Rob Spence calls himself a cyborg; or more accurately, an “Eyeborg.” After a childhood accident left him half blind, he found a fix as an adult: replacing the bad eye with a video camera. It’s an example of human-machine merging that brings to mind Ray Kurzweil’s singularity or Elon Musk’s neural lace — visions of the future that Spence thinks are already on the way.
“It excites me and scares me,” Spence tells Inverse, referring to Musk’s neural lace dream. “Much like I am sure my eye excites yet creeps out other people.”
It’s true that his camera eyes — of which he’s had about six — are striking. Apart from one version, they aren’t made to look like realistic human eyeballs, and Spence says that people often don’t know how to react when they see his face.
How did he make the devices? Spence assembled engineers, camera makers, and fake eye designers into a team he effusively praises (among them: Phil Bowen, John Polansky, and Martin Ling). They made a wax cast of his eye socket to mold the device into exactly the right shape; Spence calls the eye socket an “odd” and “awkward space.”
His current camera is tiny and emits analogue signals (radio frequencies) to remote screens via a micro-transmitter. It isn’t linked to Spence’s optic nerve, so he can’t “see” the video footage. He can, however, look at it on a screen using his healthy left eye.
The team also made an electric switch with an applied magnetic field, called a “reed switch,” with which Spence can turn the device on and off.
Spence says that his strange circumstances — having substituted a human body part with a mechanized alternative — enable him to “see the writing on the wall” that indicates a future in which humans and machines merge further.
It will even happen to the human brain, he says: “If we get a neural lace and decode brain data, part of that data will be visual information,” he tells Inverse. “At the same time there is some very exciting research from a woman called Sheila Nirenberg, who studies how the brain encodes visual information, possibly allowing us to decode it. So, bear with me, if we are able to turn visual information into code, and many or all of us end up with a neural interface, the future may entail us all recording visual data we come across all the time.”
When asked whether he might personally consider merging his brain with a machine, Spence responded with a simple “yes.”
Some of what Spence says is reminiscent of the singularity, a short time period that supposedly marks the point at which human civilization alters so rapidly that we can’t fathom the changes beforehand. Right now it’s strange to think of humans becoming something like cyborgs, but by the time the process is heavily underway, it will seem natural, Spence thinks.
“This seems insane to us now,” he says, “but imagine how people felt when the printing press was invented. Stuff you said could end up in fucking pamphlets all over Europe!”
If anyone could accurately imagine the possibilities of a cyborg future, it would be the Eyeborg. He might understand what’s coming far better than the rest of us.