Moon Ribas might just be the most normal looking cyborg you’ll meet. Unlike the contingent of extreme biohackers or “grinders,” the 30-year old Spanish avant-garde artist’s superpower—or self-imposed aberration—is not immediately obvious. Ribas has a tiny magnet near the crook of her elbow that allows her to feel all tremors and earthquakes anywhere on earth, in real time.
Like her longtime artistic partner Neil Harbisson, who has a color-sensing antenna permanently attached to his cranium, Ribas says the external physical change is not the point of being a cyborg. “I modified my body, to modify my mind,” says Ribas. As you can see in the video above, she translates the tremors she feels in her arm into dance movements.
But why the need for the surgically-implanted body hack?
“I want to perceive movement in a deeper way, “ explains Ribas, a choreographer who studied movement at Dartington College in the UK. “The planet moves, constantly shaking and moving everyday. I thought it would be amazing to translate the massive and natural movements of the planet in a different way.”
Ribas’ subdermal implant receives data from a custom iPhone app that aggregates seismic activity from geological monitors around the world. She describes the physical sensation as akin to having a phone vibrate in your pocket. The stronger the quake, the stronger the vibration.
During the 7.8 earthquake that devastated parts of Nepal last year, strong vibrations pulsating in Ribas’ arm woke her in the middle of the night. “It felt very weird, like I was there,” she says. “I feel connected to the people who suffer through an earthquake.” This “seismic sense,” has become like her second heartbeat, says Ribas.
Having been attuned to the shifts and grumblings of tectonic plates for the last three years, Ribas says earthquakes are misunderstood. “I think it’s unfair that our perception of earthquakes are all bad. Earthquakes are part of the evolution of our planet. The bad thing is that humans haven’t adapted to this natural phenomenon,” she muses. Ribas says that if only city planners had a deeper understanding of the science of earthquakes, maybe large cities would not have been built above active tectonic plates. “We still need to learn how to live in our own planet.”
To sharpen her seismic sense, Ribas is considering getting implants on her feet so she could immediately discern where earthquakes occur in the world. “Maybe I’ll use each toe to define each continent, but that’s still in process,” she says.
Ribas and Harbisson are looking to collaborate with engineers and technologists to improve their cybernetic implants.