Designing ourselves: The future of cyborgs

In our tech-obsessed world, merging man and machine could be the next logical step – but comes with a whole host of ethical questions. We speak to activist and artist Neil Harbisson about life as a cyborg, and what the future holds for ‘transpecies’

Neil Harbisson’s life is something straight out of a sci-fi film. Born in the UK and raised in Catalonia, the self-professed cyborg activist and artist is easily recognisable thanks to the antenna implanted in his head, which allows him to ‘hear’ both visible colours and invisible ones, such as infrareds and ultraviolets, in the form of vibrations in his skull.

Following a messy legal battle when Harbisson’s passport expired and he had to apply for a new one a few years ago, he is now officially recognised by the UK Government as a cyborg. For most of us, however, the idea of cyborgs still has closer links to sci-fi characters like the Cybermen in the Doctor Who franchise or Darth Vader in Star Wars than real life. Short for cybermetic organism, the official definition of a cyborg is a being – human or otherwise – with both organic and biomechatronic body parts, and was coined in the 60s by US scientists Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.