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The transhumanist: Russian student who lost sight after explosion developing bionic eyes for himself

The transhumanist: Russian student who lost sight after explosion developing bionic eyes for himself
He sleeps two hours a night, plays guitar with a custom prosthesis, and has illegally implanted a microchip. When Evgeny Nekrasov was disfigured by an accident at 14, he decided to leverage future technology to build a new life.

‘Hands turned into mush’

Evgeny, now 21, has no recollection of “messing around” after school with his friends in hometown Vladivostok and picking up the gas canister that exploded in his hands and into his face.

But the days after he woke up without sight in hospital are hard-coded in his memory.

“My hands were crushed into a mush. Still on life support, I started to feel around with my feet, and discovered there was no right wrist. The doctor told me straight ‘It was blown off,’” he told Yandex in an interview. “This is how my less ordinary life began.”

‘I had to bend hardware to my will’

Evgeny says he was never despondent, finding support in his family and inspiration in the lives of others who overcame debilitating conditions, like Stephen Hawking, despite having to go through separate corrective surgeries in three cities across Russia.

The boy who once hated math and argued often with his teachers became obsessed with learning and technology.

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Sent to a special school for those with vision loss outside his city, Evgeny completed a four-year program in six months, despite being unable to learn braille, as the fire-damaged fingertips on his remaining hand lack the sensitivity to scan the page.

An epiphany came when he witnessed a partially-sighted teacher expertly operate a computer with voice commands alone.

“I knew that I had to bend hardware to my will, so that it would be at my service,” he said.

‘I will not die a blind man’

Evgeny learned how to code, dictating commands from memory, picturing whole pages in his mind. Not to earn money, but make the world around him easier to navigate.

First came the custom software for internet browsing. Then a hacked gesture-responsive smartphone, with fast text-to-speech software.

Then more ambition: a high-level neutral network developed with the help of a lab at Vladivostok’s Far Eastern Federal University, where he is a second-year student, that may allow him better control of his expensive bionic arm.

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And the grail – new eyes that would allow him to see again. Existing bionic eye models, such as the $150,000 Argus-II, work by deciphering images through a camera and sending them to a retinal implant. Evgeny is dreaming of a device that will directly respond to photons, as a real replacement for the complex work of an eye.

“I do not plan to live out my life without sight,” he says.

Not surprisingly, he wants to be the first person with limited vision to go to space, and is currently involved in several orbital payload projects.

‘Steve Jobs didn’t care what people thought of him’

Evgeny does not pretend that he fits in perfectly, and not just because of his devotion to the niche California heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold.

He was initially viewed with suspicion by his peers in college, who thought that he might get an easy ride from professors, though he says he spends three or four times more time than them deciphering the recorded lectures at home.

Evgeny says he is helped by another peculiarity – he believes that the accident tampered with his brain’s biorhythms, and now he struggles to sleep for more than two hours at a time, four hours each night at the most, without feeling drained.

Unsurprisingly, another of his heroes is Apple founder Steve Jobs – “because he did not care what people thought of him.”

One person who does understand him, girlfriend Anya, whom he has dated since the beginning of the year.

‘Future AI will be too smart to care about us’

Evgeny became wider known to the Russian public in March, after becoming one of the first to implant a chip – between his thumb and forefinger – even though such surgical procedures are forbidden in Russia.

While his is just a simple RFD chip – like those in a keycard – he is an unashamed transhumanist, who looks forward to the ultimate melding of humans and machines. And unlike Elon Musk, another idol, he is not afraid of wherever AI may go next.

“I like the idea – it is not my own – that AI will outgrow human intelligence so quickly within several generations that we will be so unimportant to it, it will stop noticing us. We will be to it like ants are to us: we will live our separate lives, and not get in each other’s way. So, no, I don’t think AI will be interested in taking over the world.”

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