The North Sense. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
If humans are going to be augmented with implanted technology and head towards a cyborg, transhumanist future, it's got to start somewhere. Somewhere small, perhaps. The founders of Cyborg Nest are hoping they've taken the first steps towards that reality with their "artificial sense," North Sense.
North Sense is a small piece of technology, a cyborg piercing, that's embedded into the skin, the chest area or elsewhere, using titanium rods. These rods, or barbells, anchor an electronic device which, once calibrated, vibrates when facing north, providing the user with a sixth sense, one focused on orientation which connects them to the earth's magnetic field. Two of the co-founders of Cyborg Nest, Scott Cohen and Liviu Babitz, revealed their implanted devices at a press conference in London on Wednesday, marking the first time the North Sense has ever been attached to a human body.
"It is hard to put into words only a few hours after attaching the North Sense but the feeling I am left with is profound." Cohen said. "The impact of immediately sensing my position created a permanent memory. I vaguely recall the colors and sounds in the room but I remember my position vividly."
Liviu Babitz with his implanted North Sense. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
At the press conference Skyping via video conference were two of the other co-founders of the company, artists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas. Harbisson has an antennae implanted in his head which gives him the synesthetic sense of "hearing" color. Ribas has a sensor in her arm which lets her detect earthquakes, giving her a "seismic sense." Both Harbisson and Ribas also run the Cyborg Foundation, a organization dedicated to the ethical and human rights issues surrounding technological enhancement of the human body.
The founders of Cyborg Nest. Liviu Babitz, Scott Cohen with Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas on video conference. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
Cyborg Nest, on the other hand, is a commercial enterprise whose aim is to bring bodyhacking augmentation to the masses. According to Cohen and Babitz, they've sold many units of their North Sense, which have been on sale for a number of months—but haven't shipped any just yet. Cohen and Babitz are essentially the very first guinea pigs.
Babitz notes there are some theories which say humans once had a sixth sense, the north sense, providing the ability to know which way was magnetic north—this implant could potentially be a way to reconnect to that. "This was not another step towards us becoming machines, but towards us becoming more human," Babitz has said. "We are curious and want to sense and understand more than what we could with our natural born senses."
North Sense. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
The next stage for them is to now see how the device will affect not just their sense of direction, but how it might change the whole way their brain and body interface when it comes to orientation. That's the long game, over the next year or so.
But like someone would need to get used to seeing or smelling for the first time, the aim over the next few weeks is to wear it a few hours each day. And then see, not only if it will expand their senses and change body behavior, but also, because the device feels the magnetic pull of the planet, help them develop a sense of the living earth—and, ultimately, respect it more.
The North Sense circuit board. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
So the cyborg experiment, the commercial one where the public at large are involved, has begun, and Cyborg Nest believe that in ten years time we might all have devices implanted in us, augmenting us with senses we never thought we would have. However, unlike the endeavors of pioneers like Ribas and Harbisson, whose enhancements are unique to them, the North Sense allows anyone with $350.00 to spare to begin their cyborg journey—and share that experience with other like-minded transhumans.
"Now, suddenly, there is going to be a group of people having the same thing, having the same experience," says Babitz. "If for now the [current] knowledge was based on their [the pioneers'] experiences and they were very nice in sharing everything and explaining, it's still a personal experience. But now it is going to be a larger experience for many people that are all going to have the same sense. So it will give everybody a much bigger perspective from which to do research."
Scott Cohen and Liviu Babitz. Image courtesy of Cyborg Nest
You can learn more about Cyborg Nest and the North Sense at the company's website here.