Life as a cyborg: Discovering a new reality with artificial senses
Technology is an all-pervasive phenomenon in today’s modern world, and we, as a society, are under its clutches. Since the late 1970s, continuous efforts are being made to come up with innovations in the field of technology that can aid in human functioning. Terms like machine learning and artificial intelligence have become the key jargon of contemporary times, having a huge influence on social evolution and challenge our imagination with ideas that once seemed impossible. One such phenomenon is cyborg art or cyborgism, which has become a reality among us.
The origin of the term ‘cyborg’, which is a shortened version of ‘cybernetic organism’, can be traced back to 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan S Kline coined it. It denotes any organism having body parts that are both organic and biomechatronic. The cyborg art movement is one where the artists express themselves through the creation of new senses or extending their senses beyond the human physical boundaries by merging cybernetics with their own organism. By virtue of this artwork taking place inside the body of the cyborg artist, they are the only audience of their art.
The exponential growth of technologies integrated into human bodies is evident when just last month the technological mastermind, Elon Musk, disclosed the first details of an electronic brain implant developed by his company Neuralink, ‘to facilitate direct communications between people and machines.’
To get more insight into this subject, on the latest Cyborg Special episode on Financial Fox, host & presenter Stefania Barbaglio engages in a conversation with Barcelona based perceptual artist, Manel Muñoz, who is best known for developing and installing in his own body a cybernetic sensory organ that allows him to perceive the atmospheric changes from his surroundings. Manel Munoz talks about what inspired him to become a cyborg and an unusual way of feeling things around you and perceiving reality.
Muñoz explains how the process of understanding the relationship between the inputs received from the barometric organ and the actual weather conditions needs continuous learning over time, and for that reason, he calls these acquired senses as ‘artificial senses.’
Artificial senses are quite different than artificial intelligence, but they share the root of in-building technology into a process that is primarily human. The Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas led Cyborg Foundation created in 2010 clarifies the difference between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial Senses (AS) in a simpler way, saying that the artificial senses happen when technology gathers the stimuli but the human creates the intelligence- as opposed to Artificial Intelligence where the machine itself creates the intelligence.
Cyborg Munoz says he can feel changes in the weather because of his artificial senses: ‘If the organ was giving me the weather forecast, this would be artificial intelligence, because I don’t need to think about what the forecast will be. But, in my case, I am using or I am having artificial sense because this is giving me like a new input that, maybe with experience, I will learn how the atmospheric pressure works and I will be able to learn and predict the weather,’
Harbisson and Ribas further explain how by designing new senses, our experience of reality becomes much deeper as it is through our senses itself that we perceive the world. That is why the Cyborg Foundation aims for Revealed Reality, and not Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.
Unlike virtual reality, where things and scenarios are a projection and represent an unreal situation, revealed reality encompasses the perception of new dimensions and flows of energy that co-exist in our reality.
Thus, what the cybernetic organs and senses do is they help the cyborg artists in grasping an already existent reality around humans that is otherwise not possible to perceive because of the limitations of the biological body.
Applying this to his own case, Muñoz explains, ‘I am not inventing this atmospheric pressure around me. That already exists around me. But before having this new organ, I wasn’t able to perceive it in this way. So, I am just augmenting the boundaries of my body to be able to perceive more things that are already happening me. I am just reviewing my reality through this organ. Over time, I will be able to better interpret the inputs from my organs and ultimately fully develop a new sense. It is a learning progress also for me. Technology is helping me, it is not giving me answers.’
With technology growing through such massive leaps and bounds, and human beings getting increasingly attached to the idea of connecting everything to the internet, we can only sit back and wait to see what more the future has in store for us.