Eyeborgian Filmmaker Rob Spence
Rob Spence has started to democratize cyborg living today by enabling a new demographic to recognize, appreciate and hopefully embrace their futuristic selves. I talked to Rob Spence, augmented filmmaker, and Kosta Grammatis, a 23-year-old former SpaceX avionics systems engineer, about the Eyeborg Project, sweet old ladies, and what it’s like to build, and amazingly, be a cyborg.
According to Rob, the idea of creating the camera that he can insert into his eye was quite natural to him. He notes that anyone who’s seen the Dark Crystal knows the concept has been out there. He’s been thinking about it for years.
HOW DID HE GO FROM THE IDEA TO THE EXECUTION?
Rob continually emphasized the human attachment to the eye… that even if you’re blind, you’re still attached to the eye itself. Even though he was blind in the eye, he felt that, in going through the process of having it removed, “it was hard to let go of.” He adds that there are also “technical limitations to go[ing] this route.” However, after it was all said and done Rob admits, “I’m happy that I lost the eye… I get the chance to stand out… as an augmented filmmaker.”
SO WHAT’S IT LIKE TO STAND OUT?
Rob claims to have gotten lots of support from people with one eye… even old ladies. Apparently when these ladies call Rob they don’t want something that looks normal. The general feedback he’s getting from the older demographic is: “I can stick this in and be the envy of people and be more than I was.” He compares it to going out and getting a nice suit. Basically, Rob’s hearing from a lot of people who just say: “Fuck it! I want a cool supersonic robot thing like I see in comic books and movies!” There are people out there that “don’t give a shit to look normal. They want an arm designed like a cool robot!”
I’m happy that I lost the eye… I get the chance to stand out… as an augmented filmmaker.
WHAT DOES ROB WANT TO DO WITH THE EYEBORG PROJECT?
When it comes to filming he wants to “look right in their eye and have a personal discussion,” so that he can film something “closer to human experience in conversation.” By filming through the eye it “approximates how you really see people… blinking, glancing, looking at breasts….” There is, of course, an ethical issue and Rob is “not a dick.” He’s going to be ethical about filming by asking for a release from those he interacts with. He wants to film: “1. Someone being frank, and… 2. Looking into the eye.” From his point of view, the “eye is the person… your sacred part of the body… it says who the person is.” He acknowledges that when filming and looking at people it can be perceived by the other person in the conversation as having “broken the contract of human trust.” With this technology, it’s placed in a “disturbing part of the body” as opposed to technology like the cell phone. Rob points out the difference in being faced with these technologies is that the “cell phone is not a window to the soul.” For Rob, though, a camera eye isn’t quite enough. When I raise the possibility, Rob eagerly replies he wants a “laser eye… an underwater eye.” Like an excited teenager Rob proclaims, “This is awesome!”
WHAT ABOUT THE GUY WHO PUT THE EYE TOGETHER… KOSTA?
Counterintuitively, Kosta sees the creation of the camera as a “testament to the fact that the end of the cyborg is here… it’s easy and anyone can do it.” From his perspective, if he can build something as awesome as this with no money at age 23, then it’s only an “interim solution.” The real future is in biology. He points out that the “human to digital interface is cumbersome. Why do it unnaturally when you can grow one in a Petri dish?”
Kristi Scott has a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, interns with the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, is a freelance writer, and mother of three.