Designing our bodies: How tech is altering what it means to be human

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Photographer and artist Chen Man is CNN Model’s visitor editor. She has commissioned a series of features on visible language and imagining the longer term.

From tribal piercings to the figurative tattoos of prehistory, people have been modifying their our bodies for millennia. However advances in prosthetics, implants and bioengineering are permitting us to change ourselves in new and unprecedented methods — not solely to beautify or overcome deficiencies, however to boost and exceed our present capabilities.

Under, bionic artist Viktoria Modesta, bio-hacker Amal Graafstra and the world’s first acknowledged cyborg, Neil Harbisson, describe, of their phrases, how and why they’ve chosen to remodel their our bodies.

All three defy categorization and eschew the widely-used time period “body-hacker.” However regardless of the title — bio-hackers, neuro-hackers, futurists or in any other case — this ever-growing group is difficult the very notion of what it means to be human.

Viktoria Modesta, bionic pop artist, futurist

Viktoria Modesta is a “bionic artist” whose work explores the intersection of artwork, science, music, know-how and design. She is a fellow at MIT Media Lab and has carried out at museums, festivals, trend weeks and the London Paralympic Video games. Her work, which incorporates the viral hit “Prototype,” challenges our notions of capability and identification.
Viktoria Modesta, wearing her prosthetic limb, "Spike."

Viktoria Modesta, carrying her prosthetic limb, “Spike.” Credit score: Lukazs Suchorab

After I underwent a voluntary leg amputation on the age of 20, I used to be shocked to study that medical doctors felt it was extra acceptable for me to be in fixed ache and for my entire physique to undergo, than it was to have my broken leg eliminated and changed with a synthetic one. That course of highlighted an unhealthy obsession with how we worth the organic physique.

We determine with our our bodies as what defines who we’re. However going via the choice to amputate gave me a deeper sense of self. It made me interested in how we will transcend this inflexible view — to method the physique in a artistic means and take extra care with the issues we create.

My important motivation has at all times been about elevating the bar on requirements and expectations, which I’ve at all times discovered offensively low for girls — particularly these with disabilities. As a child, adults checked out me as if I used to be destined for nothing, which I discovered actually puzzling. I felt sturdy and imaginative, and I by no means recognized with that picture of being incapable.

My view of prosthetics has undergone an evolution.

At one level, I noticed it as a type of salvation — and a type of feminism — to have the ability to take cost of my physique and select what my leg seems like. After my first few prosthetics, it turned all about how they are often an artwork type and a press release of expression and trend.

"My main motivation has always been about raising the bar on standards and expectations, which I have always found offensively low for women -- especially those with disabilities."

“My important motivation has at all times been about elevating the bar on requirements and expectations, which I’ve at all times discovered offensively low for girls — particularly these with disabilities.” Credit score: Lukazs Suchorab

Many of the synthetic artwork limbs I personal outcome from a collaboration with the Alternative Limb Project. Crystal, a prosthetic encrusted with Swarovski crystals, was created for the Paralympic Video games’ closing ceremony; Spike, a black lacquered, geometric prosthetic; and Gentle which accommodates LEDs, each featured in my viral music video “Prototype.” By working with tech-facing artists and designers, I’m now creating many conceptual tasks fusing prosthetics, trend, musical devices and rising applied sciences.

These days it appears that evidently the prosthetics house is altering from a primary medical business to a shopper one, and it is being infiltrated by designers and engineers from different fields.

Medical assistive gadgets have gotten extra like some other aesthetic and technological options present in our lives. From the issues I’ve seen in growth, it might be more and more widespread to have inner sensors that may mission knowledge from contained in the physique, uniting all types of tech wearables.

Whether or not it is clothes that displays your well being, bionic limbs managed by the ability of thought, or robotic apparel that responds to the surroundings, we’re heading for a neuro-connected, expressive future the place know-how will likely be an intimate extension of our selves.

We’re all interfacing with know-how. It is perhaps for various functions like drugs, way of life, artwork or just a manifesto, however this segregation is simply a type of human illusions.

It would not matter whether or not you determine as a cyborg or transhumanist, or when you’re an amputee, gamer, or older individual kitted out with medical tech inside your physique. Technologically superior human our bodies are the longer term, and the longer term is already right here.

For me, fusing my physique with know-how looks like a philosophical exploration of humanity. It’s artwork.

Neil Harbisson, cyborg and designer of synthetic senses

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first legally acknowledged cyborg. He has an antenna implanted in his cranium which transposes colours into audible vibrations. Since 2010, Harbisson has run Cyborg Foundation, a web-based platform devoted to researching and creating synthetic senses, selling cyborg artwork and defending cyborg rights.
Neil Harbisson is the world's first legally recognized cyborg.

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first legally acknowledged cyborg. Credit score: Lars Norgaard

I outline what I do as neuro-hacking relatively than “biohacking” or “bodyhacking” as a result of my final goal is to vary the thoughts. However, so as to take action, I’ve to vary my physique.

Throughout my research at artwork faculty, I turned concerned about sensing issues that I could not in any other case sense — which meant shade (I used to be identified with achromatopsia, or full color-blindness, as a toddler).

Utilizing know-how, I co-created an antenna — that I’ve implanted to this present day — which permits me to understand colours. The antenna senses shade frequencies, which attain me as completely different audible vibrations. It was chaotic at first as a result of, as a synthetic sense, it took longer for my mind to course of. I could not inform the colours aside, and it took me many months — and a variety of memorization — to really perceive and identify the colours.

However slowly, after many months, the method turned automated. My mind started to remodel sensory enter into notion. My sense of what is lovely has modified too. Now, experiences that I usually would not have discovered stimulating — like strolling down a grocery store aisle — are. In an aisle, there are many completely different vibrations of colours that, to me, are very flattering.

Neil Harbisson developed a sensor that could allow him to "hear" colors.

Neil Harbisson developed a sensor that might enable him to “hear” colours. Credit score: Lars Norgaard

This mission is creative in intent. As a result of artwork has no guidelines, legal guidelines or boundaries, I really feel like there’s a variety of freedom once you contextualize a mission in artwork. It permits me to suppose freely about what I need and the way I need it. On this case, I am not attempting to resolve an issue, I am attempting to discover alternate realities and clear up my curiosity in direction of shade.

The aim of the Cyborg Basis, which I co-founded in 2010, is to create senses and organs that are not historically human.

Whereas the medical area normally focuses on creating — recreating — pre-existing senses and physique elements, the inspiration focuses on innovating new ones. For instance, my fellow co-founder, Moon Ribas, has implanted seismic sensors in her ft in order that at any time when there’s an earthquake on this planet or a moonquake on the Moon, she feels it in her physique.

One other artist, Manel Muñoz, has biometric ears that may understand modifications in climate. After which there’s Kai Landre, who’s creating a sensor that enables him to really feel cosmic rays. By including these new senses, we will reveal realities that exist already in nature, however that the human physique or mind can not but understand. The groups engaged on these tasks all come from completely different backgrounds. There are artists, designers, medical doctors, pc scientists — a number of fields collaborating to create new senses.

Most individuals suppose these creations aren’t essential for us to perform. That is as a result of for 1000’s of years we, as a species, have been altering the planet relatively than our our bodies to be able to survive. However I believe that is the flawed method.

Individuals would possibly say they do not want extra senses, however at evening they activate the lights. But when people really had evening imaginative and prescient, we would not must create synthetic mild. As an alternative of utilizing air con when it is scorching, or heaters when it is chilly, could not we simply modify the temperature of our our bodies? We must always look to designing and altering ourselves.

Amal Graafstra, invisible bio-hacker

Since 2005, Amal Graafstra has had a number of chips, RFID tags and even a magnet implanted into his fingers, arms and higher physique. He’s the founding father of Dangerous Things, a bio-hacking firm, and VivoKey, a digital identification platform aiming to make safe implants accessible to on a regular basis shoppers.
None of Amal Graafstra's implants are visible. An implant in his left hand allows him to unlock passwords.

None of Amal Graafstra’s implants are seen. An implant in his left hand permits him to unlock passwords. Credit score: Andrea Hartwig

I’ve at all times been fascinated by know-how. After I began doing IT for a medical clinic, I started to see the healthcare system’s inside workings — how medical doctors are simply mechanics, and when it comes to how we diagnose, deal with and repair it, the physique is only a machine.

This expertise eliminated the mystique of medication. It additionally eroded the concept the pores and skin was some kind of sacred barrier. Though chip implants are safer than ear piercings, individuals are inclined to have an “ick” response to them, whereas tooth fillings and breast implants are completely acceptable. The distinction has nothing to do with the gadget or implant process, it is purposes that drive adoption.

“Bio-hacking” is an umbrella time period which means something from DNA hacking to bionics to easy way of life modifications. The time period “hack” has a unfavourable connotation, but it surely’s highly effective once you perceive that it actually means an unconventional method or resolution. All good, environment friendly hacks turn into mundane — they’re now not a hack, they’re simply how issues are carried out.

If an implant is designed nicely — in different phrases, it is frictionless, management-less and also you give it as a lot thought as you do your kidneys (in different phrases, none in any respect) — then it is a part of you. It isn’t a software that you’ve got picked up like a smartphone, it is really altering your capabilities as a human. That is philosophically, basically and, as I am certain we’re destined to see, legally completely different from any software.

An x-ray of Amal Graafstra's hands reveal his implants. One of them helps him unlock doors without keys.

An x-ray of Amal Graafstra’s fingers reveal his implants. Certainly one of them helps him unlock doorways with out keys. Credit score: Amal Graafstra

Worry of know-how is rampant. The truth that my augmentations are inner — they are not seen — positively helps when it comes to my each day interactions. I do not usually have to fret about stigma or prejudice from the un-augmented. The everyday visible cues that may usually betray the actual fact I am “completely different” are simply not there. Most “bio-hackers” can select to reveal their augmentations or resolve to maintain them personal.

I believe a synaptic brain-computer interface is type of the holy grail. Think about we had artificial synapses that might dock and alternate neurotransmitter molecules with natural synapses. We may pay a digital neural service to fireside up 100 billion additional neurons to suppose via issues, then shut them down as soon as we’re carried out. It might intellectually free us, as a species, from the confines of biology.

The fixed wrestle to boost our capabilities is the very definition of humanity. After we’re actually in a position to digitally develop our minds, we are going to start transcending the human situation.



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