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“Cyborg: A fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.” – Oxford English Dictionary
Fictional? Hypothetical? Are you sure about that?
The idea of a cyborg has long been a fascination for science fiction. Usually depicted as human but with mechanical or computer-based implants or additions (and often a weapon), a cyborg is often portrayed as something to fear. But are cyborgs exclusively in the world of sci-fi or a reality in today’s society?
That is a difficult question to answer, given the fluid and ever changing definition of a cyborg, Pacemakers, a device that keeps your heart beating correctly is a common example of an electronic device that alters the human body. Does having a pacemaker make you a cyborg? What about a false hip? Or a glass eye? Whilst some of these more common implants do not conjure thoughts of Robocop or the Marvel superhero Cyborg, there have been some examples in recent years of implants into humans that may make people think twice…
One such example is Neil Harbisson. Neil was born with the inability to see colour, and now wears a prosthetic device, lovingly named ‘eyeborg’, which allows him to hear colour. Neil uses this very unique interaction with the world to create art (you can hear Neil discussing this during his Ted talk: https://www.ted.com/speakers/neil_harbisson). Kevin Warwick, a Professor of ‘Cybernetics’ in the UK has experimented with various electronic implants within his own body – with an aim to connect us more closely to technology (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxWarwick-Kevin-Warwick-Impla). Other examples of ‘real life’ cyborgs include people with bionic limbs, artificial vision, and even a man who has a USB flash drive instead of a finger (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/5005118/Computer-programmer-from-Finland-has-lost-finger-replaced-with-USB-drive.html)!
There are obvious benefits to integrating technology with the human body, whether that is to allow someone the perception of colour, or to keep their heart functioning correctly. But where do we stop? Should we stop? Do we need to develop technology that can enhance the human body even further? What about for non-healthcare issues? After all, wouldn’t everybody like zooming vision and the ability to control the television volume with the power of your mind?
In this episode of The Neutrinos are Mutating we are joined by Dr Kirstie Andrews, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University where we discuss the fascinating world of human/technology implants and consider the truth behind the 1989 blockbuster ‘Cyborg’ starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. During this episode of the podcast, we ask what makes a Cyborg? Where is the technology going? And are we headed for an ethical black hole?
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