Cyborg. What are Cyborgs? Definition, meaning, philosophy (with Cyborg Manifesto), movies (my top 5!), companies & 8 examples of cyborgs.
What is a cyborg?
What is a cyborg? The word cyborg comes from the term cybernetic organism: the physical amalgamation of human and machine. Other terms for cyborg are artificial human, a mix of human and machine, or a bionic human.
The examples that most appeal to the imagination come from films, series and books. I personally think of Inspector Gadget, a detective in a cartoon with extendable arms and a helicopter that comes out of the top of his head. Other examples are the Borg from Star Trek, Major in Ghost in the Shell or The Six Billion Dollar Man. In the section on movies, I describe a number of other examples.
A cyborg is therefore different from a robot or an android. The last two are completely artificial, while a cyborg is always partly human.
On my YouTube channel, I made a video with the most important ideas and insights about cyborgs:
Following is an enumeration concerning the most important points.
The first description of the term Cyborg was in a scientific paper by Clynes and Kline in 1960. Their strategy for space travel: Man must adapt to life in space, not the other way around. The definition I use: a cyborg is part human and part machine.
Contemporary thinkers such as Donna Harraway (with her influential The Cyborg Manifesto), Andy Clark and Amber Case believe that today’s human beings, with their dependence on computers, the internet and mobile phones, are already a cyborg.
The term cyborg is nowadays mainly used in popular media, such as books, games, series and movies. Well-known cyborgs are RoboCop, Alita & Cyborg (from Justice League).
Cyborg techniques entail various disadvantages and risks, including security, inequality, dependence and surveillance capitalism.
High-profile real cyborgs are Arne Larson (carrier of the 1st pacemaker), Jeroen Perk (implant in his eyeball to see 40 pixels), Moon Ribas (sensor to feel earthquakes), Neil Harbisson (camera to hear colors) and Rich Lee (working on project to become the first human vibrator).
In this article, these points will be discussed substantially with more insights.
Finally, at the end of this article you will find a list of resources and more information if you want to hire me. If you have any questions about this article, you can also leave a comment.
The definition of a cyborg.
What is the definition of a cyborg? Neuropsychologist Mandred Clynes and assistant Professor of clinical psychiatry Nathan Kline introduced the term cyborg in the article ‘Cyborgs and space’ in the journal Austronautics (published September 1960) [link at the bottom].
At that time, both authors were affiliated with Rockland Stat University (United States of America). The combined the words ‘cybernetics’(an emerging field of feedback and control) and ‘organism’. In the article they put it this way: ‘For the exogenously expanded organizational complex that unconsciously functions as an integrated homeostatic system, we propose the term cyborg.’
Human in space
Now you may wondering why they wrote the piece for a space travel magazine. Around that time they wanted to make planets and space stations suitable for us humans so that we can live there. They posited a different strategy: people have to adapt themselves to live in space. Not the other way around.
Man was not less human, but more.
In 2010 The Atlantic interviewed the then 85-year-old Manfred Clynes [link at the bottom]. Clynes tells that he somehow expected that the term would still exist. He does make a comment. The interface between the organism and the technology was only a means to increasing the human experience. Man was not less human, but more.
The meaning of the term cyborg.
What is the meaning of the term cyborg? For this I come back to Clynes and Kline, the founders of the term. Homeostasis stands for self-regulation. Think about a body that shivers when it is cold and sweats when the body is hot.
These automatic, perhaps unconscious, self-regulation was an important issue for Clynes and Kline. The mechanical or electrical aids in the human body should feel natural. It must be unconscious.
Another important point is the focus on machines, electronics and robots. The definition of Clynes and Kline, as well as our current use of the term cyborg, does not assume organic of biological improvements. Think of cloning, genetics or genetic modification. In other articles on my site (such as Human Enhancement, Biohacking or the human augmentation) I have written more about that theme.
What are the philosophies, ideas and theories about cyborgs? The most important, besides the 1960 paper by Clynes and Kline, are these:
A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway;
Man-Computer Symbiosis by James Licklider;
We are all Cyborgs Now by Amber Case;
Natural Born Cyborg by Andy Clark;
Ik, Cyborg by Anneke Smelik;
Welcom to the Novacene by James Lovelock.
I elaborate on the philosophies below.
The American biologist, philosopher and sociologist Donna Haraway wrote the most famous paper about cyborgs. Her essay A Cyborg Manifesto was published in 1985. In this paper, she argues for the abolition of the rigid boundaries between humans and animals, organisms and machines, men and woman.
In addition, Haraway believes that many people already are cyborgs. With aids such as a pacemaker or hearing aid, we have already become part human, part machine. Today it is even more so with the use of our mobile phones, let alone if we allowed technology even more in our lives and bodies. More about this in the section Examples.
Haraway wrote the manifesto in response to other feminists and cultural critics who rejected computers and the Internet. She shared critical thinking about the capitalist, nationalist and military drivers in the development of these technologies, but saw that it could be used for other purposes afterwards. Thinks of liberation, development and self-expression through those fading boundaries (for example between human and technology).
In 1960, the same year of the Clynes and Kline paper, psychologist and computer scientist James Licklider published the article ‘Man-Computer Symbiosis’ [link at the bottom]. Licklider predicted a direct link between humans and computers. Together they would form a semi-automatic system. Licklider’s publication is seen as a fundamental moment in computer science and thinking about artificial intelligence.
Licklider’s ideas differed fundamentally from those of Clynes and Klinke. Clynes and Kline saw a fusion of man and machine, while Licklider argued that machines will replace man. A cyborg is then no longer a human being, as Clynes and Kline argued, but a replacement for humans.
Amber Case, as an anthropologist and designer, investigates the symbiotic interaction between humans and machines. She wrote the book An Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology [link at the bottom]. It is a nice, small and easy toe read illustrated dictionary about cyborgs and related concepts. I have to say that the examples from the book from 2014 feel a bit dated.
Yet, she is best known for her 2011 TEDx lecture entitled ‘We are all cyborgs now’. In this lecture she explains how we as humans are fused with technology.
The images of Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones without touchscreens look a bit dated, but the core of her argument still stands. Previously we used tools such as a stick or a hammer as physical extensions. Through digital technology we created a expansion of our mental self. With the Internet, social media and mobile phones we have become cyborgs.
In her short lecture she highlights both sides of this development. She is critical (we also need rest for reflection and making plans) and optimistic (technology helps us to connect).
Watch the lecture:
The philosophy of British Andy Clark, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Sussex, is in line with Case’s. In his book Natural Born Cyborg, Clark writes about cognitive technologies such as abacuses, writing, encyclopaedias, or databases such as the Internet [link at the bottom]. According to him, these are upgrades for the brain. Those technologies are changing the way the human condition works. This concept is evident in the title of his book. According to Clark, we are ‘natural cyborgs’. He says that the use of techniques to improve our cognition make sus human.
Is it not even necessary to place machines in our body fort his. The mere fact that they effect how our brain works and how we view the world is enough. That already makes us cyborgs, in Clark’s view.
In 1995 Clark wrote a paper about The Extended Mind with David Chalmers [link at the bottom]. The principle of The Extended Mind is that human cognition is not limited to just the person himself. Clark believes that the mind extends out into the world and is regularly entangled in a whole host of devices and tools.
Especially after the rise of the smartphone (and the realization that we are leaving more and more cognitive tasks to it), the concept received more and more attention from philosophers and scientists. Today, the publication of Clark and Chalmers is one of the most cited papers and inspiration for research in many fields, including neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and robotics.
The concept of the Natural Cyborgs is a logical successor to The Extended Mind: our brain is used to extend and improve its functions with tools. The shape of those tools is becoming more advanced and complex due to technological process.
Anneke Smelik is Professor of Visual Culture at the Radboud University of Nijmegen. In 2012, Ik, Cyborg came out. In this book the explores the images of cyborgs in science fiction, commercials, video clips, computer games, and fashion.
She argues that the cyborg is one of popular culture’s responses to the call of science and technology. ‘It is a figuration that explores what is means to be human at a time when science and technology an heal and improve or harm and destroy the human pieces.’
The way in which science and technology influence us as human beings appeals to the imagination, especially in science fiction books, series, and films. More on that later.
Another interesting point is that Smelik indicates hat the concept of the cyborg is mainly reflected in the popular media. Apart from Donna Haraway’s manifesto, the term barely appears in non-fiction or (popular) scientific articles. This usually concerns human enhancement, human augmentation, of transhumanism.
An explanation I can think of fort his is that cyborg is too narrow a definition. As I mentioned, since the Clynes and Kline article, other developments have emerged, such as pharmaceutical or biological improvement. If a scientist studies the manufacturability of humans, the term cyborg is too narrow. After all, you only talk about mechanical and electrical implants and improvements.
The term cyborg is too general and therefore useless for scientists.
This is also the observation of Chris Hables Gray, author of The Cyborg Handbook. According to him, the term cyborg has become too general and therefore useless. Due to its wide interpretation, the term has become particularly popular among science fiction writers and political theorists.
The eccentric British scientist and inventor James Lovelock wrote several books. In the book Welcome to the Novacene, he devotes a great part to cyborgs.
Contrary to the earlier definitions of Clynes and Kline, Haraway and Case, Lovelock does not speak of organisms that are part biological and part machine. He refers with that term to intelligent, electronic beings that design and assemble themselves, thanks to artificial intelligence.
Lovelock is not negative about this artificial intelligence. In fact, he sees us as humas as the creator and educator of these smart machines. These machines follow us in the evolution of life on earth. They are able to keep the earth (as a kind of organism in his Gaia theory) cool enough. Something that our humans cannot do, given the climate crisis with global warming. I wrote more about this idea in an article on the future of humans.
This part is about cyborgs in movies and fiction books. Later in this article I sometimes come back to a film, for example to explain that an example from a film is or is not realistic.
As I wrote before, cyborgs have been a fascination for authors, series-, and film-makers for decades. The quote that immediately comes to my mind is from T-1000, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day. ‘I am a cybernetic organism living tissue over metal exoskeleton.’
I am a cybernetic organism living tissue over metal exoskeleton
Sure, the Terminator movies are great, but I will give you a few other tips when it comes to movies with this theme:
Alita: Battle Angle
In RoboCop (1987) by director Paul Verhoeven, the police in the violent city of Detroit are privatized. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) wins that contract and develops a cyborg police officer: RoboCop.
Lead actor Alex Murphy (played by Peter Weller) is beaten up by criminals by a ruse by OCP, making himself the perfect candidate to become RoboCop. He finds out about OCP’s deception and then turns against the company.
In Repo Men (2010), patients can live longer with electronic artificial organs from the company The Union. However, there is a catch: the interest and payment arrangements are almost impossible.
The company sends bailiffs to the people who cannot pay for the organs. Bailiffs Remy and Jake (played by Jude Law and Forest Whitaker) track down defaulters to reclaim and confiscate the organs. Supporting role for Carice van Houten, as Remy’s ex-wife.
Hardcore Henry (2015) is a Russian filmi with a spectacular way of filming. The entire film is viewed from the perspective of Henry, the protagonist.
Without any memories, Henry wakes up in a zeppelin sailing above Moscow In a lab, his wife Estelle places a bionic arm and leg on him. In addition, he appears to have all kinds of electronic parts in his body, a real cyborg. Akan, a villain with telekinetic powers, claims Henry as the property of his company.
The Justice League (2017) movie is based on DC Comics. Victor Stone, played by Ray Fisher, is a cyborg and member of the Justice League. Before that, he was in the Teen Titans.
After a tragic accident, Victor’s father, scientist Dr. Silas Stone, rebuilds him with mechanical and electronic parts. In addition to superior physical strength, he can communicate directly with computers. Despite his hero status, he remains sad at the lack of an ordinary life.
In the film, Victor fights alongside Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman to save planet earth.
Alita: Battle Angle
In the movie Alita: Battle Angle (2019), the protagonist (actress Rosa Salazar) is built from the garbage of a city in the sky. Physician Dr. Dyson Ido constructs and repairs cyborgs. He is the one who brings Alita back to life.
The movie features many fictional cyborg enhancements, such as hands with circular saws and deadly flexible spears that shoot from a person’s shoulder. Yet the movie contains a deeper message. Thus, the dichotomy in this world is clearly visible; the immortal elite lives in a closed society miles above the Earth.
Books with cyborgs
In addition to movies, there are some excellent books in this genre. Two books have had a major impact on me: Neuromancer and Snow Crash.
William Gibson published the science fiction novel Neuromancer in 1984. It is a leading book in the cyberpunk genre. It was Gibson’s debut novel and it is the first part of the Sprawl trilogy.
Main character Henry Case is an unemployed, depressed and addicted computer hacker. After he is caught stealing from his employer, his nervous system is affected, which means he can no longer log into the matrix (a worldwide network of computers). After begin rescued by a mercenary with bionic upgrades (Molly), Armitage (an ex-US Army officer) offers him a job. In exchange for completing the assignment, he will restore Henry’s nervous system.
Remarkably, Neuromancer is the only novel to have won the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo Award.
Neal Stephenson published the book Snow Crash in 1992. It is a special novel, with references to and inspiration from religion, linguistics, philosophy and archaeology.
The main character has the unequivocal name Hiro Protagonist. He is a pizza delivery man for the mafia. When Hiro can’t deliver a pizza in time, skateboard messenger Y.T. it. They then team up to sell information to CIC, a successor to the CIA.
Hiro regularly plugs into the Metaverse. This is a virtual world and a successor to the internet. In that world, Hiro is offered a file. According to Raven, Snow Crash is a new kind of digital drug. When Hiro gives it to a hacker friend, the drugs turn out to be a deadly virus. Together with Y.T. Hiro investigates the origin of this virus in the real world and the virtual world.
In addition to books and movies, cyborgs are sometimes protagonists in games. An example is Cyberpunk 2077. Read an extensive article about Cyberpunk 2077 or watch the video:
I am part cyborg myself. I wear a subcutaneous chip between the thumb and index finger of my left hand. More information about this in the article. Other people go even further than me. You can read about these profiles in this section.
Who are well-known cyborgs, other than the characters in movies and books?
Cyprus-born Stelios Arcadio is one of today’s most legendary cyborgs. He currently lives and works from Australia. His artist name is Stelarc and he earned his status through radical experimentation [link at the bottom].
Take Ping Body. This was an installation in a museum in Luxembourg. Stelarc had electrodes attached to his muscles. Visitors from other places in the world could send signals to the muscles and thus operate them. Or Ear on Arm, where a third ear has grown on his forearm. He wanted to implant a microphone there, but due to a number of inflammations, he was unable to do so.
In an interview with Wired, he talks about the purpose of his projects. ‘As an artist you want to construct an interface or engineer an interface. To experience the real thing, and to articulate something meaningful about it. It is not just speculating about a future.’
His position is that technology will be and always has been an appendage of the body.
British computer scientist Peter Scott-Morgan was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in November 2017. One third of patients with this condition dies within a year, half within two years.
In this way, humanity will replace its fragile bodies with more permanent mechanisms, such as computers.
Scott-Morgan decides not to accept this. Striking, according to a journalist from The Guardian, is a passage in Scott-Morgan’s 1984 book The Robotics Revolution, in which he writes: ‘If the path of the improved man is followed, then humanity and robot will follow the same evolutionary path. stay branch. In this way, humanity will replace its fragile bodies with more permanent mechanisms, such as computers.’
First cyborg in the world
Scott-Morgan’s goal now is to become the world’s first true cyborg. In 2019, Scott-Morgan’s vocal cords were removed. Before the operation, he recorded 20,000 words, with the aim of using this later to be able to talk through a computer. He currently uses the movement of his eyes to communicate, similar to the method used by Stephen Hawking.
Researchers at Intel are working on improved software to automatically give him options in certain situations and based on his personality. In 2020, an English Channel released the documentary Peter: The Human Cyborg about his metamorphosis. Because that’s how Scott-Morgan sees it himself: ‘I will be part hardware, part wetware, part digital and part analogue.’
Moon Ribas I spoke with Neil Harbisson and Manel De Agues (the following profile) at a conference in Leiden. The interview is a little further down. The day before, Moon, Neil and Manel were on stage to talk about their life as cyborgs.
Neil Harbisson is the best known of the three. He has had an antenna placed in his skull, with which he can hear colors. Neil and Moon had set up the Transspecies Society in 2017, a movement that champions the recognition of cyborgs.
I was quite used to it, but during the lecture and our conversation afterwards I was amazed and fascinated. Moon, dyed blond hair and wide eyes, tells of a sensor that vibrates when there is an earthquake somewhere on Earth. The sensor is pierced on her elbow. The sensor is connected to online seismographs through her phone. The sensor vibrates in different levels, depending on the intensity of the quake.
She uses her seismic sense to create dance pieces. The choreography of her dance performance ‘Waiting for Earthquakes’ depends on whether earthquakes from 1.0 on the Richter scale can be felt. If there are no earthquakes of that scale or higher, then she is not dancing. If she does pick up vibrations, she performs movements based on the intensity of the vibrations.
Manel de Agues
Like Moon and Neil, I also spoke to Manel De Agues at the conference. He has short black hair, a black sweater and bright gold earrings. He developed fins and installed them on both sides of his head. From a distance they look like rabbit ears. Behind the two large white pointed shells, four wires run to the back of its ears.
Behind his head, he has a receiver that connects the installation to his telephone. The receiver translates the atmospheric pressure, humidity and changes in temperature into vibrations on its ears. Manel has trained himself to interpret the changes in the vibrations. He says he can predict weather changes and feels what altitude he is at.
Check out the interview I had with Manel, Moon Ribas and Neil Harbisson.
Other cyborgs I would like to name are myself (because of the subcutaneous chip I had placed in my hand), Neil Harbisson (cyborg artist), Kevin Warwick (scientist with first implants) and Tim Cannon (owner of Grindhouse Wetware).
A description of my experiment and the extensive profile of Neil, Kevin and Tim can be found in my article RFID Implants.
In addition to these cyborgs, these people also deserve a mention:
American Jesse Sullivan is known as the world’s first bionic person. After an amputation of both his arms, this electrician has prostheses that are connected to nerves in the muscles in his upper body. When he thinks about raising his arm, his artificial arm moves up.
Canadian filmmaker RobSpence calls himself ‘Eyeborg’. Rob lost an eye playing with his grandfather’s shotgun. He replaced his eye with a camera, first analogue and later digital. The camera is not connected to the nerves in his eye. He uses the images to make a documentary and he can make the eye turn creepy red. Spence calls it the Terminator look.
The Chinese Naomi Wu is one of the most popular cyborgs on social media. She has around 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube with her channel Naomi SexyCyborg Wu. Without internal technology, she is not a cyborg in the strict definition, but she makes good use of the term in her utterances. She is a poster child of the hacker and maker scene in Shenzen. She makes clothes and accessories with extra functions herself. Like her high heels, which contain a secret compartment containing a wireless router, an Ethernet cable and screwdrivers.
Finally, one of the most extraordinary human cyborgs is the American Rich Lee. On Instagram, his account is Lovetron9000. That name is not without reason. He is working on a vibrating implant to put in your genitals. Lee’s goal is to become the first human vibrator.
In this part, I write about a number of cyborg techniques. This is not a complete overview. For example, in my article on human augmentation, you can read more about prosthetics and exoskeletons. Or in my article on Neuralink there is more about brain implants.
The previous part on human cyborgs contained also some examples of upgrades and techniques. In this section, I will give some more examples.
In The Cyborg Handbook, Chris Hables Gray lists four functions of cyborg technology:
Reinforcement or increase.
Cyborgs in popular culture, like movies, series, books, and games, almost always compass the latter two functions: technology transforms, enhances and augments their human bodies and minds.
In this section, I will give some examples of techniques (in all categories) and related developments that support cyborg technology:
Related: biomaterials and modified nerve cells;
Special techniques: PegLeg, feeling UV light and LEGO prothesis.
I elaborate on these techniques below.
The first categories in Gray’s overview are recovery and normalization. I think the best example of this are the pacemakers. A pacemaker is a device that keeps the heart beating in the correct rhythm.
Incidentally, the pacemaker also fits in with the original definition of cyborgs by Clynes and Kline. They argue that a cyborg is someone who does not notice that technology is part of the body. As far as I know, this also applies to pacemakers. Wearers of course know that they wear a pacemaker, but they are not constantly working on it.
In the book The Body of Bill Bryson I read the extraordinary story about the development of the pacemaker. Swedish engineer Rune Elmgqvist collaborated with surgeon Åke Senning of the Karonlinksa Institute in Stockholm at the kitchen table to assemble a few experiments on pacemakers. They submitted the first version to Arne Larsson, a patient of forty-three years who would soon die of a heart rhythm disorder as a result of a virus infection. The device worked for a few hours. The backup was put in quickly and lasted for three years (although there were regular issues and the batteries had to be recharged every few hours).
With further advancements in technology, Larson regularly got new pacemakers. He died in 2002 at the age of eighty-six. He then had the 26th pacemaker in his chest and had survived both surgeon Senning and engineer Elmqist.
A bionic eye is another example of a recovery or normalization cyborg technology. In my book I wrote about Jeroen Perk’s retinal implant. Here is the introduction to that chapter:
Jeroen and the white coats
Shades, contrasts and spots. More and more images. Until they suddenly appear in front of him: the white coats of his doctors.
More than twenty-five years earlier it suddenly went a lot less. ‘At first I was scared to death. No one should know this, I decided,’ he says. At a certain point it was no longer bearable. I speak to Jeroen on a beautiful summer evening at his home in Hoofddorp. He wears a light blue T-shirt, jeans and Nike sneakers. In addition to his smile and infectious enthusiasm, something else stands out. He is wearing large black sunglasses with a three centimetre oval disc on the right side. A black cable runs from the sunglasses to a small box on his hip.
At the age of eighteen, Jeroen had already lost 80 to 90 percent of his sight. Two years ago, at 39, he can only see faint points of light on the sides of his field of vision. The reason is the progressive genetic eye disorder Retinitis Pigmentosa, also known as duct disease. Progressive, because from the age of 15 he could see less and less every few months.
In 2013, he went under the knife, a four-hour major operation. During the medical procedure, doctors placed an advanced chip on his retina, the retina chip. He was eligible for the chip from the American manufacturer Second Sight because the connection between his retina and the visual cortex was still intact.
The chip is connected to camera glasses. A computer he carries with him, the size of an old-fashioned camera, converts the images into signals that are sent wirelessly to the chip. The chip then sends pulses to the brain via an intact optic nerve, which result in pixels.
After the operation, he had to wait another two weeks before the camera glasses were put on. In an interview, he describes the moment the glasses were put on as a religious experience. He is ecstatic: ‘Now it has to happen, I knew. Now everything is going to change. At first there was, for a moment, the doubt. It was completely dark. What’s happening now? But then suddenly the realization: the light is back! I saw the doctors standing in front of me, in their white coats.’
It is fantastic
The retina chip contains sixty electrodes. Each electrode corresponds to one bright spot. That chip sends the points of light as pulses to the optic nerve. Jeroen then sees sixty pixels that are on or off. It is not much, but Jeroen is happy with it. ‘Suddenly I see beautiful lights and contours again, it’s fantastic.’
He recognizes the contours of an illuminated Eiffel Tower at night, the movements of the pop group Bløf during a concert on the beach and the sharp contrasts of sun and shadow on a ski slope.
He practices his bionic eye by scanning as many objects as possible. He points his camera glasses at something and then he tries to see as much as possible. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. His advantage is that he has been able to see for years. He links the image of sixty pixels to his memories.
To 1,024 pixels
Jeroen’s glasses contain sixty electrodes that are converted to the same amount of black or white pixels. He is very happy with that, but it is still a long way from the palette that healthy people can see.
One step was the publication at the end of 2020 of the Netherlands Brain Institute. Scientists at this institution managed to bypass the nerves in the eyes and send images directly to the cerebral cortex.
The researchers were able to incorporate 1,024 electrodes into the implant. Pieter Roelfsema, leader of the research: ‘The human eye has a million pixels, so 1,024 is only one per mille of the vision of a healthy pair of eyes’ [link at the bottom].
In an interview he compares the operation with a matrix board along the highway. ‘Arranging lights in a certain way creates certain letters or numbers.’
RoboCop and Black Mirror
The jump from 1,024 to a million pixels is still huge. Still, I’m curious whether successors to Jeroen’s retina chip will ever be better than natural variants. That looks like a function like in the film RoboCop: zoom in extremely, show information and share your camera images directly with others.
That also reminds me of a fascinating episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. In The Entire History of You, the characters wear a chip in their eye that allows them to record events and look back at them later.
The episode illustrates that the consequences of such a technology are greater than engineers and designers initially think. I will come back to this in the section on Ethics.
The most difficult thing about cyborg techniques is that the human body is not designed to carry electronic devices for long periods of time. Tissues and organs can be damaged with scarring and the immune system often springs into action against the unknown invader as well.
A scenario like in the movie Repo Men where electronic livers, kidneys and hearts are effortlessly placed in the body is not realistic.
At least until recently.
Scientists from the University of Delaware (United States) published their research in 2020 on a new type of material: PEDOT [link below]. It is a kind of layer, membrane or coating that you can apply to implants, prostheses and chips.
Lead researcher David Martin says in an interview that PEDOT’s fleece can be precisely matched to all possible types of biological materials. They have demonstrated this with a PEDOT layer with antibodies that can recognize certain tumours.
PEDOT therefore appears to be an ideal biomaterial for implants. David Martin: ‘Our materials are intended to bridge the gap between the inert, rigid, solid, abiotic designed device and the living, soft, wet, biotic tissue.’
Initially, scientists will want to use this to help patients with their implants. A next step
could be to use this bio-electronic layer on implants for transformation or improvement, according to Gray’s categories.
Speculate about the future
Some bloggers and news sites are also experiencing this, given the spectacular and speculative titles:
The material that could humans become cyborgs (Freethink);
Specialized polymers bring us one step closer to cyborgs (Inverse);
Cyborg technology could enable new diagnostics, merger of humans and AI (American Chemical Society).
It remains to be seen whether PEDOT can live up to the high expectations and whether it is also used for transformation or improvement of humans. I will come back to this in the Ethics section.
In addition to PEDOT’s biomaterials, there is another solution for the improved integration of implants into the human body. In 2020, scientists at Stanford University (United States) announced that they can adapt cells so that they can better conduct electricity [link at the bottom].
The team at Stanford modified the cells through genetic modification [read more about genetic modification here]. They changed nerve cells so that those cells now produce certain enzymes on their surface. The enzymes link small molecules in a chain, a polymer. Such a polymer can conduct or insulate electricity, depending on its composition.
The Stanford research and also the publication about PEDOT illustrate an interesting point: progress in (medical) research is often not linked to one scientific development.
The most interesting innovations often arise at the intersection of several technologies. A term for this development is recombination or singularity (although this is also used for the moment superintelligence arises).
Thinking ahead of this, the development of a technique such as brain implants can accelerate. In addition to new insights from neuroscience, artificial intelligence and electronics, smart materials such as PEDOT and hacked nerve cells can play an important role in this.
In addition to the pacemaker, retinal implants and biomaterials, there are also special techniques. Some of the cyborg profiles already contain a few examples, such as Stelarc with the extra ear, Manel de Agues with his weather sense and Rich Lee with his genital implant.
Still, there are a few other interesting additions:
The PegLeg is a wireless router and a 64 gigabyte hard drive the size of a roll of chewing gum. The name is quite literal: you wear the PegLeg in your leg. If you are near someone with this implant, you can upload and download files such as movies, books and photos [link at the bottom].
Spaniard Pau Prats is banned from Transpecies Society, as is Manel de Agues. Pau wears a band of electronics around his forearm. That band contains a sensor that detects UV light and a series of small motors to give off vibrations. A chip converts the amount of measured UV light into vibrations. Pau’s goal is to integrate that feeling more into his body, for example by attaching the vibrating motors to bones in his ears.
David Aguilar Amphoux’s nickname is Hand Solo. The reason: Due to a genetic defect, he was born without a right forearm. He has built a prosthesis with LEGO to replace his forearm. His LEGO arm is even strong enough that David can do push-ups with it.
Watch a video of David Aguilar Amphoux on YouTube:
In this section, I write about companies working on products that make us cyborgs.
Few companies are outspoken in their goal of turning people into cyborgs. This does apply to some companies, for example in the name (Cyborg Nest and Dangerous Things) or through statements by the CEO (Neuralink).
In addition, current technology companies are working on products that allow us to merge more with electronics, like Google, Apple and Facebook.
Below you will find the profiles of these companies:
I do not follow the strict definition of a cyborg. Some companies work on international technology, others on external products.
Cyborg Nest (based in London, England) will use technology to extend the human experience. CEO Liviu Babits: ‘Technology should not be used to oppress people, but should be available for everyone.’
Their first product is the North Sense. Liviu carries the device on his chest. The North Sense is as big as a hefty bandage and is attached to his body with piercings. The electronics are protected by a silicone shell. The device gives a small vibration when he is facing north.
After the North Sense, he is working on the Sentero. This is a portable device that can translate various forms of input into vibrations. In 2021, I interviewed Liviu Babitz for my English YouTube channel:
The American company Neuralink is working on brain-machine interfaces, using neurotechnology. Neuralink was founded in 2016 and first hit the news a year later. The media attention is also largely due to the founder and owner: Elon Musk (also known for his companies Tesla and SpaceX).
Het purpose of Neuralink is to sew small threads into the brain with a robot. The threads are connected to a small chip. The chip, in turn, can communicate with a phone or computer. During a presentation in August 2020, Musk referred to their method as ‘a Fitbit in your skull’.
Neuralink’s mission, in my experience, comes closest to cyborg techniques. Certainly if the engineers manage to read brain signals and influence the brain. This principle also follows the original definition of Clynes and Kline: a seamless cybernetic feedback loop.
The NFC-chip in my hand is made by Dangerous Things. An unambiguous name for when you sell implantable chips. The company is headquartered in Bellingham, United States of America.
In an interview via Zoom, owner Amal Graafstra says that personal frustration was the start of his company. ‘In 2005, I worked as a programmer at a biomedical equipment company. The lock opened with a pass, but I forgot that pass every now and then. It was especially irritating when my pass was inside and I was outside.’
He discovers a company that makes subcutaneous chips for cows and horses. He copies the access code from the pass to the chip. A doctor friend places the chip in his hand. From then on, Amal no longer has to take his pass to work.
In addition to his work, he writes on his blog about NFC and RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification). At that time, those tags are mainly used in shops. The tags ensure that the alarm goes off when someone goes outside with a piece of clothing without paying.
Publisher Wiley approached him to write a book about this technology. The book RFID Toys is published in 2006. The last chapter is about the chip in his hand. Amal: ‘The book was not a success, but for some reason the last chapter went viral.’ Every week he gets more questions and requests about the subcutaneous implants. In 2013, he decides to start Dangerous Things, a company that makes and sells implants.
I interviewed Amal Graafstra for my English YouTube channel in 2021:
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is not only concerned with the search engine, online advertisements, and services such as Android, Maps, and Gmail. In their innovation lab X, engineers work on ground-breaking ideas.
A well-known example is Google Glass, glasses on which the wearer can see extra information and make recordings. Even more closer to the body come their other projects, such as SkinMarks.
SkinMarks is a project with researchers from the University of Saarland (Germany) to make a tattoo that works as a touchpad [link at the bottom]. In other words, operate a device or perform a search by tapping or drawing on your skin.
The late Steve Jobs, the illustrious founder of Apple, famously said. He saw computers as ‘bicycles for the mind’. Jobs meant that computers can do more work with the same amount of energy.
Computers are bicycles for the mind.
His statement is in line with the visions that Amber Case and Andy Clark have: we are actually cyborgs already. With the Apple Watch and EarPods, the company is already moving closer to the human body.
According to an article at the end of 2020, smart glasses are one of the next products this company is working on. According to well-informed sources, statements by CEO Tim Cook from 2019 and patents filed, Apple is working on smart glasses. These are smart glasses with augmented reality. Not much is known yet about the functioning and functionalities of the projects with names N301 and N421.
Does Apple makes us cyborgs?
The reason for including Apple in this overview of cyborg companies is that the company is able to successfully market products like no other. Usually Apple is not the first to hit the market, but through a good mix of design, technology and marketing, it is the most successful.
What if Apple also succeeds with the smart glasses and we also start wearing smart glasses en masse in addition to our smartphones? Then questions arise that I will discuss further in the Ethics section: what will Apple do with those images in the future, do we have enough willpower ourselves to take off such glasses and at some point you can still do without them?
Imagine that we have the feeling that we cannot live without such smart glasses. Then we are even more cyborg than we are now with our reliance on smartphones. The title of the article is therefore telling: ‘Part human, part machine: is Apple turning us all into cyborgs?’
Facebook seems like an odd duck in this list. At first, the company seems to only get its revenue from ads on Facebook and Instagram. Yet Facebook is also investing in new technologies, such as virtual reality headsets with the acquisition of Oculus Rift. Or, like Apple in the previous paragraphs, in augmented reality glasses.
Besides the smart glasses, one of the projects that most touches on cyborg technology is the smart wristband. The name of this initiative is still unknown. Andrew Bosworth, the chief of the company’s virtual and augmented reality research lab, posted the first impressions on a blog and on Twitter in early 2021.
The wristband has electromyographic sensors. This means that it converts the electrical signals in the nerves in the wrist into digital commands. It is the vision of Bosworth and his colleagues that this allows you to communicate with computers and machines in a different and better way.
The wristband is expected to hit the market between 2025 and 2030. According to Bosworth, the reason Facebook is investing in this product is because it wants to connect people. Magazine Wired, like me, is sceptical about the company’s purpose. The wristband can also collect even more information about us or make us spend even more time on Facebook’s services. Consider, for example, an application where you can give a post a like with minimal effort, by thinking of moving your thumb.
From glasses in front of our eyes to the nerves in our wrists, Facebook is not lagging behind Apple and Google in mixing data and technology even more.
In this section, I write about the views of consumers and citizens to use cyborg technologies and products.
What do consumers want?
Based on the previous section, it is clear that the business community sees a lot of potential in products to allow us as humans to merge even more with computers and machines. More on whether we really should want this later. I am curious as to how people feel about this.
In previous articles I have already shared a few studies in which respondents respond to questions about whether they want to improve themselves:
The cases and questions differ per study, but most respondents react negatively and suspiciously about using technology to improve themselves. Most people are okay with using methods to help people with a condition, such as a pacemaker or an implant to restore hearing.
Respondents are more negative when it comes to improving and when it comes to introducing electronics into the body, especially cyborg techniques. In addition to PEW and Kaspersky’s research, I came across the following publications while writing this article:
I discuss the main findings of these studies below.
Research agency Kantar investigated the opinion of residents of eleven countries about human enhancement techniques for the SIENNA research project. The researchers didn’t ask residents if they wanted to become cyborgs. More generally, the questionnaire focused on four types of improvements:
Improving morality: 56% in favor;
Improving intelligence: 55% is in favor;
Choosing emotional state: 52% are in favour;
Live longer (becoming 120 years old): 47% are in favour.
With regard to this article on cyborgs, all four types of improvements are relevant. Think, with some imagination, of a brain implant to make you nicer and smarter, with an option to select your emotional state and a module to prevent brain decline.
Respondents also answered the question of whether a method should be temporary or permanent. For improving intelligence is almost the same: 49% think temporary and 47% are for permanent. Remarkably, residents from Spain, Brazil and South Africa are more in favor of permanent improvements.
I myself made a vlog about the SIENNA project to human enhancement. Here I also discuss some of the results of Kantar’s research. Watch the video on my English YouTube channel:
Dentsu is a large Japanese advertising agency specializing in innovation. In 2020, they released the Consumer Vision2030 report. This publication is much broader than Kantar’s research, as they also discuss drones, sustainability and synthetic biology.
A few things stood out for me:
One in three people want to have a chip placed in their brain with the aim of improving their senses, improving mental health, living longer and learning new skills faster.
Researchers expect a Universal Basic Upgrade to emerge. Every inhabitant on earth thus gets the right to certain biological or technological improvements for a reasonable price.
Incidentally, it is not clear to me who questioned Dentsu, with which question and which research method. The 33% percentage for the brain chip seems a bit high to me, especially when I compare it with the reactions I get when I ask this question to the audience when giving lectures or webinars.
The point of the Universal Basic Upgrade is one of the suggestions made by Professor Michael Bess in his book Make Way for the Superhumans. The argument he makes is that unequal access to radical improvement opportunities will lead to unrest and violence. I will come back to this in the next section on Ethics.
In my research for this article, I came across another interesting piece by Machuneta Kapfunde. She writes about developments at the intersection of fashion and technology. She sees three tribes emerging in society, which differ in the way they use and display technology:
Visible: Outspoken in showing cyber enhancements. Looking for new expressions of what it is to be human;
Embedded: technology inserted under the skin, such as implantable RFID chips in the hand;
Invisible: improvements are invisible. This group wants to use the advantages of technology, but still remain human.
I find her approach fascinating, although I think that, certainly in the coming decades, the fourth group will remain the largest. Those are people who don’t want to use cyborg technologies, both inside and outside the body.
In this part I write about risks, legislation and ethics.
What are the consequences if we become more and more cyborgs? I have divided them into four categories:
Data and surveillance;
I elaborate on the consequences below.
The security of devices and information is already a challenge. Think of data leaks and hacks of websites that are regularly in the news. The book I know your password by Daniël Verlaan is a book on this theme. This book really got to me. He describes the consequences of data breaches and hacks on a person’s life.
When it comes to technology in a person’s body, such as with cyborgs, the consequences are even greater. That’s because of the impact on health: hacking a pacemaker has even more consequences than hacking your smart television.
A second element is inadequate supervision. Medical implants obviously save and improve millions of lives, but they also take a heavy toll. According to the Implant Files, implants have caused 83 thousand deaths and 1.7 million injuries in the past decade.
These patients with implants are guinea pigs in one big experiment, without their knowledge.
Clinical epidemiologist Carl Henegan (University of Oxford, England): ‘These patients with implants are guinea pigs in one big experiment, without their knowledge’.
Internet of Bodies
RAND is an American think tank that conducts research into technological developments, often commissioned by the US military or government. In 2020 they released a report on ‘Internet of Bodies’ (IoB). By IoB they mean devices that monitor, collect and ship the human body.
Mary Lee, project leader of the study, sees safety and legislation as a major risk. ‘When it comes to regulating IoB, it’s the Wild West now.’ By this she means that there are no rules and that the government barely monitors the rules that still exist. In short, consumers have to rely on manufacturers.
History shows that user security is often not the priority of companies. For example, the American government took action to promote car safety after the publication of Ralf Naber’s Unsafe at any speed.
Data and surveillance
Cyborgs produce data. Humans basically don’t, apart from footprints and fingerprints and bits of DNA. Cyber technologies, both inside and outside the body, produce data streams. That data is stored or sent, usually also for the functioning of the implant or device.
This fact has two far-reaching consequences:
There are implicit and explicit preferences and biases in the design of the device and the underlying algorithms, as well as in the use of certain datasets;
Unless a different choice is made in the design, the data flow also means that a cyborg facilitates surveillance.
Both aspects are already visible in our current use of technology, such as platforms on the internet and websites. If we continue this line, then:
we run the risk that cyborg technologies are not inclusively designed and applicable. They may then work best on users similar to the entrepreneurs and designers: rich white men from the United States;
surveillance capitalism becomes even more succinct and intrusive. Why this is problematic is explained in the following paragraphs.
Shoshana Zuboff is a professor at Harvard Business School and published the influential book Surveillance Capitalism at the end of 2018.
Here’s the gist: traditional capitalism converts raw materials and labour into products. The internet is creating a new form of capitalism: surveillance capitalism. Through sites, apps and gadgets, technology companies harvest information about users and serve products, services and advertisements on that basis. Man himself becomes the raw material.
That in itself may not seem like a problem. Because the more companies know about you, the better they can tailor their products and services to you, right? According to Zuboff, it is not that simple.
Technology companies collect as much data as they can. Companies like Bol.com, Amazon, and Wehkamp use information, such as what you search and what you click on, to tailor their offer exactly for you.
In addition to date that you give permission to share, companies also collect residual data. Residual data is data that does not seem special at first. It is about how fast y you move your cursor, how smoothly you scroll through the feed on Instagram, and how fast you walk.
Companies use this data to make increasingly better predictions about your behavior with the help of algorithms. Their ultimate goal is certainty: guarantee to the advertiser that you will buy their product or service, if they show you exactly the right advertisements at the right times. As a consumer you have less and less freedom in what you buy and do. Your data has been edited, resold and analysed. Subconsciously you are tempted and sent to buy certain things. You are sold to the highest bidder.
The other way around is also possible: you are not sent or tempted on the basis of data, but on the contrary, you are excluded. As a result, you have to pay a higher premium for insurance or may not even be eligible for certain insurance policies.
Not only advertisers benefit from surveillance capitalism. At the end of 2018, it was revealed that the Cambridge Analytica company was using the data of millions of Facebook users to influence the voting behavior of American voters. The company has played a significant role in the vote on Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
This shows, Zuboff argues, that surveillance capitalism also undermines our democratic processes. Companies operating in this new form of capitalism are only interested in more profit. Their shareholders demand that. According to her, a way out is not easy. Zuboff says in an interview: ‘It is a collective problem, which requires a collective solution.’
In her opinion, it is good that as a user you are also aware of which digital services you use and which data you share with companies.
Consequences for cyborgs
The above sketch of the negative impact of surveillance capitalism is only based on data from laptops and smartphones. Cyborg techniques make even more intimate data available to companies and governments.
Consider, for example, the fictional case of a bionic eye. It is useful for a user because the eye also has night vision, can save and rewind your images and play your videos in your head.
For companies, these images are a source of information, because they monitor what you look at most. They may notice that your heart rate also increases slightly when you look at images of cars. Then they can try to tempt you more specifically there to sell a car of a certain brand.
Or think of governments: what if the eye picks up biometric data about your anger the moment you see a video of the political leader of the country. Could it be a way for governments to control its citizens even more directly?
After reading the book by Edward Snowden about the practices of the NSA and other intelligence services, I have become a little less naive about this myself. I will write more about this in the next section on Politics.
Hopefully I have made the foregoing aspects of Security and Surveillance clear that our future as a cyborg has implications beyond technology alone. Philosopher and media theorist Marshal McLuhan realized this much earlier: ‘When operating in society with a new technology, it is not that area that is most affected. It is the whole system that is being changed.’
When operating in society with a new technology, it is not that area that is most affected. It is the whole system that is being changed.
In addition to security, data and surveillance, various forms of cyborg techniques can provide a different perspective on the human body, social contacts, relationships between employers and employees and relationships between people.
Internet as a portal
The rise of the internet in the 1990s and the impact it has on our lives today shows this. It gives us a lot of benefits in the form of collaboration, access to information and social contact. On the other hand, it has also created negative effects such as fake news, filter bubbles and surveillance capitalism.
If the internet is our portal, then we have something to look forward to. As with the internet and smartphones, a political question is how we as citizens want to allow and use future cyborg technologies among themselves. This is a political question.
Politics is everywhere
Most people associate politics with the cabinet, the House of Representatives, political leaders and with governments. An alternative view is that politics can be found almost everywhere. Not only in town halls and government organizations, but also:
Private: between friends and colleagues, and within families;
In clubs, teams and religious institutions;
In art, architecture, science, literature and embedded in the language itself.
In short, wherever there is cooperation, conflict or control, politics is present. It is about social order and agreements. According to this view, politics is not something to be avoided or ignored.
From this perspective, the direction we take as cyborgs is therefore a political choice. Not just a choice made by ministers and representatives, but a choice in which we are all involved in different roles.
In the book Future Politics, Jamie Süsskind describes the following fundamental political principles:
Power: to what extent are organizations and institutions allowed to exercise their power?
Freedom: what is allowed and what is forbidden?
Democracy: how can citizens exercise their influence?
Justice: what are the rights and obligations of citizens?
The model can help to compare cyborg applications. Take the PegLeg I described earlier, an implant with a router and storage capacity. Political questions are whether the PegLeg is allowed or prohibited (freedom), whether an employer can oblige it (justice), how the supplier handles the data it collects (power) and whether citizens can prevent its introduction to the market (democracy ). The results of such a dialogue then find their way into legislation, treaties and agreements.
This example with the PegLeg shows that it is not a simple and simple problem. The way we look at new applications may also change our interpretation of power, freedom, democracy and justice. The (political) conversation about our cyborg future affects all of us and is never finished.
An interesting addition on this theme is the rights and obligations of cyborgs. Richard MacKinnon already drafted the Cyborg Bill of Rights in 2017 [link at the bottom].
These are the five rights that MacKinnon formulates:
Indemnity from demolation;
Freedom from compulsion to form;
Control over integrated body objects;
Right to physical sovereignty;
Equality for mutants.
What appeals to me in MacKinnon’s summary, is that he takes the situates of the cyborgs as a starting point. It is about protecting him or her, but also his or her autonomy and freedom. For example, you have the authority over the implants (3rd right) and your employer may not demand a certain upgrade from you (2nd right).
Laws, rules, political treaties, and international agreements have an important role, but they are limited. They cannot overcome all situations. Also important are the norms and values, morality, in society and how we behave as citizens, consumers, patients, and users. This is ethics, a term that has a lot of overlap with the broad definition of politics I gave earlier.
Technology is the mediator that actively helps share reality.
The French philosopher Bruno Latour argues that technology even influences our norms and values. He says: ‘Technology is the mediator that actively helps shape reality.’ In other words, technology is part of people and our behaviour. It’s woven into our morals. Due to the progress in science and technology, this interdependence is becoming more and more apparent, especially if we, as cyborgs, place the technology in our bodies. As a result, the boundary between humans and technology disappears completely.
How can we use ethics in the (political) discussions about our future as cyborgs? I myself am charmed by the work of Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente) with regard to counselling ethics. This method is related to Latour’s pronunciation. It is about mediation, the way in which technology influences us and vice versa.
The central question in counselling ethics cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but with ‘how’. It concerns the choices in the design, implementation and use of a technique. Broadly speaking, these are the phases in the method:
Case: description of the technology in context;
Dialogue: who are the actors, what are the effects and what are values?
Options: design choices in technology, environment and usage.
Another important principle is to involve the users of the technology as much as possible in the process. It is not an exercise for ethicists, experts and technicians, but the emphasis is precisely on the application in practice.
In line with the comments on guidance ethics and the role of politics, I argue that technology or commercial interests should not be leading. In our society with all kinds of political, economic and social factors, this is a naive idea.
But then again: given the potential of cyborg methods, it is important not to surrender to technology. As far as I’m concerned, the best order is: which values do we find important and how does a technological application change that? On the basis of a dialogue, we then determine whether and how we will allow an application on the market.
What could then be guiding values? In the SIENNA Ethics report, the authors list the following: autonomy, dignity, equality, fairness, health, safety, peace and privacy [link at the bottom]. As far as I am concerned, these values are a good starting point, although the caveat is that SIENNA was a European research project. So it is that other values in the United States or Asia are more important and that people define and interpret the values differently.
Another complicating factor is that some values can conflict with each other. Suppose: I wear the Neuralink brain chip for an optimal condition of my brain (health). Do I have to take into account that others do not want or cannot wear such a chip (equality and fairness)? Does the company need my brain data for the chip to function properly? Does this influence my privacy and autonomy? Do I trust the company, in the sense that hackers cannot access the chip (security)?
This example shows that it is already complex to make such a decision for yourself. Let alone if you think about the consequences for others. Or that other values are probably (more) important to others.
It is complex; weighing values, making a collective judgement about them, assessing the effects (for example with the help of the four fundamental political principles of Süsskind) and then assuming that companies and countries adhere to them.
Still, that is the best way I see it at the moment. Our future as a cyborg is a political choice. It concerns us all, not only administrators and politicians, but also us as consumers, parents, employees, employers, patients, and concerned citizens. Everyone is involved.
A principle that can help with this is More’s Law. Author Andrew Keen derived this law from Moore’s Law, a principle from the computer industry in which processor speed has been increasing exponentially since the 1960s.
The name comes from Thomas More, author of the book Utopia. More’s Law stands for humanism with a focus on agency. We are responsible for positively influencing the world of the future with our choices.
A focus on More’s Law rather than Moore’s Law. It differs one letter, but as far as I am concerned it represents a fundamentally different paradigm. Technological development is not something what happens to is, but something we direct.
Because if we do not have an early debate, we leave the development of technology to the engineers, the market, and individual choices. The collective effect of individual self-determination can be that we enter a future that we do not want and without a democratic debate about it [link at the bottom].
In this part I write about my vision.
The cyborg has always been a sight to me, something that is always in the future. While people from the 1950s, 1970s, and perhaps even 1990s would characterize us that way. We are just barely carrying electronics and technology in our bodies, but we are continuously connected.
At home with a smart thermostat. In the city with cameras, sensors in the road, and location determination on our phone. In the hospital with measurements and artificial intelligence analysing scientific papers, datasets, and images. On our body with the smart watch, a pedometer, and a ring full of sensors. But most of all: with a phone that feels like an extra limb, a part of my body and identity.
How far do we go?
Do we go further? The image of the cyborg in books, series, and movies is that of the Terminator, Robocop, or Major from Ghost in the Shell. These are entities that are part machine and part human.
Personally, I think those archetypes of cyborgs will have to wait a little longer. The examples in this article, such as Stelarc, Manel, and Moon, are pioneers. They are forerunners and use their own bodies to explore the future. But it’s an exploration, it’s not that we as a society will follow them en masse.
Their projects are artful, artistic, creative and fascinating. The risk is that their utterances distract us from the really important players: technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Neuralink.
Technology philosopher Bernard Stiegler warns against the automatic society in which people are subject to digital economic systems. Humans as a data package, adapted to technology companies, instead of the other way around.
For companies, cyborg applications are the way to get even closer to our bodies. That’s the biggest risk I see. Our current way of dealing with smartphones and (social media) apps resembles a technological rat race. As individuals we want more: more money, more productivity, more achievement, more prestige and more success.
The business community is happy to respond to this, but we also give them all the space they need in the capitalist system. They have to make a profit for their shareholders, who we as citizens often are ourselves, for example with our pension funds or our own investments.
Technology is a magnifying glass of human qualities. Therefore, if we develop and market cyborg techniques in our current capitalist system, there is a good chance that we will follow the interests of companies and governments. They will strive to find ways to make our employees even more productive, more predictable as citizens and more tempting as consumers.
While I would love to be a cyborg that makes me more human, just like Clynes and Kline in 1960. Think of a chip that always makes me feel connected to the people I love. Or an implant that provides more empathy and creativity.
Instead of a cyborg that looks more like a machine, we should strive for good cooperation between man and machine. As a cyborg more human.
Finally, what is my (provisional) conclusion?
The cyborg has been part of our culture since the 1960 paper by Clynes and Kline. For us, the term stands for technology. Where until now we mainly used external aids, such as the wheel or a hammer, technology is now penetrating and in our body more and more.
The term also stands for a broader development, as formulated by Donna Harraway, Andy Clark and Amber Case. Without introducing electronics into the body, we are already cyborgs. This is because of our reliance on technology. Think of your own relationship with the internet, your smartphone and apps on it.
Role of popular culture
We can no longer be distinguished from technology. Technology makes us human. The term cyborg is therefore not clearly defined enough, so that it is hardly used by scientists. Popular culture such as movies, books and series has adopted the term cyborg. There the amalgamation of man and machine is often dismal or fatal for man.
Artists such as Stelarc and Moon Ribas explore the possibilities of cyborg techniques with their own body as an object. They help us as a society to shape our own ideas and beliefs about our cyborg future.
Role of business
While filmmakers and artists stimulate our fantasy about the cyborg, business is the group with the greatest impact on our future. I expect that they will make even more products on and in the human body. What do they use their development power for? From what values do they do that? How are they guided in this by government and politics? What does it gain for us as citizens and what do we sacrifice for this?
The real questions
Apart from futuristic technologies that seamlessly merge us as humans with machines, such questions are essential for the coming years and decades to come. These are deep ethical, philosophical and political questions that touch on our core: what is it like to be human, what kind of person do we want to be and what kind of society do we want to live in?
If we want a bright future as cyborgs, these are questions that we now have to think about and discuss with each other.
Do you want to know more about cyborgs?
Do you want to know more about cyborgs?
Please contact me if you have any questions! Like if you want to invite me to give a lecture, presentation, or webinar at your company, at your congress, symposium, or meeting.
Or if you want to book a session with me as an expert consultant in this area.