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April 9, 2017updated 10 Apr 2017 5:08pm

The rise of the cyborg: Are we ready for augmented humans?

Given the amount of criticism IoT security faces, should embedded tech really be a reality?

By Hannah Williams

With the rise of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, many unique innovations have been unveiled across various industries and the field just keeps growing.

The two industries may be in their infancy but they’ve already helped with the creation of a new category called Artificial Sensors.

At the annual SAS Global Forum, Artist and Cyborg activist Neil Harbisson delivered a keynote discussing his Cyborg project which has enabled him to develop artificial sensors that are embedded into the human body to transmit senses.

This began with himself in 2003, when Harbisson became the first person to have an antenna implanted to his skull. The colour blind artist decided to have a sensor embedded to enable him to hear the frequencies of the light in colours. The theory is of sound becoming colour, and colour becoming sound.

On stage at the Global Forum, Harbisson said: “My aim was not to use technology or wear technology, my aim was to become technology. I didn’t want to have a wearable device; I wanted to have a new sensory organ.

Read more: Cisco, SAS look to tame data with Edge-to-Enterprise IoT Analytics

“I wanted an organ that would allow me to sense colour and create a third eye, and have it implanted so I would have a third eye for colour but then I realised that this would just limit my colour perception of what I have in front.

“So then I looked at nature and I saw there are many insects and other species that have antenna’s so I thought that maybe creating a human antenna exclusively for colour perception would be much more useful because then I could sense colours behind me or in front of me just by moving the antenna.”

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Neil Harbisson

Neil Harbisson, Artist and Cyborg activist.

The antenna was not only developed with the ability to sense colours however, it was also made with a feature to send internet transmissions to Harbisson’s brain, enabling him to also gather signals and data from satellites.

With the antenna, Harbisson explained that it also allows him to receive colour from external devices and across the world, something he describes as “a new body part.”

Harbisson hopes that antenna’s and artificial sensors will be identified as new sensory organs (NSO) by 2020- the year IoT devices are also expected to grow by 15 to 20 billion.

“I see this as the use of the internet as a sense or a sensory extension, something I think we’ll start seeing much more of in the 2020’s and that the internet is not only used as a tool or a communication system but also as a sensory extension to allow us to extend our perception of colour and our bodies,” said Harbisson.

However, one thing that is likely to raise questions is the security of these sensors. Already many studies have been released on the UK’s unawareness of the likely security threats imposed by connected devices.

A previous study from Gartner found that along with the rise of the expected number of IoT devices by 2020, over 25 percent of attacks in enterprises will be from IoT.

It was also discovered by HP that the average IoT device has 25 security flaws, many of which organisations and other users are unaware of.

Now if we think of the internet connected sensors which are built to be embedded into human bodies, are they not more likely to lead to more security issues.

Harbisson said: “Creating AS (Artificial Sensors) means that the eye of the intelligence needs to be created by the brain, so it’s collaboration between technology and the brain, intelligence or the knowledge around you.”

This is also a similar concept to founder of Tesla’s, Elon Musk, who recently launched a start-up company named Neuralink which is to focus on the development of a neural lace to embed small electrodes into the brain. This concept is to merge computer technology with the human brain.

The two given examples are not the only ones that have invented such internet sensory extensions to be embedded into the body. This is evidence that along with the rise of artificial sensors, security also needs to be a key factor built into the technology from its inception.

Harbisson’s keynote also opened up the announcement of his newest Cyborg project, Cyborg Nest which he co-founded in 2015 together with other participants to create artificial senses to enable the perception of reality.

Included is the sense of speed and Seismic activity. An example that was given was a sensor planted into the body to create vibration when an earthquake occurs around the world.

Harbisson said: “I feel like I am identified as a cyborg, the word cyborg comes from two words; cybernetics and organism and I feel that I am united logically to cybernetics so identifying as a cyborg really fits what I feel as I feel no difference between software and my brain.”

Artificial Reality, sensors, cyborgs, and more can all individually be discovered as unique types of innovation that pair the internet with the human brain and if the internet as a stand-alone tool is not wholly secure, how are we sure it will be when embedded into the human body?

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