10:00 - 10:30
Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Lawsuits? : Cyborgs in Law and Society

Short thesis

In our midst already we have a cyborg activist who can hear colour through an antenna, a cyborg artist who can sense earthquakes, and a cyborg filmmaker with a wireless video camera for an eye, amongst many others. As part of the growing support for techno-progressive and transhumanist trends, such as the biohacking, biopunks and grinders, more people are augmenting their bodies by DIY methods. Add these developments to the progress made in traditional prosthetics and the trend towards wearable technology, and we realise cyborgs are becoming part of everyday life. What on earth does this mean for our societal and legal norms?


There has been much discussion, both at academic as well as journalistic level, regarding the near-future implications of artificial prostheses, implantable smart technologies, and of innovations in genetics and biotechnology. Pioneers grab our attention, such as Neil Harbisson, the cyborg activist and co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation, who hears colour by virtue of an antenna implanted in his skull. Moon Ribas, a collaborator of Harbisson's, has an implant allowing her to sense earthquakes and has co-founded Cyborg Nest to bring everday enhancements to the masses. Rob Spence, a one-eyed filmmaker, utilises his prosthetic eye, with an embedded wireless video camera, in his work. Techno-progressives and transhumanists abound, and, coupled with significant progress and innovation in the fields of traditional prosthetics, wearables, and 3D printing, it's becoming easier and more popular to join the ranks of the cyborg.

Whilst discussions regarding the ethics of cyborgs, human augmentation, or enhancement are frequent and in-depth - including Donna Haraway's foundational feminist critique 'A Cyborg Manifesto' - cases such as Harbisson, Ribas, and Spence’s have shed some light on the legal, particularly the tortious and administrative, implications of such developments. These range from official recognition, data protection, permission to ‘wear’ such augmentations, or issues of medical negligence or manufacturer’s liability. There are, as such, rather real and rather immediate impacts which cyborgs may have on legal and societal norms.

Augmentations which go beyond merely corrective, and in fact enhance or even introduce new abilities, are no longer purely the realm of science-fiction, but rather a reality. Implanted and wearable technology is no longer the exclusive realm of medicine. Rather than discuss the rights of wrongs of such developments, or how likely they may or may not be, it is instructive to take these varying analyses and predictions at their word and attempt to assess how law and society may have to adapt, through analogy or creation of new law or norms, to deal with the 'augmented individual', the changing definition of the human body, and the legal implications these bring.