The Cyborg: An Introduction To Transhumanism
by Mark Grayson
The medical world continues to push boundaries, reconstructing the human body with implants and robotics to try and make us whole again. As a race, will the next step of evolution be a species of cyborgs and what does this mean for our society moving forward?
The Next Evolution
A cyborg can be defined as a human being merged with a machine.
This subject was merely science fiction when I was a kid. In reality, it has entered the world as a medical tool, for example, to help those injured in war or to help children who have been born without certain limbs. Technically, you could argue that these medical interventions turn people into cyborgs.
Terming an individual a ‘cyborg’ might seem a bit rude right now, but with the advancement of materials like carbon fibre and titanium prostheses, most artificial limbs are fully operational… perhaps even more operational than our biological ones! Technology is as such now that academics are going as far as to create robotic hands that can be controlled by a person’s brain and also has a sense of touch.
Paralympians using artificial limb technologies like the ‘blades’ at the games have sparked a big debate on whether or not these are more capable than organic limbs.
Oscar Pistorius (often known as “Blade Runner”) became the first amputee sprinter to compete with able-bodied athletes for the men’s 400m at the 2012 Olympics in London. His achievement raised the question of whether disabled athletes would ever outcompete their able-bodied counterparts.
Enhancing The Human Body
Aside from medical prostheses, there are people who have implanted tech directly into their bodies, not to set right a disability, per se, but to enhance themselves.
A company in based in Sweden is turning its employees into cyborgs using a microchip implant about the size of a grain of rice. The company started implanting workers in January 2015. Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter says, “The biggest benefit I think is convenience”. It basically replaces a lot of things you would usually have to carry around, like other communication devices, cards and keys.
The implant doesn’t just open doors, though. Epicenter’s ‘cyborg’ employees can operate their printers with it or even order smoothies with a wave of their hands.
Beyond the physical, some are even going as far as to consider augmenting the mind. Elon Musk thinks that neural lace technology, which is able to both stimulate and interpret electrical activity in the brain, could actually make human beings smarter.
These are just some examples. But rest assured, Silicon Valley is abuzz with people experimenting with the many possibilities of merging humankind with machines.
The Impact on Our Society – The Future
Guang-Zhong Yang, Robert Riener and Paolo Dario all contributed to an article called “To integrate and to empower: Robots for rehabilitation and assistance”. This discussed the potential issues with the future of such technologies:
There needs to be a debate on the future evolution of technologies as the pace of robotics and AI is accelerating. It seems certain that future assistive technologies will not only compensate for human disability but also drive human capacities beyond our innate physiological levels. The associated transformative influence will bring on broad social, political, and economic issues.
A decision will have to be made about the technologies we have created to help soldiers, children, and accident victims in terms of advancing human capabilities beyond what is biologically possible. This will create a whole load of moral and practical issues to deal with.
In and around the technology community, many believe that this will be humanity’s next step in evolution. If we want to reach Mars, for example, and create a ‘new earth’ it might not be possible for us to take such large strides without becoming cyborgs.
Key questions will still need to be answered. Will cyborg humans have the same rights and be bound by the same laws as biologically ordinary citizens? Will cyborgs be vulnerable to hacking and manipulation? Will warfare forever change with the possible advancement of military exoskeletons?
Most of us may not be cyborgs just yet, but it might just be a good idea to start planning ahead…