Suspension of Disbelief: Seven Real Life Cyborgs With Microchips in Their Bodies
Retina Microchips have also been used to restore partial sight to people who had been completely blind for more than a decade. Chris James and Robin Millar were the first recipients of microchips designed to replace their retinas, which had failed due to a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. In a clinical trial conducted by the Oxford Eye Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London, James and Millar underwent ten-hour operations in which a three millimeter microchip was placed on the back of their eyeballs. The chip is connected to a power supply behind their ears which can control the sensitivity of the device. Light comes into the eye and hits the chip’s 1,500 sensors, which then transmit that data down along the optic nerve and into their brains. James described turning on the chip for the first time as like someone taking a photo with the flash on right in his face. The devices don’t restore perfect sight though. The men can make out outlines and sense light, and only in black-and-white. Millar said that having the microchip did have one unexpected consequence: it allowed him to dream in color for the first time in 25 years.
Science fiction has a plethora of ideas about what happened in the past and what to expect from the future. Unfortunately, not all of those ideas are exactly plausible in reality. In Suspension of Disbelief, we’ll take a look at the best ideas from sci-fi movies, books, comics and videogames to see where (and if) they intersect with the real world.
Cyborgs tend to get a bad rap. The Terminator’s only organic components are a disguise so it can kill people easier and Darth Vader’s machine body is a metaphor for his fall to the Dark Side. Even if you’re a good cyborg, having electronic upgrades is typically linked to a certain detachment from humanity, like with RoboCop. The idea being that the more enhancements you have, the less human you can be. In Deus Ex, augmented humans are a subjugated minority, feared by their unaugmented brethren and quarantined in ghettos. Our science-fiction tends to reflect a natural fear of enhancing the human body through electronics and, frankly, that reaction isn’t far off from reality for a lot of modern cyborgs.
A good portion of modern cybernetics consists of microchips which can be easily placed into the body to collect data and perform simple functions. Scientists, researchers, and doctors around the world have been experimenting with implanted microchips to help people with disabilities. On the other hand, do-it-yourself cyborgs, often called biohackers or grinders, use their own bodies as laboratories to test the ways that they can enhance and advance the human body.
They may not be as technologically advanced as their fictional counterparts but the backlash that microchipped people face is often quite severe. Take a look at the comments under any YouTube video discussing biohacking and you’ll get an idea for the kind of visceral reaction some people feel when they think about putting a microchip in their bodies. Most negative reactions revolve around the fear of a malicious government or individual hacking or tracking the chip (an unfounded fear since most chips aren’t GPS enabled). Conservative Christian groups have also stood in opposition to the voluntary enhancements, referring to the chips (which are sometimes placed in the right hand) as the Mark of the Beast, mentioned in the Book of Revelation as being on the right hand.
Biohackers argue that there are more pressing issues facing microchipped and enhanced people, like protecting their right to bodily autonomy, a core tenet of transhumanism. Transhumanism is the belief that humanity can and should be improved through the use of technology. They insist that their enhancements should be treated like any other organ and that the government can’t just take them or any data that may be stored on them. They argue that there should be laws in place to protect a biohacker when someone else purposely damages their implant.
Transhumanists, biohackers, and many scientists, engineers, and inventors, including Elon Musk, believe that humanity’s future lies in its ability and willingness to merge itself with its technological creations. Lofty ideas about seeing in the dark and downloading memories are often floated by transhumanists, and they may seem far-fetched, but the future might be closer than you think.
Click through the gallery to see the wide range of applications microchips have in the human body. None of these images have any gore, but if you’re sensitive about needles, surgery, or blood, be warned: this might freak you out a little.