Cybernetics And The Future (August 2001)

››››››››››› Cybernetics is a field that is rapidly moving from theory to reality.› There are many questions about how this new technology will be used in the future.› Like most tools people can use this technology for ethical, moral or immoral purposes.› Overall the technology will have to look human in order for the user to blend into society.› Unlike in the movies, no one would want to walk around looking like a mechanical wonder.› What would we gain and what would we lose in the process of blending humans with machines?

››››››››››› Cybernetics is defined by Norbert Wiener, ža mathematician, engineer and social philosopher, ÷ as the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine.[1] Cybernetics is also defined as žthe art of managing and directing highly complex systems.Ó [2] › žEarly work sought to define and apply principles by which systems may be controlled. More recent work has attempted to understand how systems describe themselves, control themselves, and organize themselves. Despite its short history, cybernetics has developed a concern with a wide range of processes involving people as active organizers, as sharing communicators, and as autonomous, responsible individuals.Ó [3] › žThe need to make machines imitate certain functions typical of living organisms contributed to the speeding up of progress in the understanding of cerebral mechanisms. This was the beginning of bionics÷Ó. [4] Like in the Bionic Man TV show, for example, žbionics attempts to build electronic machines that imitate the functions of certain organs of living beings.Ó[5]

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According to Charles Laughlin, the evolution of the cyborg (cybernetic organism) is in four stages.› The žStage I cyborg is equivalent to the external extension of the hands with a hammer, knife or other primitive tool.› It essentially replaces or augments the skeletal physiology of the limbs.› Thus the wooden leg and hook as prosthetic devices represent the more primitive innovations leading to the process of cyborg transformation.› Portions of the nervous system have been eliminated along with the amputated appendage.Ó [6]

››››››››››› žWhen the concept of cyborg was introduced in the early 1960s, it was taken to mean a self regulating system of man and machine, i.e. a cybernetic-organism.Ó [7] › Scott Frank, however, regards a cyborg as a žborgificationÓ process in which the end result is a hybrid of organism and machine.› For example, in the Star Trek TV series, the aliens known, as žThe BorgÓ are a race of žpale-skinned, evil humanoids with various mechanical parts protruding from various parts of their bodies in a ghastly fashion. (This is an unrealistic representation of the cyborg as no one would want to look like them.)› (They are) lacking an individual consciousness, (and are) human/machine combinations from birth÷Ó. [8] In reality, there are human žcyborgs÷(who have) incorporated machinery and microchips onto and into (the) body.› (And) Žthere are many actual cyborgs among us in society. Anyone with an artificial organ, limb or supplement› (like a pacemaker), anyone programmed to resist disease (immunized) or drugged to think/behave/feel better is technically a cyborgŪ.Ó [9]

LaughlinŪs žStage II cyborg (has) technical replacement or augmentation of both skeletal and motor systems in the body.› This stage is equivalent to the external replacement of muscles with engines.› The hand is replaced with a movable machine, perhaps manipulated by servomechanisms that are triggered by movements of particular muscle groups.› The diseased heart valve is replaced by a mechanical valve.› The lens of the eye is replaced by a synthetic lens, and so on. Such mechanisms depend upon intact neuro-muscular systems for their control.Ó [10] › Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, for example, has replaced his voice and mobility features with cyborg technology.›

Mark Foster states, žCyborg technologies can be restorative, in that they restore lost functions and replace lost organs and limbs; they can be normalizing . . . or reconfiguring, creating post human creatures equal to but different from humans, like the modifications that will be needed to live in space or under the sea.›› Most of the cyborgian technologies known today have military origins, but civilian medical research has become another important source.Ó [11] žArtificial limbs, while still crude, are starting to detect electrical signals of the wearerŪs muscles and respond to them; soon they could be linked directly to nerves and controlled, even felt, like the real thing. Professor Kevin Warwick in England is trying to record and control the motions of his arm using an implanted chip. So itŪs plausible that in ten or twenty years, a person might have a heart, eyes, ears, arms, and legs all made of machinery. Rich, techno-savvy ŽcyborgsŪ will have the edge over ordinary people. [12]

Professor Warwick noted that žwhen the muscles are contracted they produce electrical effects that can be detected by electrodes and amplified. They can be made to control the motions of an artificial hand through electric motors. The integration of mechanical and computing devices onto our bodies is the melding of the need for prosthetics and the science of neurobiology. Sophisticated mechanical replacements will sustain life as well as enlarge its possible functions.Ó [13] ž÷If we all became cyborgs, we could install 500,000 word dictionaries in our enhanced brains, learn martial arts techniques, speak multiple languages, use our cyborg powers to enhance our physical strength÷Ó [14] and just like in the movie, Inspector Gadget, various mechanical devices could be used to enhance the ability to fight crime.

An example of current research is as follows: ž÷Monkeys have learned to control robotic arms telepathically.› (The) researchers at Duke University Medical Center have successfully tested a neural wiring system that enables the animals to use their brain signals to direct a mechanical arm to reach for a piece of food. ÷During the analysis, the scientists used simple mathematical methods to predict hand trajectories in real-time for each different type of hand movement. (The scientists) used brain signals to control (the) artificial arms and can (now) progress to experiments in which (they can) change the properties of the arm or provide visual or tactile feedback to the animal÷. Such feedback studies could also potentially improve the ability of paralyzed people to use some sort of brain-machine interface to control prosthetic appendages.Ó [15]

In ž÷Stage III, (the) cyborg technical penetration reaches the nervous system and replaces or augments neural structures in the peripheral, autonomic or endocrinal systems involved in the regulation and control of internal states.› This stage is equivalent to simple regulatory systems in the external world, such as the thermostat controlling the temperature of a heater.› Clynes and Kline addressed their original cyborg paper to problems in space exploration that might be solved by Stage III cyborg measures.› The ŽbionicŪ arms and legs of the Six Million Dollar Man are fictional examples of Stage III developments, as is the more realistic contemporary heart pacemaker.Ó [16] The fictional movie, Robocop, as well as The Borg on Star Trek, and even the futuristic character of Griff in the Back To The Future movie showed these cybernetically enhanced body parts.›

žWe are already putting computers--neural implants--directly into people's brains to counteract Parkinson's disease and tremors from multiple sclerosis. We have cochlear implants that restore hearing. ÷Recently, scientists from Emory University implanted a chip in the brain of a paralyzed stroke victim that allows him to use his brainpower to move a cursor across a computer screen.Ó [17] › In the 1980Ūs, a program called žRelaxÓ was available.› It required connecting a headband to a computer and it monitored stress levels by means of an air balloon shown on the monitor.› The balloon rose with low stress and dropped with high stress.› This program demonstrated brain response.›

Finally, in žStage IV (the) cyborg produces the replacement or augmentation of structures in the central nervous system.› This stage is equivalent to the replacement of human brainpower with computers in industry.› This stage involves structures mediating the cognitive aspects of emotion (for example, Manfred Clynes' ŽsenticsŪ ideas are cyborgian at this level).› It also involves structures mediating imagination, intuition, perception, rational thought, language, etc. Contemporary examples of developments at this stage are technologies such as the miniature video camera ŽeyesŪ wired to an electrode array implanted in the visual cortex of certain blind people.› And rumor has it that the United States Air Force is interested in developing technologies that would allow direct brain to aircraft interfacing for fighter pilots. ÷Enhanced complexity may well be beyond what even the most developed natural human brain is now capable.Ó [18] › Jane Prophet's Internal Organs of a Cyborg explores the post-human cyborg body in a science fiction narrative that incorporates existing biotechnologies such as transplant surgery and performance enhancing drugs with the futuristic possibilities of nanotechnology (microscopic machines) and microchip personality (brain) implants.

›žAre we destined to the gloom and doom of the Borg's space-time? What will a cybernetic future (in reality) look like? Will it be grotesque, with a lot of Frankensteins walking around like crazed beasts? Will it be more rigid and mechanical, where human bodies are more machines than biology? And who will control who gets the cybernetic implants and who doesn't? Will it be the government? Will it be the scientist and capitalists (or socialists)?Ó [19] žWho will choose, and how, and what? Perhaps modifications which tend towards enhancing artistic skills? Or those, which reduce aggressiveness and antisocial behaviour?›› The question of who is by no means secondary ā who is to have the power to decide the direction of the changes and the construction of the models of perfection: the market, financial powers, national or international political institutions÷technicians (or) the citizenry as a whole. ÷Those who proclaim the superiority of democracy over other political regimes (and not necessarily because they see it as the perfect system, but in any case as the least defective) will immediately grasp the desirability of social debate and of shared responsibility, a condition and definition of democracy. We should be capable of valuing the losses and the risks, and therefore of introducing ethical schemes of a consequentialistic nature. ÷Ethics (has to do with the) experience of duty, responsibility and good faith.› (It) is central to research and to the applications of biotechnology today ā and even more tomorrow. ÷ Moral duty is concerned precisely with that: with what we do or fail to do towards other humans÷.› Let us imagine that, some time in the future, the range of possibilities ā the supply ā is fairly varied. ÷(We must) not sell ourselves at a price that later cannot be paid. Because there is one thing, which we must know how to measure: irreversibility÷. Freedom becomes a travesty in a world of programmed beings. Our privacy and intimacy may eventually be mercilessly assaulted by the techniques of information technology in association with biotechnology÷. Although it may not be Žsocially correctŪ, in the face of the myth of progress, it will be beneficial to value visions which are more exactly ŽhumanisticŪ and ŽconservativeŪ.Ó [20] › žNew diagnostic technologies, from genetic tests to brain imaging, and new therapeutics from antidepressants like Prozac to organ transplants, create new ways of living and deciding that are at once exciting and troubling.› For instance, testing for the BRCA-1 breast cancer gene, which identifies an increased risk of cancer in some women, often restructures a woman's relationship to the healthcare system, to her family, and to herself.› Taking the test can lead to losing insurance coverage and to accelerated treatment choices like prophylactic mastectomy; in other words, identification of genetic risk can result in the woman being treated as if she already has breast cancer.› The existence of the test thus creates a new cyborgian category-the presymptomatically ill-and a new set of risks posed by the ŽprophylacticŪ treatments prescribed for its members... The mothers and children whose lives are structured and whose bodies and development are altered by birth technologies can be fruitfully analyzed as cyborgs who demonstrate the full range of ambiguity and possibility that concept encompasses.› (The question is)÷whether the sense of control provided to women and practitioners by the routine application of such technologies compensates for the very real physical damage they often do.Ó [21] ››

žMany contraceptive implant technologies are paving the way for more complex devices being implanted by trained technicians, who would be more ready to bend rules, make mistakes, and break federal regulations.› A clinical technician has not worked as hard to be where they are, and are not risking the years of training and credentials. Steve Haworth was a medical instrument manufacturer before he became a peircer and then a sub-dermal implant specialist÷ There is nothing limiting a knowledgeable amateur from implanting a self-contained device into themselves or others.Ó [22]

ž ŽIf you were ever getting kidnapped, you might be delighted to have (a computer chip implant) in you,Ū said Peter Szolovits, a professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.› On the other hand, he said: ŽI'm not sure that I want to have my children growing up in a society where they have the sense that their every movement can be tracked at any time.Ū÷ŽIt is very dangerous because once kidnappers get to know about these things, they will skin you alive to find them.Ū÷ If robotic legs÷are restricted to people who have already lost their leg, and yet, the robotic legs allow much greater strength and endurance and are especially useful for certain occupations, such as construction work, we have a case of reverse discrimination on our hands.Ó [23] Another possible danger is that in the sports realm runners may secretly and unethically opt to have their legs replaced with cybernetic legs to beat any competitors. Fortunately, žthe problems and promise of medical implants that interact with the body and affect its functions, are highly regulated by the federal government.› There are many devices under (government) jurisdiction to modify eyes, ears and the functions of the body.Ó [24] › Unfortunately, however, like people, computers can become infected with viruses.› The dangers of having implanted programmable parts in human beings include having computer viruses that could interfere with the technology and cause a harmful malfunction.

Among the benefits of cyborg technologies are that they žcan be restorative, in that they restore lost functions and replace lost organs and limbs; they can be normalizing, in that they restore some (person) to indistinguishable normality; they can be ambiguously reconfiguring, like what one is now when interacting with other (humans) in cyberspace or, in the future, the type of modifications proto-humans will undergo to live in space or under the sea having given up the comforts of terrestrial existence; and they can be enhancing, the aim of most military and industrial research, and what those with cyborg envy or even cyborgphilia› fantasize. The latter category seeks to construct everything from factories controlled by a handful of› Žworker-pilotsŪ and infantrymen in mind-controlled exoskeletons to the dream many computer scientists have-downloading their consciousness into immortal computers.Ó [25]

››››››››››› žCyborg consciousness will eventually emerge, possibly (as envisioned by Clynes and Kline) in the context of the exploration and colonization of interplanetary space.Ó [26] According to Rachel Rein, žThe computerŪs allure is more than utilitarian or aesthetic; it is erotic.› Instead of a refreshing play with surfaces, as with toys or amusements, our affair with information machines announces a symbiotic relationship and ultimately a mental marriage to technology.Ó [27]

››››››››››› As can be understood from a study of this complex subject, we have as yet only scratched the surface of the potential benefit and/or danger of this new technology.› The new cyborg technologies can lead us to our eventual demise or to our benefit, but overall cybernetics will still have to enable its users to blend into society or be rejected.› I believe that future technology, along with the mapping of the human genome and cloning, will be based on biomechanical research.› As a result of this research, living ships and other living structures, as in the TV sci-fi series Babylon 5, are likely to be developed in the future.› Undoubtedly, cybernetics will be utilized in such future developments and in upcoming field research.› No one knows what our imagination will lead us to achieve but the incentives must be moral, ethical and for the betterment of mankind.



[1] Lu, Sam, et. al. Definitions of Cybernetics› 14 November 1997.<http://www.gwu.edu/

~asc/cyber_definition.html> (24 July 2001).

[2] › Rosnay, J. de. žHistory of Cybernetics and Systems ScienceÓ Principia Cybernetica Web 24October 2000. <http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/CYBSHIST.html> (23 July 2001).

[3] Lu, Sam, et. al.

[4] Rosnay, J. de.

[5] Rosnay, J. de.

[6] Laughlin, Charles THE EVOLUTION OF CYBORG CONSCIOUSNESS. Carleton University. 18 May 1996. <http://www.carleton.ca/~claughli/cyborg.htm>› (28 July 2001).

[7] žThe Cyborg HandbookÓ Ed.Chris Hables Gray, Heidi J. Figueroa-Serriera, Steven Mentor. 25 May 2001. <http://www.alli.fi/nyri/young/1998-2/reviewHektor2-98.htm> (15 June 2001).

[8] Frank, Scott. Have You Been 'Borged? Determining the Cyborg in Cyborg Anthropology. University of Massachusetts. 17 June 1997. < http://www-scf.usc.edu/~sfrank/neaapaper1.html> (15 June 2001).

[9] Foster, Mark. Cybernetic Entities: Man and Machine. 26 March 1997. <http://www.jps.net/amfoster/mark/school/cyberents.html> (15 June 2001).

[10] Laughlin, Charles.

[11] Foster, Mark.

[12] Schnee, Kris Our Cyborg Future. 3March 2000. < http://www-tech.mit.edu/V120/N10/col10schne.10c.html> (28 July 2001).

[13] Foster, Mark.

[14] Smithee, Alan. Bill gates rumoured to be developing cybernetic implants to transfer human. 22 May 2001. <http://www.mrcranky.com/movies/angeleyes/113.html> (15 June 2001).

[15] žCYBERNETIC MONKEY WRENCHÓ Beyond 2000 4 April 2001. <http://www.beyond2000.com/news/Nov_00/story_873.html> (29 July 2001).

[16] Laughlin, Charles.

[17] Kurzweil, Ray. žThe Coming Merging of Mind and MachineÓ Scientific American.› 19 January 2000. <http://www.sciam.com/specialissues/0999bionic/0999kurzweil.html> (28 July 2001).

[18] Laughlin, Charles.

[19] Bernardi, Daniel žFrom Homo Sapiens to Home Cyberneticus: The Future of Our EvolutionÓ Future Now. 13 October 1998. <http://www.scifi.com/futurenow/article7/article7p2.html> (28 July 2001).

[20] Esquirol, Josep M. žEthical issues regarding the implications and assumptions of biotechnologyÓ 27 July 2000. <http://campusterrassa.upc.es/catedraunesco/revista/Numero2/esquirol.htm> (28 July 2001).

[21] Dumit PhD, Joseph., Davis-Floyd PhD, Robbie. žCyborg AnthropologyÓ 11 February 2001. <http://www.davis-floyd.com/Articles/CyborgAnthropology.pdf> (28 July 2001).

[22] žPhilosophy, Ethics and MoralsÓ 30 April 2001. <http://bork.hampshire.edu/~azar/cyber/philo.html> (15 June 2001).

[23] žPhilosophy, Ethics and MoralsÓ

[24] žPhilosophy, Ethics and MoralsÓ

[25] › Landow, George P. žFour Kinds of CyborgÓ <http://landow.stg.brown.edu/cpace/cyborg/4categ.html>(28 July 2001).

[26] Laughlin, Charles.

[27] Rein, Rachel. žThe Classic Battle of Human vs. MachineÓ Cyborgs in Film 22 October 1998.››››››››››››››››› < http://cinemaspace.berkeley.edu/~rachel/cyborg/cy1.html> (28 July 2001).