Cyborg artists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas on physically merging oneself with technology

“I think the more we design ourselves the less we’ll have to design the planet and the less we’ll have to change it.”

Neil Harbisson has an antenna implanted in his skull and his life-long friend Moon Ribas has a seismic sensor implanted in her feet. They are part of a new kind of trans-species, called cyborgs, which represents a deeper interaction between humans and technology.

We caught up with the two after their humorous yet thought-provoking 2019 Design Indaba talk which saw Harbisson give an in-depth look into his antenna surgery that allows him to perceive colour through audible vibrations. Harbisson was born colour-blind so his antenna allows him to experience colour in a different way. 

neil harbisson

“The difference between using and wearing technology is that if you merge with technology you don’t feel like [you are actually] using it. When you use it as a tool you are conscious that you are using it,” he explains.

Adding: “In my case, I’m not always conscious that I have an antenna but impermanently perceiving colours and not feeling that I’m using technology because it's embedded in me.”

Ribas, on the other hand, gave a delicate performance that showcased just how her seismic sensor implants allow her to feel tectonic plates shifting when there is an earthquake. Her movement in her performance coincided with each shift felt.

Talking to Ribas she revealed that her next step is to perform with a live data feed from the moon instead of pre-recorded data sets.

The two also have a keen interest in the politics behind cyborgs. In 2010 they founded the Cyborg Foundation, which sees them promote the cyborg artistic movement, help humans become cyborgs and defend cyborg rights.

Harbisson revealed that one of the challenges that cyborgs face is the recognition of surgeries which are still not seen as ethical.

“We feel now it's not socially acceptable but in the future, it will be seen as ethical and good. I think the more we design ourselves the less we’ll have to design the planet and the less we’ll have to change it,” says Harbisson.

moon ribas

Adding: “For example, if we all had night vision we won’t need to use artificial light. Light would be off, we would not spend energy creating light if we could see at night. If we could control our temperature we would not need to use heaters or air conditioning. So we wouldn't change the temperature of the planet we would change our own temperature.”  

Currently, Harbisson is seen as the first ever cyborg to be recognised by a government but yet there are still rules and regulations which don’t protect cyborgs and this what the duo continue to fight for.

Watch the full interview above.

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