Cyborgs are alive and well today and asserting their rights, presenting society with a challenge that needs to be met head on, says one Australian expert.
Dr Roger Clarke, a visiting professor at Australian National University's School of Computer Science, will outline his argument in a keynote speech to the IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in Wollongong next week.
"The first generation of cyborgs is alive, well, walking among us, and even running," says Clarke, an expert in social impacts of information technologies.
He says cyborgs are humans who use mechanical or electromechanical technology to give them abilities they would not otherwise have.
Clarke says while today's cyborgs may not yet be like those in the movies, they are presenting society with challenges that will only be exacerbated as technology advances.
He says pacemakers, 'clumsy' mechanical hands and renal dialysis have led the "cyborgisation" of humans, which now includes technology that extends the neural system, restores hearing, enhances vision and gives us a sporting edge.
"We have not been reflecting on how fast cyborgisation is actually happening and the impacts it's likely to have," says Clarke.
"It turns out there are quite a few implications for human rights."
'Blade runner' rights
Clarke says the competing rights of cyborgs and non-cyborgs, are central to the case of South African paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius who uses springy carbon fibre and titanium legs to run.
Pistorius aims to compete alongside able-bodied athletes in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, but has been challenged by authorities who claim his prosthetics give him an unfair advantage.
"He is making a claim that he has a right to compete against able-bodied athletes in the same races and, in the event that he comes first, second or third, be awarded the appropriate ribbon or medal," says Clarke.
"The IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] is claiming in effect that either, no he doesn't have that right, or the rights of able-bodied athletes to not have to compete against enhanced humans trumps his rights."
It is possible that able-bodied athletes will want the right to participate in competitions that allow the use of performance-enhancing technology, say Clarke.
For example, he says, we may need to consider whether able-bodied atheletes, are to be allowed to participate in wheelchair races, which can be faster than running races
Clarke says technology that enhances hearing and vision could also raise questions about rights.
He says while the cochlear implant is currently being used to give people some semblance of normal hearing, it could also be used to augment normal hearing.
Retinal implants and wearable computers could also be used to allow people to secretly record and transmit what they see, says Clarke.
He says useful information could be overlaid on the image being captured, such as data from an infrared scanner to indicate heat - potentially useful in military applications.
"People can be walking around with this extension and other people not realise they've got it," says Clarke.
Clarke says proposals to insert radiofrequency identification (RFID) chips in criminals or workers to monitor and control their movement also raises questions regarding the right to refuse implants that keep track of us in this way.
Clarke says as cyborgisation is increasingly used in the medical arena, people may expect they have the right to have technology that keeps them alive.
They may also want the right to have the technology removed when they want to die, he says.
In summary, says Clarke, cyborgisation of humans is leading to a plethora of questions about human rights.
"People who are using prostheses to recover lost capabilities will seek to protect their existing rights. People who have lost capabilities but have not yet got the relevant prostheses will seek the right to have them," says Clark.
"Enhanced humans will seek additional rights, to go with the additional capabilities that they have."
Clarke says engineers and others who develop these new technologies have an obligation to brief political, social and economic institutions on their implications.
"They have to date signally failed to do so, and urgent action is needed," says Clarke.
"The need for policy makers to wake up to themselves and get debating things is becoming more acute."