Coding matters: Your cyborg rights

Your cyborg identity - image of a woman sitting next to a cyborg and drinking coffee (generated by AI)

The frenzy about AI and ChatGPT makes me wonder how long until more fiction becomes reality.

Androids and cyborgs have been part of stories and movies for decades. The traditional definition is that androids are robots that look and act like humans. Cyborgs are humans augmented with machine or computer parts to provide enhanced abilities.

We already have cyborgs

I have a confession to make. Until last week, I had never heard of Neil Harbisson. In 2004, the British government officially recognised Harbisson as the first human cyborg. It's a good thing he didn't apply for that status in South Africa. It took me 3 years to get a (human) ID number for a (human) person born here!

Harbisson is an artist who was born with the inability to see colour. A cyborg antenna was implanted into his head. This allows him to feel and hear colours as audible vibrations inside his head. (Not surprising, anonymous doctors did the implant surgery after bioethical committees refused.)

I found Harbisson's 2012 Ted Talk fascinating. I understand his motivation, although I can't imagine having an antenna fixed to my head. He also has an internet connection implant to receive colours. Which has once been hacked.

Cyborg rights

Harbisson founded the Cyborg Institute in 2010, with fellow artist Moon Ribas. Ribas has sensors in her feet that are wirelessly connected to online seismographs. As a dancer, she wants to feel earthquakes through vibrations. I don't pretend to understand this. But then I'm not an artist. And I don't want to be the subject of a medical experiment.

The Cyborg Foundation has a Bill of Rights for cyborgs. This includes "freedom from disassembly" and "equality for mutants" (its terms, not mine).

A South African cyborg?

Criminal record aside, Oscar Pistorius made news headlines as a disabled athlete. I certainly never thought of him as a cyborg. But maybe he could be the first South African cyborg?

Your cyborg identity

In a 2017 video interview, Harbisson spoke about cyborg identity. Many people with sophisticated prosthetic limbs do not identify as cyborg. That I understand.

But apparently some people identify as cyborg without having any implants or wearable technology. This boggles my mind. We've all wanted some superhero power. And I do sometimes wish for replacement body parts. But I'd never thought about identifying as other than human.

Your transpecies identity

Which show how little I know. The Cyborg Institute started something called the Transpecies Society. Its purpose is to give voice to people with non-human identities.

The site is in Japanese, and the Google translation is a bit strange. One article describes robots as "beings that heal loneliness with their lovely appearance". This seems to be a promotion for the "emotionally enhanced" Lovot robot. It's cute, but not exactly a sentient species.

I don't know if it's polite to ask about your cyborg and transpecies identity. But I'd really love to know if you identify as cyborg. Please share your thoughts on your transpecies identity.

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