A short while ago, I wrote a piece called “Prepare to Assimilate: Are Cyborgs in Our Future?” After reading it, S.A. Barton and I were discussing it, and the beginnings of an idea took shape. I ended up asking him to write his own piece on cyborgs so that I could present a different viewpoint on them on Sci-Fi & Scary. The result is We Have Always Been Cyborgs. It’s an interesting piece, and now that I’ve read it, I totally see his point. Feel free to give your input below, and the both of us will check in with responses!
We Have Always Been Cyborgs
Up front, let me dispose of two things.
One: I don’t mean there’s nothing to consider when it comes to implanting technological enhancements in our bodies. There is. That’s a big change in how we do things, and big changes bring both peril and opportunity. We’re living an example of that right now, with the wide proliferation of internet access and all the good and bad that comes with it.
Two: you’re right: in the most literal sense of “cyborg,” having enhancing technological devices implanted within our physical bodies, we have not always been cyborgs.
But in practical terms, modern H. sapiens is a cyborg species and has always been so.
Have you ever watched a show or video about primitivists or survivalists? Not guns-and-gold survivalists. Live-in-nature-barehanded survivalists.
What’s the first thing they do to survive?
They replicate technology with primitive tools. They make fire, build shelters with branches and mud, knap stone cutters and skin animals for warm clothing and food, sharpen sticks for spears, weave fish traps, and so on.
They do that because humans, unlike most creatures, are remarkably unsuited to live and thrive naked in the wild. Our skin is terrible at keeping us warm. Our natural weapons, teeth and nails, just suck. Our muscles are puny and weak compared to those of other animals.
People worry that if humans become cyborgs wholesale, casually implanting technological enhancements in our flesh, we will become dependent on that technological aid. That we’ll become weak and vulnerable without those enhancements.
That is already our state. We are weak and vulnerable without the technological enhancements we already have. We are utterly dependent on our technology. Without it, we die.
Without the ability to record knowledge and pass it on to future generations to build upon – writing, the printing press, libraries, universities, computer media, the internet – there is no high technology or wide coordinated trade or culture beyond the regional. No seven billion humans, no computers, airplanes, cars, factories, modern medicine, chemistry, engineering, math, literature, astronomy. Certainly no space program, serious science, or science fiction.
Without those technologies, we are not the humanity you know and sometimes love.
Without warehouses, silos, railroads, refineries, trucking, harvesting and sowing and irrigating machinery, pumps and pipes and aqueducts, plows, yokes, harness, or at least digging sticks there is no agriculture.
Not even a billion humans, then. The Earth, without technological modification, could not support so many. No towns over a few thousand inhabitants. No political units larger than the alliance of a few related extended family lineages.
Without those technologies, humanity is barely recognizable to the humanity we are today. Alien, and impoverished in every sense of the word. Civilization is nearly nonexistent. The world of any given human hardly extends over the horizon from where they stand.
Without fire, clothing, shelter, or the most basic technological aptitude, the thought to pick up a stick or rock and use it as a club or digging tool, human is just another animal. And it’s not one that will live to reproduce. It’s helpless without technology. Dead.
If the technical definition of cyborg is “technology implanted within the body,” won’t “will die without technology” do just as well as the definition? Not having an enhancement built into your actual meat, after all, is survivable. But death sure isn’t.
As I said at the start, none of this means it’s not worth asking what effect cyborging might have on our society and figuring out how to regulate it to mitigate negative effects and balance that mitigation with basic human rights. We’re doing that very thing in grappling with the ease of disseminating disinformation to the populace via the internet – or have you not been following politics lately?
We’ll go through much the same type of disruption when/if implanting tech in our bodies becomes as ubiquitous as smartphones. But fearing or resisting those changes won’t be helpful. Look to history and we’ve gone through the same kind of broad social disruptions brought on by the inventions of agriculture, widespread domestication of horses, gunpowder, the printing press, and industrialization. All big trouble. All inevitable. Is the human as cyborg inevitable? I’m not sure, personally. But it may well be as attractive as the shift from bulky personal computers to small portable phones and tablets. Convenience is a powerful incentive to change. Look at all the paradigm shifts in human existence I just listed – isn’t convenience at the root of them all? Convenient food, transportation, killing, spread of information, and production, in order.
Having your phone in your head instead of in your pocket where it can be broken, stolen, or lost may be a very powerful enticement to become cyborgs. And if you’ve ever lost your ID or credit cards – or been denied the right to vote – the same goes for having those safe inside your body, no matter what a horror show for privacy that would be.
Augmented reality may become as necessary for navigating civilization as literacy is now. Eyes that can record anything the user sees may become vital for protecting our rights and receiving justice – or the basis of a totalitarianism more total than the world has ever seen.
The future is a scary-exciting place! Always has been. But don’t worry too much about the rise of the cyborgs.
You’re already a cyborg in every way that matters.