Technology and culture - COMM 3P92 Assignment 3 Date: 20/01/2014 Instructor: Dale Bradley/ Monday seminar
CYBORGS By: Peter Packroff
In this module of Technology and Culture, the theme “Cyborgs” has been the main focus. Similar to all other technological evolutions throughout the past century, cyborgs have been met with the same scepticism and fear. But does the general public really know what the definition of a cyborg really means, and have films confused the understanding of the term? This essay will examine, if we are already cyborgs. And if we are, is the fear we are exposed to through films then reasonable? Throughout all the sci-fi movies they keep questioning “When will the technology take over, and start to think it self and then finally turn against the humans”.
The word, Cyborg.
The word cyborg is the joining between the two words: Cybernetic and organic. Simply put, it can be understood as an organism which is created. Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto (course readings) is suggesting an understanding of the term as being; where organic meets cybernetic. This means, where technology becomes a vital part of the body and physics, but is not necessarily build in. These being e.g. reading glasses, hearing aids or even computers, which e.g. in hospital can keep a human alive: “…And as we come to understand ourselves not as purely human in physical world of nonhuman entities, but as part of life world of sociotechnical hybrids”. (Soufoulis, Zoe, 2002).
If one looks up the explanation on Google, he/ she will find hundreds of different definitions of the word. Among them, as above suggests; “cybernetic and organic”, but also the common understanding as being: A human: Half human and half machine. The word, which entered our vocabulary in the 1960’s, did not have the same notion then, as today, where Robocop and other sci-fi movies confused the general public’s understanding of the word.
The unclear definition of the human
The understanding of “soul” and “human” has changed gradually over the past 100-200 years, from the first understanding of how we as species have developed from the apes, and rapidly developed our brains. And as we started to understand more about our body functions as being similar to other animals’, we started to search for the home of the soul; weather it being the heart or the brain. After WW2 the development of the investigation of anatomy accelerated so fast, that the need arose for people to take position and political stand points toward the many ethical questions on genetic science. In the 1960’s the whole notion of what a human is, was turned up side down, when sociologist argued that most of our behaviours were learned, and not genetic determined. Today we are still struggling with questions such as, what a human is, and how far to go. As computer development is rapidly moving forward, we start to understand the human’s body, as working and processing just like a biological computer. The next major step for scientists is to create storage and process power within liquid and
non-metalic substances, such as silicone/ gel, which has proven to be effective for storage. This fast developing process is therefore questioning: What is organism? Is it “natural”, being something “nature” has created? Or can a digital created electronics also be understood as an organism, such as e.g. a computer virus which can digitally spread and reproduce it self? Has an organism got to be made from a “natural substance” or something gelatinous, and not from metal? The Google Web Definition is “a living thing that has (or can develop?) the ability to act or function independently”. Is GM corn natural, and is it understood just as a normal organism, as it can function independently? These points question, when a produced organism is “alive”, and why not? What if we make an artificial heart which beats? Is this an organism then?
We are all cyborgs
The word “cyborgs” entered our vocabulary in the 1960’s, and fast became an icon of the future world. However, Haraway’s Cyborg manifesto (developed over 1980’s to mid 1990’s) suggests that we are already cyborgs: Understanding, that no humans in this western world are full blooded natural humans: A pace-maker has not grown into and become part of the body, but it is still influencing the heart beat and can with reason be understood as an electronic organ. On same account are machines that rinse the blood (on humans who e.g. suffer from kidney malfunctions), or digital voice enhancers for patients who suffer from throat cancer. The fact that the humans today are dependent on technology, make us all cyborgs:
“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics”. (Soufoulis, Zoe, 2002).
And not only electronics are interfering with our minds and bodies: Today’s medical treatments also influence our behaviour and our lives: Some women get insemination and use birth control pills, and some men use Viagra. A big part of the western population use mood-lifter pills. When people are drunk, take antidepressives or are under influence drugs, are they then not them selves any longer? Are they not brain manipulated “robots”, as a matter of fact, who have lost their souls, and are they not unique examples of cyborgs?
If the search results on Google reflect the general population’s understanding of the word, cyborg, then the general public can be argued to have a misguided understanding of the term. It is a probability that it is the latest movies from the 1990’s and up, which have confused the public understanding, and contributed to an enhanced unrealistic fear of the future human beings.
What confuses the debate, can be the suggested definition of hybrids: Above section argued that we are already cyborgs. So the more appropriate term to describe
robots like Robocop would be hybrids. The term however, does not seem to ease the pessimistic predictions of machines (who) that might turn against us. Following three films are similar in understandings of hybrids: The oldest and probably most remarkable of these hybrid (cyborg) sci-fi movies is Robocop. A police officer killed in action, is “restored”, and programmed to serve and uphold the law. Basically only his face (and partly the brain) behind the mask, remains the same. The police officer’s brain is programmed to uphold the law. However, he starts to gain some of his own “real” knowledge back, and moves beyond programmed, in order to find his murderer, and soon found to be a robot, out of control. In the film Terminator, the robot is given an artifistic intelligence – which means it can be self-taught, just like a human. But in this film, the robot is given a human skin, and a meat-like substance (muscles), eyeballs etc. However, the terminator (in 2 and 3) is reprogrammed to help the humans, but in Terminator 3, another terminator infects the “good” terminator’s brain with a virus, and he then turns against the humans. Irobot is a movie, which also deals with development of artifistc intelligence. A line of “house” robots suddenly develop their “minds” unintended. Because the humans will destroy the robots, the robots are now turning against the machines. All of above mentioned movies show the development, either caused by war – or as if they will lead to war. This does reflect the past military technological developments, but is this a realistic approach to how the society and electronics will develop in the future?
A hybrid or Cyborg future (conclusion)
In above mentioned movies, the hybrid is not far from today. However, the development so far, has been relatively slow. Haraway, as a non technological determined techno-cultural writer, believes that the development is socio-determined, and therefore, will take much longer to develop. Technologies we have today can actually make us become “semi hybrids”. The US army has developed transparent monitor goggles, in order to navigate their soldiers, using GPS, heat sensors, move sensors and night vision features. Hayles, N. Katharin (course readings) is addressing e.g. fly simulators and virtual reality as a cyberspace, to be likely to integrate with the “human cyborg”. Imagine a transparent “fly simulator” in the googles, or in the window screen of an airplane, when it is landing at night, what make us keep our own vision, but add extra information for our eyes? This is technology as close as it gets, using “Robocop and Terminator technologies”. The past ten years, Sony, Honda and Toshiba have all worked on their artifical intelligence- robots that can read, learn and understand their environments. Science is close to have mapped the brain. With hydro-technology, fast evolution of battery quality and miniature process power, the Terminator and Irobot world is not far away. However, though neuron-science (understanding of how to make electronic technology biological in terms of imitating nerve systems) will become the biggest area of future technological science, there have only been few successes with implanting technology in brains, as mean of treating epilepsy with electronic shock waves, and use the use of the pace maker.
The science is still far away from enabling the computer to integrate with the human mind and organs. But looking at how science today is moving onto the medical field, in favour of the military, suggest that the evolution will be more peaceful, and not necessarily be used to eliminate our selves and others. And as a matter of fact, the future technology might well be developed and created to serve the humans, and not necessarily have to have a negative outcome? Realising how far we are, as a matter of technological integration with the human body, will reveal that the future is already here.
Course material covered for Cybernetics and Posthumanism
NO 21 The Machine in the Ghost: Cyborgs and the Problematization of Subjectivity ***Review Essay 2 due in lecture*** Soufoulis, Zoe. "Cyberquake: Haraway's ManifestoÓ. Prefiguring Cyberculture. Ed. Darren Tofts [et al]. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2002 NO 28
"We Can't Have Our Products Turning Against Us" FILM: Robocop Dir. Paul Verhoeven US 1987 Best, Steve. "Robocop: The Crisis of SubjectivityÓ. <http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/best1.htm>
Monstrously Familiar: Subjectivity and the Mirror of Technology Hayles, N. Katharine. ÒThe Seductions of CyberspaceÓ. Rethinking Technologies. Ed. Verena Andermatt Conley. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1993.