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Monday, August 1, 2011

Growing a New Eye (With a Little Help From Technology and You)

Posted by erinleecarr
When I grew up, I wanted to be like Sarah Connor in Terminator II: leather clad, ass-kicking, and mean as a snake. But my male compatriots yearned to be Arnold: part-man, part-machine. Our society has always nurtured a fascination with the melding of humanity and science. And its origins were often more based in fantasy—see sci-fi favorites such as Darth Vader, Robocop, or Tom Cruise—than reality.

But the melding of metal and flesh begs a few questions. If you put metal parts into an individual do they stop being a human? How much metal can you put into a person before he/she isn’t a person? At what point does the line between humanity and AI bleed into each other? Obviously, this amalgamation provokes a certain amount of conflict, anxiety, and identity crisis.

But what about people who aren’t characters in movies, everyday people who want to fuse the concepts for the betterment of their bodies and minds? Enter Tanya Vlach, a women who lost her eye during a horrific car accident. Before the accident she was a well-known visual artist and performer. Afterwards, she had a frontal lobe minor brain injury and was missing an eye. Despite her subsequent depression, Tanya refused to be victim of her circumstances and sought a fix through technology. What if she could see again, but better? Couldn’t she just put a bionic eye in her socket and move on?

She pitched her idea to Wired founder Kevin Kelly; his curiosity was piqued. He put out a personal call to engineers to help build an implant of a miniature camera inside her prosthetic eye. Hundreds of scientists and engineers responded with their ideas. But such innovations don’t come cheaply; insurance wasn’t going to pay for this, and she didn’t have the money.

In June, Tanya started a Kickstarter campaign. It was quickly picked up by the Internet, and suddenly she was the newest poster child for transhumanism and body modification. Her project, Eye-Camera: an experiment in wearable technology, cybernetics, and perception. The project inspired frequent questions on her website ranging from the laughable (“Are you a Spy”) to the hopeful and suspicious (“are you starting a cyborg revolution?”). One can dream.

Tanya continues to travel and discuss her plight and subsequent plan of action across the United States; on Sunday July 31st she comes to Brooklyn for an eye fundraiser at Brooklyn Winery. Come prepared to discuss cyborgs, eyes, and the art that lies in between.

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