Updated: Dec 16, 2021
"We are the first generation ABLE TO decide what organs and senses WE WANT to have" - Cyborg Foundation.
We live in a society where the first generation of cyborgs is walking among us. The technology has been developed in such a way that people with certain conditions or the desire to become one with the machine have embraced the idea of cyborgism to the extent of adding or improving their movements or senses. The issue is that not everyone is aware of cyborgism as a concept, especially when it comes to legislation or policies that promote or defend cyborgs' rights. Regarding the literature on this topic, it is clear that there is a great lack of research. While it is understandable because this case has not reached global awareness, it is upsetting for the citizens who belong to this new trans-species because they do not hold the rights they would need or want.
In a conference from 7 to 9 June 2010 in Wollongong, NSW, Australia, Clarke mentions the origins of the term "cyborg", which entered the language in the '60s. When using this term, Clynes and Kline (quoted in Clarke, 2010) referred to
"an enhanced human being who could survive in extraterrestrial environments".
However, Clarke's (ibid., p. 10) definition is somewhat different:
"a cyborg is a human with whom mechanical and/or electronic parts have been integrated".
Other scholars, such as Kagui (2020) have other definitions:
"a cyborg is a person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body".
In any case, a cyborg is a person who added mechanical elements to their body to extend their physical abilities beyond normal human limitations, whether it is an antenna connected to the brain or other devices implemented in or attached to the body. Even if some societies cannot comprehend the idea, cyborgs are still citizens, and citizens have rights.
The Cyborg Bill of Rights V1.0
Freedom from disassembly
"A person shall enjoy the sanctity of bodily integrity and be free from unnecessary search, seizure, suspension or interruption of function, detachment, dismantling, or disassembly without due process".
2. Freedom of Morphology
"A person shall be free (speech clause) to express themselves through temporary or permanent adaptions, alterations, modifications, or augmentations to the shape or form of their bodies. Similarly, a person shall be free from coerced or otherwise involuntary morphological changes".
3. Equality for mutants
"A legally recognised mutant shall enjoy all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities extended to natural persons".
4. Right to bodily sovereignty
"A person is entitled to dominion over intelligences and agents, and their activities, whether they are acting as permanent residents, visitors, registered aliens, trespassers, insurgents, or invaders within the person's body and its domain".
5. Right to organic naturalisation
"A person shall be free from exploitive or injurious 3rd party ownerships of vital and supporting bodily systems. A person is entitled to the reasonable accrual of ownership interest in 3rd party properties affixed, attached, embedded, implanted, injected, infused, or otherwise permanently integrated with a person's body for a long-term purpose".
This Cyborg Bill of Rights V1.0 was proposed in 2016 by Rich MacKinnon, a researcher, and activist, according to the Cyborg Foundation's website. The Cyborg Foundation is, as stated on their official website, an online platform for "the research, development and promotion of project related to the creation of new senses and perceptions by applying technology to the human body" founded by Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas.
"Our mission is to help people become cyborgs, promote cyborg art and defend cyborg rights" - ibid.
- the first cyborg legally recognized by a government -
Neil Harbisson is one of the most well-known cyborgs. He fights for cyborg rights by trying to reach awareness at conferences, talks, festivals, television but he is also one of the founders of the Cyborg Foundation. According to Kagui (2020), Harbisson became the first person in the world "to be legally recognized as a cyborg by a government". Moreover, Kagui discusses how "he considers his antenna to be a part of his body as it allows him to hear color, which he cannot otherwise experience due to being born achromatic, or color-blind" (ibid.).
This Cyborg Antenna is, according to Kagui (2020):
"a sensory system that was created to extend color perception, and it is implanted as well as osseo-integrated in Harbisson’s head".
Moreover, this new addition allows him to get phone calls, receive videos or images that are translated into audible vibrations, measure electromagnetic radiation, or communicate "from tooth to tooth" (ibid.) to his other cyborg friend, Moon Riba; the first female cyborg and co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation.
However, even if attaching this antenna to his body was Harbisson's choice, he encountered issues only because of the lack of regulations and awareness in society.
In 2011, he was in Barcelona at a demonstration, when the police thought that he was filming them through his antenna, and they damaged it (ibid.). He did not file for damages to personal property, as Kagui (2020) mentions, instead, he filed for physical aggression because that antenna is part of his body. Then, in 2014, one of the most important moments in the cyborg's history happened when he tried to renew his British passport but "was rejected because the photo he used contained an electrical device on his head" (ibid.). However, in a few weeks, he became the first legally recognized cyborg by the British government and also in the world.
In an interview with Bosch (2013), Harbisson gives another definition:
"I believe that being a cyborg is a feeling, it’s when you feel that a cybernetic device is no longer an external element but a part of your organism. One can start feeling cyborg by simply attaching an infrared sensor at the back of the head, a sensor that vibrates when someone gets close to you. If you wear the sensor attached to your body permanently, the brain will gradually accept the new feeling as an extra sense that can enhance your own perception of the surroundings" - Harbisson quoted by Bosch (2013).
He goes on by expressing his annoyance with the fact that there is no legal protection for cyborgs.
"In 2010, I started the Cyborg Foundation to defend our rights. Cyborgs have been kicked out from several places because they are seen as a possible security threat. I’ve been kicked out from places such as Harrods, Casino Montecarlo, and many supermarkets. Most cinemas don’t let me in because they think I’m going to record the film. Some countries don’t allow you to appear with any electronic equipment on passport photographs. In 2004 I was allowed to appear with the eyeborg in my passport photograph, which has made things a lot easier in airports" - ibid.
All things considered, cyborgs are humans too, even if they implemented some mechanical parts in their human bodies. Therefore, they should be accepted as citizens, which means that they need legal protection, more policies, and legislations that acknowledge them as citizens.
Bosch, T. (2013) Is It Time To Take Cyborg Rights Seriously? A Q&A With Neil Harbisson. Slate Magazine. Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2013/02/neil-harbisson-q-a-with-the-eyeborg-on-cyborg-rights.html (Accessed 1 November 2021).
Clarke, R. (2010) Cyborg rights. 2010 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society. pp. 9-22. DOI: 10.1109/ISTAS.2010.5514655 (Accessed 2 November 2021).
Kagui, O. (2020) Human Cyborgs: Neil Harbisson and Future Possibilities. Youth-time.eu. Available at: https://youth-time.eu/human-cyborgs-neil-harbisson-and-future-possibilities/ (Accessed 1 November 2021).
This article is written as part of an assignment for the Digital Activism class in the MA Media and Creative Cultures program at the University of Greenwich.