Half Man, Half Machine: Real Cyborgs You Didn’t Know Existed
The Medical Bag’s body modification series has explored everything from permanent makeup to lip and eyelid sewing, but this edition has more of a technological twist. Cyborgs seem to be a concept for the distant future, but believe it or not, bionic humans are no longer the stuff of science fiction. A cyborg is anyone whose body is aided with an electronic or mechanical device. Did you know that 10% of Americans are estimated to be cyborgs? If your grandma has cochlear implants, she’s a cyborg. If your grandpa has a pacemaker, he’s a cyborg. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most fascinating and unique real-life cyborgs who you didn’t know existed.
In May 2001, Jesse Sullivan was electrocuted so severely that both of his arms needed to be amputated. The life-changing accident, however, led to him becoming one of the world’s first cyborgs when he was fitted with a bionic limb connected through a nerve-muscle graft. Thanks to the technology, Sullivan can now do things that he never thought he would ever be able to do again. Not only can he control the new limb with his mind, but he can also feel hot, cold, and the amount of pressure his grip is applying.
Kevin Warwick is cybernetics professor at the University of Reading in the UK who has offered up his own body for the sake of science. As the founder of Project Cyborg, Warwick uses himself as a guinea pig to become the world’s most complete cyborg. He’s been experimenting with the technology since 1998, when he implanted a microchip in his arm that allowed him to operate doors, lights, heaters, and other devices through arm gestures.
Jerry Jalava lost half of one of his fingers in a motorcycle accident, but instead of settling for a common prosthetic replacement, he upgraded it to a 2GB USB drive. Whereas it isn’t permanently attached to his finger, the drive is installed inside a rubber tip that fits onto the nub of his finger where Jalava can now usefully store files. Jalava has said that he is thinking of upgrading to an MP3 player.
Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, an extreme form of color blindness that allowed him to only see in black-and-white. After being implanted with a specialized electronic eye, he is now capable of experiencing colors beyond the scope of normal perception. The device renders perceived colors as sounds on the musical scale, allowing him to “hear” color. Harbisson has adapted so well to the new way of perceiving color that his brain has formed neural pathways that allow him to develop an advanced kind of perception. “For me, a cyborg is someone who feels their technology is a part of their biology,” he says. “They have integrated a device or devices into their body and this has added something to their senses or capability above and beyond what’s currently normal for humans.”
- Carroll M. Part human, part machine, cyborgs are becoming a reality. Newsweek website. July 31, 2014. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/08/cyborgs-are-walking-among-us-262132.html.
- Frucci A. Tales of human upgrades: Jerry Jalava’s USB finger. Gizmodo website. November 10, 2009. http://gizmodo.com/5401592/tales-of-human-upgrades-jerry-jalavas-usb-finger.
- Introducing Jesse Sullivan, the world’s first “Bionic Man.” Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago website. http://www.ric.org/research/accomplishments/Bionic.
- Nelson B. 7 real-life human cyborgs. Mother Nature Network website. April 25, 2013. http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/7-real-life-human-cyborgs.