Thursday, March 7, 2013

We Are Cyborgs (Part 1)

I have already become a cyborg.  So have you.  What will it mean to live a life when the  word ‘human’ no longer applies?  

There are many ways to think about cyborgs.  Some think of science fiction creatures like the Borg in Star Trek.  Older folks may remember the Six Million Dollar Man television program where a broken man was re-engineered into something stronger.  Even Luke Skywalker had a prosthetic arm allowing him to be a cyborg like his father Darth Vader.

When we add systems to our bodies and then become dependent upon them we become cyborgs.  Recent research has shown that when we use tools regularly, they become extensions of our brain, even if not “hard wired” into our nervous systems.  Our minds begin to identify the tools as a part of the body.

Egyptian prosthetic toe
When the body gets input from a tool being used, the brain adapts to that tool creating a feedback loop.  It is not enough to have a tool; it is the feedback to change the brains behavior, the very structure of the brains neurons, which identifies a tool as a cyborg enhancement.

According to the research, rather than being thought of only as an extension of our bodies, our gadgets have become tangible, functional substitutes for our bodies.

Early Cyborgs

The ancient Egyptians created the first primitive cyborgs by creating prosthetic to replace a lost body parts.  These replacement toes became apart of the persons stride when walking.

War has brought great advances to the creation of artificial body parts to extend lost limbs.  

Wounded veterans become cyborgs
The prosthetics industry was born after the U.S. Civil War when tens of thousands of wounded required peg legs and artificial arms.

The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have advanced cyborg technology even further.  

With real like skin coverings, mechanical arms now sense micro-movements in skin and muscle to aid amputees in performing everyday tasks.  

Covered by high tech composite materials, it even becomes difficult to know a person is using cyborg technology.

The next looming generation of cyborg technology is already here.  Hardwired prosthetics connect directly to the nervous system bypassing muscle and skin.  

Already working in the lab and in test subjects, this new level of body integration is creating humans that are not all human anymore.

You are a Cyborg

You may already have prosthetics attached to your body. Anyone with a filling, crown or implanted tooth has augmented their body.  This dental technology changes the way you are able to ingest food.  Dental work enhances the performance of your mouth to chew.  

Once you start using dental tools like this, your body adapts to new behavior patterns.  It takes only a few days for the brain and body to accept dental implants as a part of the body itself.

Wired directly into the
nervous system
In the past few moments, your hand was probably on a mouse or touch screen.  These devices are also cyborg enhancements.  

Scrolling the mouse wheel or sweeping the screen with your finger are the mechanical means by which your brain is augment by feed back loop technology.  

We must admit that our brain has changed its very structure to adapt to these tools.  The feedback loops between muscle, brain and sight connect us creating a new kind of cyborg organism.

If you watch a child playing a video game, they are totally integrated into the controller and television.  The controller is a connected part of their body as they get sight and sound feedback.  

You can watch them lean and tilt there heads to the experience.  They have strong emotional responses when playing.  A feeling of loss occurs when they cannot play.  When the connection with their cyborg tool is broken, their brains suffer.  Clearly these tools are tied directly into their minds allowing them to become temporarily cyborgs.
Do you have any cyborg teeth?

Sports are also engaged in the technological enhancement of human beings.  From runners with new strap on feet to human growth hormone doping, our athletic competitions are augmenting what it means to compete.  

Strictly speaking, doping is not a cyborg technology because it does not provide a feedback loop.  It is, however, leading us in a direction of manipulating our bodies on a cellular level to augment our natural physical ability.

Human hearts are enhanced with pacemakers.  Diabetics have insulin pumps.  Artificial kidneys keep people alive.  Contact lenses and even hearing aids augment our bodies allowing us to become more than we are as biology.

In We Are Cyborgs (part 2) we examine where cyborg technology is going and speculate on its consequences to being human.

1 comment:

  1. Homo Sapiens sapiens have always been cyborgs. We evolved with tools already in our hands and minds. Sticks (as spears) and stones (as bullet, hammer, axe) and possibly fire were utilized at least as far back as Homo Habilis. Unlike our ape cousins, a human cannot hunt game, rend flesh, or tolerate seasonal climatic changes without artificial augmentation.
    We are the Borg. We have always been the Borg. We just haven't quite realized this yet.