Cyborgs: Man or machine?
Cyborgs: Man or machine?
While an environmentalist would envision the world to be dead in the future because of oil companies, physicist and author Louis Del Monte describes the future in one word: cyborgs. Luckily, Del Monte’s vision of the future doesn’t follow the popular Hollywood interpretation where cyborgs and man are at a never-ending battle for the fate of the planet. Del Monte believes that a future with cyborgs will be much more mild and accepted by humans than the future created by Hollywood.
In an article published by Washington’s CBS branch, Monte reveals that, “Human intelligence will be outmatched by 2040, or no later than 2045.” Before judgment day is at hand, Monte believes that the likelihood of humans becoming cyborgs is based off of, “The allure… [of] immortality.” Monte also theorizes that humans will eventually replace faulty limbs with mechanical ones. The next step would be to connect these limbs and other artificial parts to the internet, allowing for the latest artificial intelligence on the web to merge with human intelligence.
In his CBS report, Monte estimates that “machines will slowly merge with humans, creating human-machine hybrids and that human intelligence will be outmatched by 2040 or no later than 2045.”
This groundbreaking theory does, however, hold some unanswered questions that are leaving some uneasy. For instance, would data be widely available to connect these cyborgs to and from the internet wirelessly? Would the weight of all this technology cause nerve and tissue damage?
For those who prefer to be fully organic, this theory may seem a bit frightening. It also doesn’t take a genius to see that prejudices may develop between those who are artificially enhanced and those who are not.
The popular image of a cyborg is often associated with Robo Cop or other 1980's superheroes; and yet, a cyborg is originally defined as a fictional being with both organic and biomechatronic parts. This definition was coined in the 1960's when the very idea of combining man and machine was so outlandish that cyborgs had to be fictional.
However, the definition of cyborg has changed with time, turning fiction into reality. A cyborg is now known as, “A person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.” This means that anyone with a hearing aid or prosthetic limb is considered to be a cyborg. Many differently abled people are, therefore, already considered cyborgs.
Then there’s Jonathon Thiessen, a modern day cyborg. “I'm pretty sure my head is worth more than some people's cares,” says Thiessen as he explains the various non-organic parts that are mixed into him. With a combination of metal plating in his jaw due to a cleft pallet and several plastic tubes as well as implanting a possible hearing aid, Thiessen technically fits the definition of a cyborg.
However, Thiessen never felt that he was anything more than an average person and the idea of connecting to the internet or artificial intelligence doesn’t sit so well with him. “When I was 12, I had a hearing aid implanted in me for a couple of years and I might need one again, but I never was or will be a cyborg.”
“To be honest, I would never want to combine my mind with anything, especially if it involved my hearing aid,” says Thiessen. He explains that many of these devices still run off of small batteries and other intricate parts that can break easily. If we are all connected and something runs out of power or breaks, would that one individual become weaker than the others or would the human body just be like when a person’s data runs out on their phone?
Thiessen isn't totally against the process of blending man and machine together though. After all, technology has helped him out over the years. He stresses that people with aid devices don't see themselves as anything but people. To Thiessen, if people connect to the internet and begin to make the distinction between cyborgs and non-cyborgs, the word will be overcome by new prejudices.
Although Thiessen isn't saying that there’ll be a full blown xenophobic movement towards those who have mechanical parts, there’ll definitely be a lot of little changes in the way people view biomechatronics.
Thiessen also disagrees with Monte's idea that the transition to a cyborg lifestyle will be smooth and easy. “I would only use my hearing aid for hearing,” says Thiessen. He then goes on to say that most people who need a mechanical device or implant have been taught that it’s only to be used as intended. “My hearing aid was for allowing sound to enter, just like the tubes. Connecting to podcast and the radio would be great, but I was always taught it wasn't a toy.”
Imagine a new generation of individuals that treat their prosthetic limbs and other aid giving machines like their smart phones. Thiessen goes on to speak about how many of these items are becoming available to everyone now and if we do add Wi-Fi and data to prosthetic parts, the price of these parts will defiantly skyrocket. “It takes me about two paychecks to pay fully for a new hearing aid,” says Thiessen. He also talks about how expensive it was for tubes to be put in his head and for metal to be put in his jaw. He can't imagine how expensive mechanical body parts would be if the internet was added to the parts.
Right now, the most prominent issue is Monte's vision of the future. There have been many failed predictions of the future. Just in 2005 alone, the LA Weekly published an article outlining how no news or magazine would ever survive on the Internet. One quote from the article even states that “this website venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable.” Yet 10 years later, the Huffington Post is as strong as ever. Despite having a multitude of technology-related predictions, there is not always a clear or definite answer.
But are we getting all worked up over nothing? A representative from the War Amps puts Monte’s fascination with cyborgs in simple terms: “These predictions are interesting and whimsical but they must be treated like fiction.” She goes on by mentioning how, “We must treat this man's prediction like the film Back to the Future.” According to the representative, we can look forward to this ideal future, but must stay firmly planted in reality
Mara Juneau, a member of Orthotics Prosthetics Canada, couldn’t give any real solid predictions or insight into the situation due to the complexity and uncertainty of the future. The future seems uncertain and many organizations are not fully comfortable with the idea of trying to deal with problems that don't even exist yet.
It is, however, certain that the issue of machine-human hybrids isn't going anywhere. As we continue to advance machines and artificial intelligence, combining the two seems to be unavoidable. On the other hand, it is still unclear as to whether or not humans will combine with machines to the extent of becoming Monte's cyborgs. Perhaps the future will take a completely unpredicted turn and produce something that none of us could have ever dreamed of.