So, you’re a cyborg?
Darth Vader and Iron Man are iconic characters that fall on either side of the moral binary, but both are cyborgs. Their damaged bodies have been adapted using electrical or mechanical devices that gift them with superhuman powers – much like South Africa’s ‘Blade Runner’, Oscar Pistorius, who made it through to the 2012 Olympic 400m semi-finals before his mighty fall from grace.
Science fiction has been filtering off-screen and into reality for decades, without that ‘Ka-pow!’ factor we relish. On the face of it, the Internet of Things is a rather dizzying, if slightly dull collection of objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that allows them to exchange data. We have cars with sensors that replace our blind-spots, pacemakers to patch up our weak hearts and micro-chips to locate our lost pets.
But, I don’t have any laser beams…
We may not be prancing around in metallic suits loaded with defensive force fields just yet, but technology has become so embedded in our lives that it begs the question: to what extent are we already cyborgs? We only need to glance at the wearable technology, already available and in development, to see that we’ve advanced more than most may realise. We’re stepping beyond our reliance on screens and gradually integrating technology with our daily lives.
In her 2010 Ted Talk, ‘We are all cyborgs’, Amber Case talked about technology enhancing our ‘humanness’, helping us to live our lives and increasing our ability to connect with one another. With more than two thirds of the UK now living a second virtual life on-the-go through their smartphones, the majority is now connected. But what about our own, physical bodies? Look no further than the wrists of your tech savvy pals. Wrist-based wearable technology is monitoring their heart-rate, sleep patterns, exercise habits and moods. They are more connected with their own physicality than ever before.
Superhuman reproduction – about as physical as it gets
Take this contentious and yet universally essential issue: Fertility. Whether we’ve managed to dance around it, or are actively willing it, there has previously been an element of luck involved. Not anymore thanks to a ‘Fitbit for your period’, complete with a thermometer providing additional, real-time data to sync with the app. By integrating increasingly comprehensive data, wearable technology is enabling women to take ownership of, and enhance, their fertility. Superhuman reproduction, it’s happening!
Meanwhile, our everyday lives are becoming a little easier. Lost your bags at the airport? Well, if you had smart luggage you would be able to track its location through GPS, find out when it was taken off the plane and if someone else has opened it. Worried about your little one’s temperature? Sure, you can live-stream it directly to your smartphone. Want to improve employee productivity? Follow in Tesco’s footsteps and integrate health and well-being wearables and apps with your workforce.
Next stop: wearables to ingestibles
So, we’re already sci-fi kind of cyborgs, as opposed to hairy-man-has-mastered-the-wheel kind of cyborgs. We’ve transitioned pretty far from simple mechanics and electrical devices, all that needs to be done to perfect this identity is to streamline the technology with our own physicality and smooth over its application with the full-blown integration of data. Easy, if you don’t mind ingesting ‘digital pills’, embedding yourself with mini chips or sticking invisible patches to your skin to absorb even more comprehensive data? All of these are already in development, by the way. But what is driving these developments?
In 1999, one year before the millennium bug was most certainly going to wreak havoc, Mark Weiser, who coined the term ‘ubiquitous computing’, died. This term signals the third wave of computing: stepping away from personal computing and into “the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives”. Integrating human factors, computer science, engineering and social sciences, the emphasis is on computers as a silent servant or an extension of our consciousness. This means our humanness drives its development.
Cyborgs, for better or worse?
So long as the emphasis of our technological developments remains on improving ourselves as human beings and not on the superficiality of our devices, being a cyborg seems like a win-win situation. Yes, I quite like the sound of a world where the distraction of handheld devices disappears into a streamlined synthesis of pre-emptive help. But would straying from this human focus mean crossing over to the dark side?
Imagine a real world of self-made super humans, aka cyborgs, tripping over that so-called moral binary – development for a reason other than the betterment of mankind. It’s not that hard actually, is it? We might favour Iron Man over Darth Vader, but it’s not the technology that makes them what they are – humans harbour a mixture of forces. Our technological fine-tuning will make us more effective humans, but it’s up to us how we use our superpowers.
By Alice Hodgson