Aasof on Cyborgs
This week on Facebook: Increasingly there is a notion that our cyborg traits are in conflict with those traits that determine our ethics and that of our humanity, and yet for the centuries, scientists speculated that we could tap into the body’s system to restore lost functions or enhance our powers, like machines. The concept of acupuncture, which began in China at least 2,500 years ago, premised that there are essential patterns of energy flow (Qi) throughout the body. Modern human cybernetic enhancements emulate the stimuli flowing throughout the body by creating pulses of electrical energy.
Perhaps it is always the human creative ability to form images, ideas, and sensations in the mind without any immediate input of the senses, and an innate ability to invent partial or complete personal realms within the mind from sense perceptions of a shared world that has led to our success as a species. Such imaginings are readily recognised in an artistic world, for example; literature, writing, art, poetry, but imagineering is hardly ever given recognition and credit in the technological world. Yet it may well be the artistic world of imagineering that has led to this world of cyborgs.
The artistic imagineering of Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus’ and Fritz Lang’s seminal film ‘Metropolis’ are often compared simultaneously as the first works of science-fiction in their genre. Even if unknown they have both since spawned a profusion of horror stories and films that have fired the imaginations of modern artists, not only within their genre but that of today’s scientists and technologists.
First published in 1818, 200 years ago, Shelley’s novel was a warning against the “over-reaching” of modern man and the Industrial Revolution and Lang’s 1927 film was certainly the most dystopian film to follow on from the novel. While both the novel and the film still serve the same cautionary function in today’s social imaginary, indications are that the lessons of both will mostly be ignored by those creating 21st century cyborgs.
- If, as the above video contends, we are in a cyborg revolution then do biological augmentations raise ethics issues?¹
- If the future for a cyborg has law and policy implications, who will apply them?²
- So when is an android, robot et-al, not a cyborg, are cyborgs purely the result of man-machine augmentation?³
Part Human, Part Machine, Cyborgs Are Becoming A Reality: Neil Harbisson walked into the cafe wearing a bright orange blazer and a 12-inch metal antenna curved over his head. Daylight glinted from the camera implanted in the tip of his antenna as it surveyed the room. Odd as it was, his presence barely registered with the tech-denizens of Old Street. Harbisson, from Northern Ireland, is one of an estimated 200 people who have altered their bodies with technology.
The Science Behind The Human Brain: So far, the brain has not been scientifically solved. However, scientists have been working hard to accumulate data, one puzzle-piece at a time, in the hope that in the future all of those pieces will come together. What they have learned so far has already improved countless lives, either directly by the development of treatment strategies or drugs for patients, or indirectly by creating smarter computers based on operating principles derived from our brain.
Hail Cyborgs! The Line Between Robots And Humans Is Blurring: Many, if not most people, will be wary of the idea of the melding of humans and robots, with images of Star Trek’s evil cyborgs running through their heads. The fictional characters — with both human and mechanical parts — have superhuman strengths but have lost their individualism. Despite frightening images in the Star Trek movie series and Robocop, these actually are exciting times because the advances in robotics.
Cyborgs — The Truth Behind Human Augmentation: For this last column in my Beyond Human series, I spoke to a variety of very different people who I encountered this year. Each have embraced the idea of human enhancement, from an artist who hears colour to a man who can start a motorbike with a chip implanted in his hand. What secrets can they share about life as an enhanced human?
What Will Our Lives Be Like as Cyborgs? Even the very first advances in civilisation had this cyborg quality. The marriage of humans with technology is what made us the masters of other species, giving us weapons and tools harder and sharper than the claws of any animal, projecting our strength at greater and greater distance until we could bring down even the greatest of beasts in the hunt, not to mention engineer new crops that produce far more food than their wild forebears, and domesticate animals to make us stronger and faster.
¹Cyborgs And Moral Identity (download): If my brain functions in a way that is supported by and exploits intelligent technology both external and implantable, then how should I be treated and what is my moral status—am I a machine or am I a person? I explore a number of scenarios where the balance between human and humanoid machine shifts, and ask questions about the moral status of the individuals concerned.
²The Long Read (downloadable):
²The long Video (32 minutes): A documentary which examines the concepts of cyborgs, clarifies what they are and how they differ from bionics, androids, and similar concepts. It also discusses some of the lesser known options for augmentation and explores the notion of man-machine integration.
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