When Harbisson created the eyeborg, Ribas, who grew up with Harbisson outside Barcelona, wanted to develop her own sense. Last year she had a chip implanted in her arm that enables her to feel the vibration of earthquakes around the world.

Therapeutic implants that effectively merge human and machine, such as pacemakers and artificial hips, are already a multi-billion dollar industry, but surgically implanted “senses” are largely a DIY phenomenon that occurs among a community of bio-hackers or ‘grinders’ experimenting with ways to overcome or enhance their biological limitations.

“I think eventually this is going to be something very useful, but right now it’s just a hobbyist or an aesthetic choice,” says Dr. James Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in Connecticut. Lifestyle or productivity enhancements are more likely to take off once the size of the technology decreases, he says, because then implants will be less invasive. Hughes cites the development of nanorobotics as a potential turning point, something we could see by the 2030s. “The risk will be much smaller because these devices will be much smaller,” Hughes believes.

Future Designs

For now, Cyborg Nest is concentrating on creating new senses—including devices to detect certain kinds of pollution, expand human hearing beyond our current range, and provide new ways of sensing time—with technology that’s already available. But don’t expect to see new products on the market straight away. Babitz, the company’s CEO, acknowledges that it’s a process for people to even begin to get their head around the concept. That’s part of the reason they are starting out by merging new technologies with the somewhat more familiar art of body modification. “Legislation is not ready, health systems are not ready,” for Cyborg Nest’s vision of the future, Babitz says, and safety is a key priority. “We’re dealing with people’s bodies so there is a certain responsibility.”

A recent report surveying the top tech trends of 2016 suggests that people are beginning to embrace the idea, at least in theory. Ericsson ConsumerLab queried more than 6,000 smartphone users and found that 80% of respondents would like to augment their sensory perceptions and cognitive capabilities with technology. Cyborg Nest declined to share the number of pre-orders it has received for North Sense, but Babitz says the team has gotten positive responses from a diverse range of people.

“In the future maybe instead of asking, ‘What did you study? Where are you from?’ It will be, ‘What sense do you have? Or, ‘How do you experience the planet?’” says Ribas. “We always said that everybody can choose their own perception.”

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