Week 1 – Humans and Technology

Cyborgs, or Cybernetic-Organism, is “The melding of the organic and the machinic, or the engineering of a union between separate organic systems” (Manfred E Clynes, 1960). It is the integration of the organic and the artificial, of living and non-living material, and to enhance ourselves to achieve what our natural bodies cannot.

One of the most interesting concept I drew from the lecture and the reading is that fact that human and technology are intrinsically linked. Rather than calling us Human Beings Homo Sapiens, we should be more appropriately called Homo Fabre, or “Man the Maker”. We have, since time immemorial, been using tools as an extension of our bodies, even if it is as simple as a stick or a sharpened stone. Therefore it is logical that we will use technology to enhance our own body, whether through medical or self satisfying needs, and thus is born the concept of cyborgs. In modern days, anyone with an artificial organ, prosthetic or supplement can be considered a cyborg. It enhances our natural (and frankly, fragile) bodies by changing nature’s design. When one speaks of cyborgs, however, what springs to mind is not my grandfather and his hearing aid or my aunt with a replacement hip, but the protagonist and antagonist of various popular culture icons, and the line between being human and being a machine.

In exploring this conceptual frame in a lot of details we start to question when we stop being humans and where we start being machines, and the ethical and moral implications of such exploration. Modern technology is yet unable to achieve such extensive advances (maybe one day), but we have speculated these ideas over and over again through popular culture, science-fiction and literature. We have designed fully machinated robots such as Terminator (The Terminator, 1984), barely organic and merely human skin wrapped around machine innards, to Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein, 1818), which is constructed by organic human body parts and was “given life” through the use of technology.

As mentioned above, by implanting inorganic or machines into our body (to aid with our daily life), we have slowly became cyborgs in our own rights. This fear is further exemplified through science-fiction, and one example would be the Cybermen from British Television Series, Doctor Who. Whether it is the wholly organic species featured in the classic series or the artificially created cybermen in the rebooted new series, they both share similarities that we can link back to this idea of human and technology. The Cybermen had no individuality and  had re-engineered themselves into stronger “humans” – replacing their weak and frail bodies with machine parts in order to survive, and over time, limbs and organs were slowly replaced by metal and plastic, and emotions were removed.

Cybermen as seen in the new 2005 series of Doctor Who

There is this tension between humans and technology, of which one is master and which one is slave (and the answer would be different depending on circumstances), which we, as designers, have to  be conscious about, not in only designing for now, but for the future.

References:

The Terminator 1984, Film, Orion Pictures, United States.

Clynes, Manfred E. and Kline, Nathan S. 1960, ‘Cyborgs and Space’, , pp. 26-76.

Coates, T. 2006, Cybermen are Human 2.0? viewed August/1 2012, <http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2006/05/cybermen_are_human_20/>.

Gray, C.H. 1995, ‘Cyborgology: Constructing the Knowledge of Cybernetic Organism’, The Cyborg Handbook, Routledge, New York, pp. 1-14.

Shelley, M. 1818, Frankenstein, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, .

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