The Modern Cyborg

Someday in the distant cyborg future, when our internal and external memories fully merge, we may come to possess infinite knowledge. But that’s not the same thing as wisdom.
— Joshua Foer

Bob is a cyborg, an amalgamation of flesh and machine, a combination of organic and fabricated parts that are selected for their suitability for the tasks that Bob must perform. The computerised improvements are predominantly cognitive and communicational, but there are a number of accessories that Bob has access to should he need to perform more manual tasks.

When Bob wakes up, he has specialised apparatus to clean his essential components, particularly the biological parts that still undergo natural processes. He commutes via a personal, mechanised transport system. His work is done by interface with a vast network of distributed processors through ergonomically designed human interface devices. At any moment, thanks to his advanced, networked components, Bob can summon up the results of a complicated data analysis, converse with someone on the other side of the planet and arrange for next weeks nutrients to be delivered to his abode for storage. You can even find out how Bob is feeling and what he's doing at any time of day (or night).

Of course, Bob is just an information worker with a Facebook account. We don't need to be Locutus of Borg to reap all the benefits of techno-biological integration. This is something I've talked about before, but the concept of a cyborg really isn't all that futuristic. The only real point of differentiation is the close integration or replacement of biology with technology; something that doesn't provide any clear, apparent benefit in most circumstances. Why have artificial eyes to see an extended spectrum when there is eyewear that can do the same job? No surgery, easily replaceable, can be discarded at a moment's notice if they become a hindrance.

Modern reality suggests that integrating technology into the body will be far more subtle. The introduction of slow-release implants containing designer molecules to maintain our health and target foreign and congenital diseases is a natural progression of modern medical practice that is already in use for contraceptive as well as treatment purposes. Personal information could be contained in sub-dermal microchips where it will never be lost. Replacement arms seem a little drastic when an external machine can perform that task with all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks. It seems to me that the more extreme forms of body modification or biohacking will, if trends continue, be more subcultural and fashionable than it will be a matter of human progress.

Of course prosthetics are advancing in leaps and bounds, with a number of new technologies allowing for more control and more sensory feedback than seemed possible a decade ago - but with no clear advantage to non-amputees this kind of limb replacement would seem unlikely to ever catch on amongst the general population. Even if you consider the notion of mind-computer interfaces, is there really an advantage to having your brain physically plugged in? Certainly not with any technology on the current horizon, simple access to data would not necessarily be more convenient than your smartphone, but there are perhaps more creative applications that would allow for works previously impossible to realise. Only time will tell.

Most of the real advantages experienced by Star Trek's Borg are already available to us to some degree. Collaboration over great distances, equipment that allows us to perform tasks well beyond the capabilities of our biology alone. We are already cyborgs, but as with many developments predicted by science fiction the truth is far more elegant than the writers imagined, and perhaps the body shock is far less beneficial to reality than to fiction. The truth is that the fundamental purpose of all technology is the same, whether it's the wheel or the silicon chip; it exists to augment our bodies.