vision. Phosphenes are spread out across the visual field in what researchers call the starry-night effect. Immediately after his implant, Naumann was able to use his imperfectly restored vision to drive slowly around the parking area of the research institute.
In contrast to replacement technologies, in 2002, under the heading Project Cyborg, a British scientist, Kevin Warwick, had an array of 100 electrodes fired into his nervous system in order to link his nervous system into the internet to investigate enhancement possibilities. With this in place Warwick successfully carried out a series of experiments including extending his nervous system over the internet to control a robotic hand, also receiving feedback from the fingertips in order to control the hand’s grip. This was a form of extended sensory input. Subsequently, he investigated ultrasonic input in order to remotely detect the distance to objects. Finally, with electrodes also implanted into his wife’s nervous system, they conducted the first direct electronic communication experiment between the nervous systems of two humans.
Since 2004, British artist Neil Harbisson has had a cyborg antenna implanted in his head that allows him to extend his perception of colors beyond the human visual spectrum through vibrations in his skull. His antenna was included within his 2004 passport photograph which has been claimed to confirm his cyborg status. In 2012 at TEDGlobal, Harbisson explained that he started to feel cyborg when he noticed that the software and his brain had united and given him an extra sense. Neil Harbisson is a co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation (2004)
Furthermore many cyborgs with multifunctional microchips injected into their hand are known to exist. With the chips they are able swipe cards, open or unlock doors, operate devices such as printers or, with some using a cryptocurrency, buy products, such as drinks, with a wave of the hand.
bodyNET is an application of human-electronic interaction currently in development by researchers from Stanford University. The technology is based on stretchable semiconductor materials (Elastronic). According to their article in Nature (journal), the technology is composed of smart devices, screens, and a network of sensors that can be implanted into the body, woven into the skin or worn as clothes. It has been suggested, that this platform can potentially replace the smartphone in the future.
The US-based company Backyard Brains released what they refer to as “The world’s first commercially available cyborg” called the RoboRoach. The project started as a University of Michigan biomedical engineering student senior design project in 2010 and was launched as an available beta product on 25 February 2011. The RoboRoach was officially released into production via a TED talk at the TED Global conference, and via the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter in 2013, the kit allows students to use microstimulation to momentarily control the movements of a walking cockroach (left and right) using a bluetooth-enabled smartphone as the controller. Other groups have developed cyborg insects, including researchers at North Carolina State University, UC Berkeley, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, but the RoboRoach was the first kit available to the general public and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health as a device to serve as a teaching aid to promote an interest in neuroscience. Several animal welfare organizations including the RSPCA  and PETA  have expressed concerns about the ethics and welfare of animals in this project.
In medicine, there are two important and different types of cyborgs: the restorative and the enhanced. Restorative technologies “restore lost function, organs, and limbs”. The key aspect of restorative cyborgization is the repair of broken or missing processes to revert to a healthy or average level of function. There is no enhancement to the original faculties and processes that were lost.
On the contrary, the enhanced cyborg “follows a principle, and it is the principle of optimal performance: maximising output (the information or modifications obtained) and minimising input (the energy expended in the process)”. Thus, the enhanced cyborg intends to exceed normal processes or even gain new functions that were not originally present.
Although prostheses in general supplement lost or damaged body parts with the integration of a mechanical artifice, bionic implants in medicine allow model organs or body parts to mimic the original function more closely. Michael Chorost wrote a memoir of his experience with cochlear implants, or bionic ear, titled “Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human.” Jesse Sullivan became one of the first people to operate a fully robotic limb through a nerve-muscle graft, enabling him a complex range of motions beyond that of previous prosthetics. By 2004, a fully functioning artificial heart was developed. The continued technological development of bionic and nanotechnologies begins to raise the question of enhancement, and of the future possibilities for cyborgs which surpass the original functionality of the biological model. The ethics and desirability of “enhancement prosthetics” have been debated; their proponents include the transhumanist movement, with its belief that new technologies can assist the human race in developing beyond its present, normative limitations such as aging and disease, as well as other, more general incapacities, such as limitations on speed, strength, endurance, and intelligence. Opponents of the concept describe what they believe to be biases which propel the development and acceptance of such technologies; namely, a bias towards functionality and efficiency that may compel assent to a view of human people which de-emphasizes as defining characteristics actual manifestations of humanity and personhood, in favor of definition in terms of upgrades, versions, and utility.
A brain-computer interface, or BCI, provides a direct path of communication from the brain to an external device, effectively creating a cyborg. Research of Invasive BCIs, which utilize electrodes implanted directly into the grey matter of the brain, has focused on restoring damaged eyesight in the blind and providing functionality to paralyzed people, most notably those with severe cases, such as Locked-In syndrome. This technology could enable people who are missing a limb or are in a wheelchair the power to control the devices that aide them through neural signals sent from the brain implants directly to computers or the devices. It is possible that this technology will also eventually be used with healthy people.
Deep brain stimulation is a neurological surgical procedure used for therapeutic purposes. This process has aided in treating patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy, chronic headaches, and mental disorders. After the patient is unconscious, through anesthesia, brain pacemakers or electrodes, are implanted into the region of the brain where the cause of the disease is present. The region of the brain is then stimulated by bursts of electric current to disrupt the oncoming surge of seizures. Like all invasive procedures, deep brain stimulation may put the patient at a higher risk. However, there have been more improvements in recent years with deep brain stimulation than any available drug treatment.
Retinal implants are another form of cyborgization in medicine. The theory behind retinal stimulation to restore vision to people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and vision loss due to aging (conditions in which people have an abnormally low number of ganglion cells) is that the retinal implant and electrical stimulation would act as a substitute for the missing ganglion cells (cells which connect the eye to the brain.)
While work to perfect this technology is still being done, there have already been major advances in the use of electronic stimulation of the retina to allow the eye to sense patterns of light. A specialized camera is worn by the subject, such as on the frames of their glasses, which converts the image into a pattern of electrical stimulation. A chip located in the user’s eye would then electrically stimulate the retina with this pattern by exciting certain nerve endings which transmit the image to the optic centers of the brain and the image would then appear to the user. If technological advances proceed as planned this technology may be used by thousands of blind people and restore vision to most of them.
A similar process has been created to aide people who have lost their vocal cords. This experimental device would do away with previously used robotic sounding voice simulators. The transmission of sound would start with a surgery to redirect the nerve that controls the voice and sound production to a muscle in the neck, where a nearby sensor would be able to pick up its electrical signals. The signals would then move to a processor which would control the timing and pitch of a voice simulator. That simulator would then vibrate producing a multitonal sound which could be shaped into words by the mouth.
An article published in Nature Materials in 2012 reported a research on “cyborg tissues” (engineered human tissues with embedded three-dimensional mesh of nanoscale wires), with possible medical implications.
In 2014, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis had developed a device that could keep a heart beating endlessly. By using 3D printing and computer modeling these scientist developed an electronic membrane that could successfully replace pacemakers. The device utilizes a “spider-web like network of sensors and electrodes” to monitor and maintain a normal heart-rate with electrical stimuli. Unlike traditional pacemakers that are similar from patient to patient, the elastic heart glove is made custom by using high-resolution imaging technology. The first prototype was created to fit a rabbit’s heart, operating the organ in an oxygen and nutrient-rich solution. The stretchable material and circuits of the apparatus were first constructed by Professor John A. Rogers in which the electrodes are arranged in a s-shape design to allow them to expand and bend without breaking. Although the device is only currently used as a research tool to study changes in heart rate, in the future the membrane may serve as a safeguard from heart attacks.
Military organizations’ research has recently focused on the utilization of cyborg animals for the purposes of a supposed tactical advantage. DARPA has announced its interest in developing “cyborg insects” to transmit data from sensors implanted into the insect during the pupal stage. The insect’s motion would be controlled from a Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) and could conceivably survey an environment or detect explosives and gas. Similarly, DARPA is developing a neural implant to remotely control the movement of sharks. The shark’s unique senses would then be exploited to provide data feedback in relation to enemy ship movement or underwater explosives.
In 2006, researchers at Cornell University invented a new surgical procedure to implant artificial structures into insects during their metamorphic development. The first insect cyborgs, moths with integrated electronics in their thorax, were demonstrated by the same researchers. The initial success of the techniques has resulted in increased research and the creation of a program called Hybrid-Insect-MEMS, HI-MEMS. Its goal, according to DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office, is to develop “tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis”.
The use of neural implants has recently been attempted, with success, on cockroaches. Surgically applied electrodes were put on the insect, which were remotely controlled by a human. The results, although sometimes different, basically showed that the cockroach could be controlled by the impulses it received through the electrodes. DARPA is now funding this research because of its obvious beneficial applications to the military and other areas
In 2009 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Micro-electronic mechanical systems (MEMS) conference in Italy, researchers demonstrated the first “wireless” flying-beetle cyborg. Engineers at the University of California at Berkeley have pioneered the design of a “remote controlled beetle”, funded by the DARPA HI-MEMS Program. Filmed evidence of this can be viewed here. This was followed later that year by the demonstration of wireless control of a “lift-assisted” moth-cyborg.
Eventually researchers plan to develop HI-MEMS for dragonflies, bees, rats and pigeons. For the HI-MEMS cybernetic bug to be considered a success, it must fly 100 metres (330ft) from a starting point, guided via computer into a controlled landing within 5 metres (16ft) of a specific end point. Once landed, the cybernetic bug must remain in place.
In 2016 the first cyborg Olympics were celebrated in Zurich Switzerland. Cybathlon 2016 were the first Olympics for cyborgs and the first worldwide and official celebration of cyborg sports. In this event, 16 teams of people with disabilities used technological developments to turn themselves into cyborg athletes. There were six different events and its competitors used and controlled advanced technologies such as powered prosthetic legs and arms, robotic exoskeletons, bikes and motorized wheelchairs.
If on one hand this was already a remarkable improvement, as it allowed disabled people to compete and showed the several technological enhancements that are already making a difference, on the other hand it showed that there is still a long way to go. For instance, the exoskeleton race still required its participants to stand up from a chair and sit down, navigate a slalom and other simple activities such as walk over stepping stones and climb up and down stairs. Despite the simplicity of these activities, 8 of the 16 teams that participated in the event drop of before the start.
Nonetheless, one of the main goals of this event and such simple activities is to show how technological enhancements and advanced prosthetic can make a difference in peoples’ lives. The next Cybathlon is expected to occur in 2020
The concept of the cyborg is often associated with science fiction. However, many artists have tried to create public awareness of cybernetic organisms; these can range from paintings to installations. Some artists who create such works are Neil Harbisson, Moon Ribas, Patricia Piccinini, Steve Mann, Orlan, H. R. Giger, Lee Bul, Wafaa Bilal, Tim Hawkinson and Stelarc.
Stelarc is a performance artist who has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. He uses medical instruments, prosthetics, robotics, virtual reality systems, the Internet and biotechnology to explore alternate, intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. He has made three films of the inside of his body and has performed with a third hand and a virtual arm. Between 19761988 he completed 25 body suspension performances with hooks into the skin. For ‘Third Ear’ he surgically constructed an extra ear within his arm that was internet enabled, making it a publicly accessible acoustical organ for people in other places. He is presently performing as his avatar from his second life site.
Tim Hawkinson promotes the idea that bodies and machines are coming together as one, where human features are combined with technology to create the Cyborg. Hawkinson’s piece Emoter presented how society is now dependent on technology.
Wafaa Bilal is an Iraqi-American performance artist who had a small 10 megapixel digital camera surgically implanted into the back of his head, part of a project entitled 3rd I. For one year, beginning 15 December 2010, an image is captured once per minute 24 hours a day and streamed live to http://www.3rdi.me and the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. The site also displays Bilal’s location via GPS. Bilal says that the reason why he put the camera in the back of the head was to make an “allegorical statement about the things we don’t see and leave behind.” As a professor at NYU, this project has raised privacy issues, and so Bilal has been asked to ensure that his camera does not take photographs in NYU buildings.
Machines are becoming more ubiquitous in the artistic process itself, with computerized drawing pads replacing pen and paper, and drum machines becoming nearly as popular as human drummers. This is perhaps most notable in generative art and music. Composers such as Brian Eno have developed and utilized software which can build entire musical scores from a few basic mathematical parameters.
Scott Draves is a generative artist whose work is explicitly described as a “cyborg mind”. His Electric Sheep project generates abstract art by combining the work of many computers and people over the internet.
Artists have explored the term cyborg from a perspective involving imagination. Some work to make an abstract idea of technological and human-bodily union apparent to reality in an art form utilizing varying mediums, from sculptures and drawings to digital renderings.Artists that seek to make cyborg-based fantasies a reality often call themselves cyborg artists, or may consider their artwork “cyborg”. How an artist or their work may be considered cyborg will vary depending upon the interpreter’s flexibility with the term.Scholars that rely upon a strict, technical description of cyborg, often going by Norbert Wiener’s cybernetic theory and Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline’s first use of the term, would likely argue that most cyborg artists do not qualify to be considered cyborgs. Scholars considering a more flexible description of cyborgs may argue it incorporates more than cybernetics. Others may speak of defining subcategories, or specialized cyborg types, that qualify different levels of cyborg at which technology influences an individual. This may range from technological instruments being external, temporary, and removable to being fully integrated and permanent. Nonetheless, cyborg artists are artists. Being so, it can be expected for them to incorporate the cyborg idea rather than a strict, technical representation of the term, seeing how their work will sometimes revolve around other purposes outside of cyborgism.
As medical technology becomes more advanced, some techniques and innovations are adopted by the body modification community. While not yet cyborgs in the strict definition of Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline, technological developments like implantable silicon silk electronics, augmented reality and QR codes are bridging the disconnect between technology and the body. Hypothetical technologies such as digital tattoo interfaces would blend body modification aesthetics with interactivity and functionality, bringing a transhumanist way of life into present day reality.
In addition, it is quite plausible for anxiety expression to manifest. Individuals may experience pre-implantation feelings of fear and nervousness. To this end, individuals may also embody feelings of uneasiness, particularly in a socialized setting, due to their post-operative, technologically augmented bodies, and mutual unfamiliarity with the mechanical insertion. Anxieties may be linked to notions of otherness or a cyborged identity.
Cyborgs have become a well-known part of science fiction literature and other media. Although many of these characters may be technically androids, they are often referred to as cyborgs. Well-known examples from film and television include RoboCop, The Terminator, Evangelion, United States Air Force Colonel Steve Austin in both Cyborg and, as acted out by Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man, Replicants from Blade Runner, Daleks and Cybermen from Doctor Who, the Borg from Star Trek, Darth Vader and General Grievous from Star Wars, Inspector Gadget, and Cylons from the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series. From comics, manga and anime are characters such as 8 Man (the inspiration for RoboCop), Kamen Rider, Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi, as well as characters from western comic books like Tony Stark (after his Extremis and Bleeding Edge armor) and Victor “Cyborg” Stone. The Deus Ex videogame series deals extensively with the near-future rise of cyborgs and their corporate ownership, as does the Syndicate series. William Gibson’s Neuromancer features one of the first female cyborgs, a “Razorgirl” named Molly Millions, who has extensive cybernetic modifications and is one of the most prolific cyberpunk characters in the science fiction canon.
Sending humans to space is a dangerous task in which the implementation of various cyborg technologies could be used in the future for risk mitigation. Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist, stated “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war… I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.” The difficulties associated with space travel could mean it might be centuries before humans ever become a multi-planet species. There are many effect of spaceflight on the human body. One major issue of space exploration is the biological need for oxygen. If this necessity was taken out of the equation, space exploration would be revolutionized. A theory proposed by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline is aimed at tackling this problem. The two scientists theorized that the use of an inverse fuel cell that is “capable of reducing CO2 to its components with removal of the carbon and re-circulation of the oxygen…” could make breathing unnecessary. Another prominent issue is radiation exposure. Yearly, the average human on earth is exposed to approximately 0.30 rem of radiation, while an astronaut aboard the International Space Station for 90 days is exposed to 9 rem. To tackle the issue, Clynes and Kline theorized a cyborg containing a sensor that would detect radiation levels and a Rose osmotic pump “which would automatically inject protective pharmaceuticals in appropriate doses.” Experiments injecting these protective pharmaceuticals into monkeys have shown positive results in increasing radiation resistance.
Although the effects of spaceflight on our body is an important issue, the advancement of propulsion technology is just as important. With our current technology, it would take us about 260 days to get to Mars. A study backed by NASA proposes an interesting way to tackle this issue through deep sleep, or torpor. With this technique, it would “reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions with existing medical procedures”. So far experiments have only resulted in patients being in torpor state for one week. Advancements to allow for longer states of deep sleep would lower the cost of the trip to mars as a result of reduced astronaut resource consumption.
Theorists such as Andy Clark suggest that interactions between humans and technology result in the creation of a cyborg system. In this model “cyborg” is defined as a part biological, part mechanical system which results in the augmentation of the biological component and the creation of a more complex whole. Clark argues that this broadened definition is necessary to an understanding of human cognition. He suggests that any tool which is used to offload part of a cognitive process may be considered the mechanical component of a cyborg system. Examples of this human and technology cyborg system can be very low tech and simplistic, such as using a calculator to perform basic mathematical operations or pen and paper to make notes, or as high tech as using a personal computer or phone. According to Clark, these interactions between a person and a form of technology integrate that technology into the cognitive process in a way which is analogous to the way that a technology which would fit the traditional concept a cyborg augmentation becomes integrated with its biological host. Because all humans in some way use technology to augment their cognitive processes, Clark comes to the conclusion that we are “natural-born cyborgs”.
In 2010, the Cyborg Foundation became the world’s first international organization dedicated to help humans become cyborgs. The foundation was created by cyborg Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas as a response to the growing number of letters and emails received from people around the world interested in becoming a cyborg. The foundation’s main aims are to extend human senses and abilities by creating and applying cybernetic extensions to the body, to promote the use of cybernetics in cultural events and to defend cyborg rights. In 2010, the foundation, based in Matar (Barcelona), was the overall winner of the Cre@tic Awards, organized by Tecnocampus Matar.
In 2012, Spanish film director Rafel Duran Torrent, created a short film about the Cyborg Foundation. In 2013, the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival’s Focus Forward Filmmakers Competition and was awarded with $100,000 USD.