A few weeks ago [Jacob Merz] sent me an email about his sensory expansion project, which allows the wearer to “hear” infrared light by mapping it to specific tones. Although a rough prototype, [Jacob’s] device reflects a larger realm of technological possibilities: the development of a type of “peripheral” for the human body. EDIT: Updated gallery to include new photos and added link to Jacob’s new site.
You’re going to want to listen to [David Eagleman’s] TEDx Alamo talk particularly around 10 minutes in, where he talks about the sonic glasses. [Eagleman] claims that the human brain, if given a consistent input that corresponds to the real world, can decipher the signal into usable information. The sonic glasses, which provide a type of sonar to the blind wearer, eventually just…work. Your brain can “learn” its own drivers for input devices.
If you think the sonic glasses sound more familiar than a 1970’s invention, you’re probably thinking about [Neil Harbisson], who built a similar device to allow him to “hear” colors. Strictly speaking, though [Harbisson] claims to be the first UK cyborg, he’d certainly encounter resistance from [Donna Haraway’s] A Cyborg Manifesto, which argues the concept of the “cyborg” is not new to our era; humans have always used tools to expand their abilities, and even the simplest ones should count toward the classification of cyborg.
This week’s Hacking and Philosophy is much more opened ended. I invite you to speculate on these technologies and how they are integrated into the human body: from prosthesis that seek to replace missing limbs to eager engineering students or tech enthusiasts implanting neodymium magnets into their fingers.
1. Where is this all headed? Are humans going to have essentially plug-in-play devices?
2. What other examples of implanting tech are out there?
3. [Eagleman] is working on some other examples of “sensory substitution.” Could you hack together something useful like this? Or have you already?
[Eagleman’s] TED Talk:
[Harbisson’s] TED Talk:
[Jacob Merz’s] device: