There are over 1 billion disabled people in the world.
70 million of them are deaf.
And more than 200 million of them are either blind or suffer from some sort of severe vision impairment.
That’s 15% of the world population. Yet, the world isn’t always tailored to meet the needs of people with disabilities. That’s why they often have to become superhuman with their other senses. Blind people rely on touch to ‘see’ things, and deaf people become extraordinary at seeing details.
But this is not enough.
And the deaf and the blind of the world can’t wait for society to step up its game.
That’s why this guy, Dr. David Eagleman of Stanford University decided to step in and take matters into his own hands.
He created a wristband with its own App Store that can allow the deaf and blind to navigate our world using their superhuman senses. But that’s not all. This Appstore could one day have apps that could make you see like snakes, smell like dogs, or hear like birds…
The wristband that helps the deaf and blind
This is Buzz. From the outside, this watch looks just like your average Apple Watch. Except that it can turn sound and sight into tiny vibrations on the skin. Vibrations that can make the deaf hear and the blind see. And no, it’s not using Morse code.
How is this possible?
You see, as a neurologist, Dr. Eagleman figured out that our brain doesn’t actually ‘hear’ sounds or ‘see’ visuals in reality. When you look at a picture or hear music, your eyes and ears capture the information from the outside world (as sound waves or light waves) and turn it into electromagnetic signals to send to the brain. When the brain receives these signals, it does its magic and interprets them into sound and sight that we understand.
So Dr. Eagleman thought, if your eyes and ears don’t work properly, maybe he could create a device to capture sound/light waves and translate them into vibrations instead. Since the deaf and blind are super good at their touch sense, their brain can eventually learn to interpret these vibration signals as ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’.
That’s how he started working on Buzz. It has a tiny microphone inside that captures all the sounds around it – from bird songs, car horns, to language. It then converts all these into 8 frequencies corresponding to different vibration patterns. This way, sound becomes touch, and the deaf can ‘sense’ the world around them.
The same principle applies to sight. The watch sends out a ping and feels the echoes that come back to tell the user if they are getting closer or further away from an object. It’s called echolocation, and similar to how a bat can navigate in the dark, the blind can now ‘see’.
The App Store of the Senses
However, this wristband isn’t just useful to those who have hearing and visual impairments. In fact, Dr. Eagleman wants to turn it into a real smart watch, with apps that make us go superhuman…by giving us extra senses.
You see, humans only have 5 senses: Touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste. But in the animal kingdom, there are more than 5. For example, a bird has an organ that helps them detect the Earth’s magnetic fields. A snake can feel infrared radiation from warm bodies. A dog can sense someone from 100 meters away with its nose. We can’t do any of these things because we don’t have the organs in our bodies to do that.
That’s why with the Buzz, Dr. Eagleman wants to develop an App Store of extra senses, so that one day, you can install an app to see like a snake, smell like a dog, or hear like a bird too. He wants to open up the human world to new senses and new realities.
But also help people with any kind of disabilities.
For example, Dr. Eagleman is developing an app that can help autistic children. They often need extra help understanding people’s emotions and communicating with the world.
So the app senses changes in facial expression and voice pitch, it interprets if a person is feeling angry, excited, or sad. And then it translates that information into vibrations that are much easier for the child to understand.
Cyborg Technology is here
All of this might sound like crazy science fiction, but it’s happening right now. Dr. Eagleman is just the first of many who want to integrate technology into our bodies to make us stronger, faster, better…than simple humans.
It’s called ‘Cyborg Technology’, and it covers a wide variety of things, from a robotic arm that can move with your thoughts to a device that can help the color-blind ‘hear’ color.
In 2016, Cyborg Nest created a ‘cyborg piercing’ called North Sense that allows your body to connect to the Earth’s magnetic pole. When you put this chip under your skin, you can always tell where North is, just like a compass. You will never fear getting lost in the forest again!
And in 2020, Elon Musk also joined the cyborg race with his Neuralink chip that can turn your brain into a computer. In the future, you might not even need to move a mouse or type on a keyboard physically – you just need to use thoughts to control your phone or your laptop.
As of 2021, most cyborg technology is still in development, and Dr. Eagleman has a long way to go before his App Store of senses finds its way into your iPhone.
But in any case, it’s undeniable that technology will improve the limitations of human biology. And that Dr. Eagleman’s Buzz is bringing us one step closer to being superhuman.
“To Infinity and beyond” as one might say.