In recent days, the story of Manel de Aguas has not stopped going around the internet. As he himself explained, in 2020, this young man from Barcelona decided to implant two sensors with which to listen to humidity, atmospheric pressure and temperature; and, thanks to those fins, he began to “rethink his identity and began to connect with nature and other species.” “I’m not 100% human“, El Español headlined directly.
And it’s not hard not to be 100% human in today’s world. Aguas himself commented how such routine things as renewing the DNI entailed numerous administrative problems. And that is precisely the most interesting part of the story. Above all, because in recent years biohackers, cyborgs and sociotechnological experiences in an increasingly broad sense have not stopped emerging. What space do all these new realities have in today’s world?
When fiction starts to become (very) real
“I think I’m trans.” That is one of the plot lines with which ‘Years and years’, the famous HBO series, started. The young Bethany-Bisme Lyons confesses to her parents the problem that has been worrying her for the last few months/years. Her parents, people who are very open about gender diversity, she feels reassured at that moment. Until Bethany adds that she doesn’t: “I’m not transsexual, I’m transhuman”.
The metaphor is not very subtle (Bethany dreams of going to a Swiss clinic to be converted into data and live forever in the cloud), but it helps us to preempt any of the problems that the appearance of new technologies could generate. It is not a novelty in recent years, of course (the term ‘cybernetics’ was coined by Norbert Wiener in 1948 and ‘cyborgs’ have been roaming freely in contemporary culture since at least 1966).
Moreover, if we go further back, many specialists speak of the Homo habilis as the first cyborg: as the first link in a chain of animals whose way of relating to the world is “artificial extension”. I mean, us. However, that is the most basic definition of a cyborg. As soon as we can think, we realize that there is much more beyond. In fact, that “beyond” is already among us.
An increasingly noisy minority
The case of Manel de Aguas is striking because it has an important aesthetic component and, furthermore, because of the reflections on how this technical alteration affects his identity. Nevertheless, the use of biointegrated sensors has been on the table for many years. In 2017, without going any further, the North American software company Three Square Market announced that it would make implants available to employees who wanted them (Verychip type) that would allow them new functionalities such as opening doors, accessing computers, making photocopies, pay for purchases from vending machines.
The interest seems to have been fundamentally advertising, but it shows how in recent years the “cyborg” has begun its small niche to grow in attention. There is no doubt that the most famous case is that of Neil Harbisson, who was born with a congenital disease that prevented him from seeing colors (achromatopsia) and since 2004 he has had a sensor integrated into his skull that allows him to associate colors with sounds and recognize them. thus; but we must not forget that numerous artists and biohackers They’ve been doing ‘experiments’ like this for years..
In Spain, for example, the Catalan artist Moon Ribas has an online seismic sensor implanted in her wrist that, apart from earthquakes, allows her to measure the speed at which the people around her move. And in Europe, the professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, Kevin Warwick implanted in 2002 a neural interface connected to the median nerve that consisted of 100 electrodes and allowed him to control a mechanical arm through the internet.
The law is not there, nor is it expected
There is an old story by Stanislaw Lem in which a racing driver progressively replaces his body with gadgets of all kinds until there is nothing left of his “biological self”. In the story, a trial is held as to whether Mr. Smith is somebody or, instead, just a bunch of wires and pots and pans. Without reaching that point, Neil Harbisson was always well aware that the technological challenges are fundamental, but the legal and social ones are also.
He knows it well, not in vain is he the first human to be “recognized as a cyborg” by a government, the British. For this reason, he, together with Moon Ribas, created the Cyborg Foundation in 2010, based in Mataró, to “help humans become cyborgs.”
They haven’t made much progress, really. To this day, many self-declared cyborgs live in a gray area. And we talk about technological implants, but the truth is that today non-medical body modifications remain a highly controversial topic. A few years ago, we discussed the case of a 73-year-old American who suffered from “body integrity identity disorder” and had had a healthy leg amputated. To do it he had to go to an Asian country (about which he, at the time, he did not want to give more details)
But the truth is that in that same story (as in that of Manel de Aguas) we see that in a globalized world like the current one it is very difficult to control that citizens do not modify their body or their genome. Namely, reality is putting the legal systems of half the world on the ropes. We must remember that we live in a world in which there are already genetically altered people and, despite the break caused by the international scandal after the first births, the techniques are working and if we are not careful they can end up generating a real dystopia in our own home .
Image | Markus Spike