Is It Time To Take Cyborg Rights Seriously? A Q&A With Neil Harbisson.

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Neil Harbisson can “hear” the orange (the color, that is)
Photo by Dan Wilton

This article arises from Future Tense, a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University. On Feb. 28-March 2, Future Tense will be taking part in Emerge, an annual conference on ASU’s Tempe campus about what the future holds for humans. This year’s theme: the future of truth. Visit the Emerge website to learn more and to get your ticket.

At Emerge, Neil Harbisson will be discussing our cyborg future with Future Tense blogger Will Oremus and Frankenstein’s Cat author Emily Anthes. Harbisson was born without the ability to see color, but a device he calls his “eyeborg” allows him to now “hear” color. (He described this in a TED talk in 2012.)  In an email interview below, which has been lightly edited, he talks about his life as a cyborg.

First, tell me a little about your “eyeborg.” What does it do for you?
Color is basically hue, saturation, and light. Right now, I can see light in shades of gray, but I can’t see its saturation or hue. The eyeborg detects the light’s hue, and converts it into a sound frequency that I can hear as a note. It also translates the saturation of the color into volume. So if it’s a vivid red, I will hear it more loudly.

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Cyborg Roaches, Glow-in-the-Dark Fish, and Other Biotechnology Beasts

By  | Posted Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at 10:34 AM

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A remote-controlled flying flower beetle.Photo courtesy Michel Maharbiz.

This article arises from Future Tense, a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University. On Feb. 28-March 2, Future Tense will be taking part in Emerge, an annual conference on ASU’s Tempe campus about what the future holds for humans. This year’s theme: the future of truth. Visit the Emerge website to learn more and to get your ticket.

I have seen the future of animals and it is glowing. Literally.

Three years ago, I set out to explore the world of animal biotechnology, to see just how scientists were using advances in genetics, electronics, and materials science to totally re-engineer and re-invent animal bodies.

I discovered that researchers were genetically engineering cats—and monkeys and mice—that glowed electric green under a black light. They were cloning pets, livestock, and endangered species. And they were using neural implants to create remote-controlled, cyborg critters.

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Mr. Green Genes under a black light.Photo courtesy Audubon Nature Institute.

That wasn’t entirely shocking; biotechnology moves fast, and scientists are capable of dreaming up, and then achieving, remarkable things. What did take me by surprise, however, was how many of these sci-fi, futuristic critters have already made their way out of the laboratory and into our farms, fields, and families.

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