Cyborg You

A cyborg, short for “cybernetic organism,” is a being with both biological and artificial (e.g. electronic, mechanical or robotic) enhancements.
— Wikipedia

We've grown up with cyborgs, from Tony Stark's alter-ego Iron Man, to Ghost in the Shell's Motoko Kusenagi. We conjure up images of people with mechanical limbs. We assume prosthesis, implantation, human-computer integration and direct technological enhancements. Part of this problem is that to us, who are living through the dawn of the computer age, that own smartphones and Blu-ray players, technology is a thing that you hold, with buttons and flashing lights. Even the technology of the future is this immediately tangible object; it's the U.S.S. Enterprise or the ray-gun.

We assume therefore that the cyborg of the future is superhuman, that some form of hybridisation of the species is involved; the merging of man and machine. I think the reality is more subtle, the reality is more nuanced and also much more simple. The reality is that we are cyborgs now and that is no simile or metaphor, just a more human-oriented point of view.

If we look at some of the things that we expect of a technologically enhanced human then there are some striking patterns. Wireless communication, over phenomenal distances in an insignificant timescale, is a reality. Astronauts can tweet from the International Space Station, we can tell our friends where to find us at any moment in real-time and have conversations 'face to face' with relatives across the world. I may not hear your voice in my head like some kind of brain-wired two-way radio, but seriously, would you ever want that?

We have this habit of predicting technology in our science fiction with a laughable lack of accuracy (bar a few visionary futurologists such as Arthur C. Clarke who predicted satellite communications in 1945, approximately 20 years before it's realisation). Take a look at the enormous, unintelligible 'LCARS' computer interfaces in Star Trek: it flies in the face of Moore's Law. Do we really expect our tablet computers to be the size of a PADD in a hundred years time? Our expectations of cybernetic organisms are similarly vulgar.

We achieve many of the benefits of cybernetic augmentation, such as we imagine it, without the aid of neural implants and other invasive, potentially dangerous alterations. We can access Wikipedia whenever we want, to settle and argument in the Pub - the collective knowledge of our entire species is becoming available to us on demand. Perhaps more importantly, we can still elect to leave our phones at home. The augmentation of our species is always going to be something done more or less on our own terms, in ways that we really consider to be beneficial. Why have your perfectly good arm replaced with some biomechanical prosthetic when you can build a discrete machine that will do the job as well if not better? Why stick microchips in your brain when the little box in your pocket offers all the benefits and none of the disadvantages?

How do you consider a common painkiller, which literally interferes with your body's neuro-electric signals, anything less than the artificial enhancement of the human body's own biological systems? It's not what we think of when we consider cyborgs, yet achieving the same thing with implanted circuitry is not conceptually different in its result.

The reality of cyborgs is that we are already cyborgs. We've been cyborgs for quite some time and we're ever becoming better cyborgs. We hold on to these science fiction ideals of the fundamental replacement of biological function because it is exotic to our current experience of life as a human (though some amputees are beginning to feel a bit more like the fiction now) and it makes for provocative storytelling. Technology does not need to be physically integrated into our biology to augment our biology. Writing itself is a proof of this concept - outsourcing memory to a more accurate and permanent form.

Since we first picked up a stick and clubbed our dinner over the head with it we have been inseparable from our technology. The real glory of the human species is its ability to radically surpass the meat that it's made of. Our bodies are our primary means of interaction and not necessarily flawed or in need of replacement. We can add without adding, and achieve more because of it.