What is a Cyborg?
A cyborg is a person whose physical tolerances or capabilities
are extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other
external agency that modifies the body's functioning; an integrated
Cybernetics is more general and can be thought of as the study
of the complex relationships involving informational feedback in
dynamic, self-organizing systems.
What is Cybernetics capable of?
1. Research at Emory University:
- implanted a transmitted device into the brain of a stroke patient
- linked motor neurons to silicon
- afterwards, patient was able to move a cursor on a computer screen
just by thinking about it
- rat neurons growing over a microelectrode array, has basic speech
2. In 1998, Kevin
Warwick became the first human to be implanted with a silicon
chip with which he could simply turn the lights on by entering a
room. The chip that was implanted into his wrist transmits signals
to a computer, which actually activates the switch.
3. Other more widely available current technologies are, electronic
pacemakers, artificial joints, drug implant systems, implanted corneal
lenses, and artificial skin
Chicago, researchers have fused the brain of a primitive lamprey
eel with a robot the size of a hockey puck, creating a living machine
that tracks a beam of light in a laboratory ring, like a miniature
bull chasing a matador's red cape.
In the future, it may be possible to use cybernetics to treat
neural diseases or make people feel better.
The Ethical Issues of Cybernetics
While science fiction fantasies and what-if scenarios are exceedingly
common, there are few concrete ethical issues that have thus far
arisen in the field. One example of an ethical issue is on the possibility
of extending life past its natural term via mechanical implants.
Chris Hables Gray gives the example of his grandmother, who had
a stroke, but whose mechanical pacemaker allowed her to survive:
"Ironically enough, in a small case of Channel's bionic ethics,
it was illegal to turn off the pacemaker. If the stimulation was
coming from outside my grandmother's body then her will, which was
to not prolong death through mechanical means, would have gone into
effect and her body would have been allowed to die as her brain
had already. But since she was cyborged intimately, then, no. She
lingered. Her body was made to linger almost to the point of financial
disaster for my family and then, finally, the pacemaker was overruled
by the rest of her dying body and the heart failed as well."
The Ethical Issues of Lay Information on Cybernetics
As a studying Cognitive Scienctist, I continually encounter the
problem of cybernetics and artificial researchers who feel that
the fact that the field is currently viewed with quite a bit of
awe justifies them in concocting fantasy scenarios and extrapolate
the ethics of these fastasies. Often, cyborgs are seen as the cause
and/or resolution to the worst case scenarios for the future given
the present course of human behavior. According to Heinz von Foerster,
a respected member of the field of cybernetics:
"The founders and proponents of Artificial Intelligence
were from the beginning very much motivated and extremely competent
to go after highly specialized tasks as, for instance, how to build
a robot which could rearrange an arrangement of blocks into another
The performance of these machines are very impressive indeed,
but I see them more as witnesses to the extraordinary natural intelligence
of their designers, rather than cases of "artificial intelligence."
The anthropomorphization of these machine functions I see insofar
as dangerous, because one may be tempted to believe that when we
say "this machine 'thinks'" we know now how we think,
for we know how the machine "thinks."
Article on cybernetics written by apparently respected members
of the field often read like 1950s cold war fiction on what *might*
happen if nuclear war occurred when, in fact, it didn't.
One well-known researcher named Stelarc,
a Principal Research Fellow in the Performance Arts Digital Research
Unit at the Nottingham Trent University, UK asserts that:
"The body is neither a very efficient nor very durable
structure. It malfunctions often and fatigues quickly; its performance
is determined by its age. It is susceptible to disease and is doomed
to a certain and early death. Its survival parameters are very slim
- it can survive only weeks without food, days without water and
minutes without oxygen.
The body's LACK OF MODULAR DE SIGN and its overactive immunological
system make it difficult to replace malfunctioning organs. It might
be the height of technological folly to consider the body obsolete
in form and function , yet it might be the height of human realisations.
For it is only when the body becomes aware of its present position
that it can map its post-evolutionary strategies."
Yet he fails to show how this assertion holds up in real-world
scenarios such as self-repair, reproduction, finding an energy source,
not to mentioned that with our current software engineering capabilities
we are unable to create a bug-free piece of software for projects
much larger than 10000 lines of code
The currently available technologies, electronic pacemakers, artificial
joints, drug implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial
skin are very limited. Thus far, the best they have been able to
do is to restore injured individuals to a level of health that is
an improvement, though not up to the functionality of an average,
fully organic, individual.
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