Rob Spence: [full interview transcript]

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Rob Spence is the Eyeborg: part man and part machine. He is a documentary filmmaker who conceptualized a custom bionic eye that can be inserted to replace his damaged biological eye. Rob joins the rdigitaLIFE Robot Evolution conversation and brings with him a unique, personal perspective on the merging of humans and robots. Read Rob’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Rob’s interview, “The Eyeborg on Augmentation.”

Ramona: You call yourself Eyeborg. What does that mean?

Rob: Eyeborg is a, is a catchy way to refer to the fact that I am a cyborg of sorts. And the reason why I am a cyborg is because I have a robot eye.

Ramona: How did this come to be? How did you come to get this robot eye?

Rob: Well, you know, uh, when I was nine years old, I was at my grandfathers farm in northern Ireland and I thought it would be a really good idea to take my grandfathers 12 gage shoot gun and shoot a pile of cow shit. And blow it up with the shotgun. And I did that, I succeed in that goal, but in doing so I, I wasn’t holding the gun properly, I had my eye against the gun like in the cowboy movies, and it back fired a bit and damaged the eye very badly. But they saved it, however over the years it got worse and worse until in 2007, I had to get it removed. But by that time I was a documentary filmmaker and I thought, you know, filmmaker, hole in my head. Peanut Butter, chocolate, you know. Just, so I start, and the way these things start is that you Google bionic eye see where it takes you, make a few strange calls and a few years later I have a, a camera eye.

Ramona: And it is connected to you or do you take it out?

Rob: It’s pretty simple technology, just the trick was to miniaturizing everything and fit it into a strange space, but it’s a wireless video camera with a battery, a camera transmitter, some circuitry to make everything talk to each other, but it sends a wireless video signal, RF Analogue, to a receiver and then the receiver is a video source that you can plug into any video recording device. It’s a video source once it gets to the receiver.

Everyone wants to know, is it connected to your brain? Like the bionic man or the borg or you know insert your pop fiction character here. But no it’s not connected to my brain at all, its just a, it’s literally like a hole, it’s a prosthetic eye you can pop in and out.

Ramona: How do people react when they find out you have a camera in your eye?

Rob: Generally two reactions, one is, “wow that is really cool,” and the other one is, “ah geeze that’s kind of creepy,”. The eye is probably the most human part of the body, it’s like the window to the soul. However, there is the sense oh this maybe the window to bloody YouTube or UStream and it feels like you are breaking the human contract a little bit when that pupil to pupil, that human thing, one of the last, most human kinds of interactions we have is actually jammed into the Skynet now.

Ramona: So you must get a lot of, “are you filming right now?”

Rob: Yeah you know, women I have met are like so, you know they want to have that conversation like, “when are you filming,” and which is totally reasonable.

Ramona: Are you filming right now? If it’s in are you filming?

Rob: Yeah well, no, I can turn it on, right now it’s just laying dormant and I have an on off switch uh via a magnet that activates a reed switch that will turn the eye on and off. But once I do that there is a video signal going to a receiver that I can turn on. But no I am not filming right now.

Ramona: Can we film a bit?

Rob: Yeah sure.

Rob: [showing his bionic eye] So this is my bionic eye, you can see the camera in there, see the tiny camera. Bam, Eyeborg. Yeah, part man, part machine.

Ramona: As we think about the future, what is happening in the next five years, ten years, and twenty years, and you’re a man and machine merging into one. So much of that of that conversation is theoretical but it seems you would have some inside thoughts and experiences. So what do you think about both the possibilities and the benefits, but also maybe the dangers from your own experience?

Rob: I think it’s just a normal evolution, it just happens to be going more quickly than it use to be. We are taller, were stronger. We have contact lenses, people are getting laser surgery, their getting boob jobs, this is all normal to us because we are use to it and it’s happen sort of gradually but as time goes on in the near future, the same business as usual it’s just moving a little quicker now.

Ramona: For a very long time what we have seen in terms of evolution, human evolution, what has been biological evolution, now what we are seeing as our machines become more smaller and more powerful, nano technology, it’s a technological evolution where we are changing more based on machines than even DNA. That’s what’s changing for humans. So how do you think it’s going to change us as a species?

Rob: I think psychologically and emotionally because it is moving so quickly that creates more tension. Like I very well may have a kid, I don’t have any yet, but at some point he’ll be like, “Yeah Dad I am getting my eye removed to get the XJ 5000 Eye,” and I’m going to be, I’m going to have this dilemma, where I’m going go, “well that’s not right,” and he says, “well you did it Dad,” and I’m like, “well that was different,” you know because when people start making the choice to radically alter themselves, but I mean if you asked your grandma, “hey Grandma would you like to get a laser in your eye that will just change your vision?” she would think you were nuts, for us it’s ok, oh laser surgery, everyone gets laser surgery that’s fine.

Summary:

  • Rob Spence lost his eye as the result of a childhood accident and decided to replace it with a camera eye
  • The eye can be turned on and off to record video and send it to a receiver
  • Looking in someone’s eyes is considered one of the most human connections you can make with someone, so given that his eye is bionic, some people can feel that that connection is lost
  • He gets mixed reactions from people who either think it’s cool or those who feel like it’s invasive and kind of creepy
  • Spence views this type of technology on the same lines of cosmetic surgery, when technology is evolving slowly, then people have time to adapt – when it leaps forward is when people hesitate

Follow Rob Spence on Twitter @Eyeborg.

 

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