Part of the technology we use now daily would seem unreasonably futuristic to someone living 20 years ago. IoT devices are becoming more and more numerous, almost all devices or electronic devices now offering an Internet connection and a multitude of integrated functions, the average user being able to access virtually all the information of the world with a miniature computer that holds in his pocket.
When one thinks of this impressive cycle of technological development, it is not difficult to imagine a future where cyborgs – man / machine hybrids, formerly exclusive to the field of science fiction – walk among us. But what happens if these cyborgs are already there?
What's a cyborg?
Let's start by defining what we mean when we use the term "cyborg". Different people will use this term in different contexts, but in general we use this term to describe a being who uses both organic and technological systems. The name itself is a wand of "cybernetics" and "organism".
Representations of cyborgs in pop culture generally have telltale signs indicating their nature; for example, the Star Trek Borgs are depicted with yarns sprouting from their bodies and electronic components embedded in their bodies, and the comic book superhero DC Cyborg has a mostly metal body. However, a cyborg does not have to be so obvious. If we can agree that the term "cyborg" applies to any organic being that is at least partly based on technological components, the relationship does not need to be 50/50, nor visually obvious. Instead, almost any technology-dependent human being consistently could be described as a cyborg.
The case of modern cyborgs
Why would anyone say that humans today are cyborgs, even though most of us look nothing like our science fiction counterparts?
It depends on how we use our technology. Imagine a hypothetical scenario where you have a computer built into your brain. This computer has access to the Internet and can give you the answer to any question that can be handled on the Web, all internally. Just by thinking about it, you can search for the name of an actor you remember from an old movie or refresh your memory on the lyrics of your favorite song. Because you have access to knowledge that exists outside of your brain and you rely on an integrated technological construct, most people would consider it an example of a cyborg.
But here's the thing – we're doing it practically already. Most of us always have a smartphone on us, and if we have a question that we need to answer, we automatically start to introduce it into a search engine, or if we are at home, we just ask the smart speaker that we have conveniently close. What is the difference between our dependence on technology, whether external or internal? If the interface is somehow internal and subjective, existing only in our mind, is it fundamentally different from the presence of a device at your fingertips?
Here is another example to consider. Imagine that you have an LED display built into your arm. It gives you a head-up display (HUD) that helps you understand your current environment and can even help you navigate to your next destination. Most people would also consider this to be a cyborg-like upgrade – but do not consider constant reliance on a GPS device to be a cyborg-like upgrade. Both scenarios provide humans with the same improved access to information, both are optional and both are always available.
Add to that the growing trend of technology as a fashionable accessory. Metal enhancements such as grillz are becoming more common and apparel technologies such as smart watches are posting record sales. People are slowly starting to incorporate technology into their own body, rather than just carrying it with them (which would have been more than enough to call us cyborgs).
Again, most of us have an intuitive idea of what matters and what does not matter. We consider our hands and feet as part of our own body and our own identity, but we do not count the tablet because it exists outside of us. It could be argued that as long as technology is not impossible to suppress (as a surgically implanted device), or that it otherwise overcomes this intuitive obstacle, we should not consider ourselves cyborgs.
Perhaps more importantly, why is this debate important in the first place? We rely on technology for our everyday life, whether you call us cyborgs or not, what impact could this discussion have?
Determining whether or not we are cyborgs and evaluating what it means to be a cyborg is important for setting ethical and legal standards for the next generation. For example, at the moment, consumers and political groups are becoming increasingly aware of how their data is being used and are fighting for more transparency from the companies that collect and use this data. Business leaders argue that their products and services are purely optional. If customers are not willing to give up their personal data, they may choose not to use these services. But if we are considered cyborgs, it means that technology is a fundamental part of us – and a practical necessity for living in the modern world. At this point, a cyborg would have less choice than a typical human being in which it will use technology services, and thus would need more protection.
It is also important to take into account the current distinctions between cyborgs and conventional humans, while the technology is still in its infancy. Once we have developed more powerful cybernetic members than human members, we will have to deal with much more difficult questions. Should improved individuals be allowed to participate in the Olympic Games? Should we impose restrictions on the use of these improved members? Should we offer them greater protections? There are no clear answers to these questions, but that is the problem. Considering precise definitions and ethical dilemmas will not help us once we are in a new era; now is the time to solve these problems and develop new technologies responsibly.
It's also important to start getting people to become a cyborg. Intuitively, the majority of the population would probably agree that becoming a cyborg would be "scary" or strange. They do not like the idea of giving up some of their identity, especially if this part makes them human. They could oppose the installation of a brain-computer interface (BCI) based on the idea that they want their minds to be independent and fully organic.
This in itself is not necessarily a problem, but it could lead to technological stagnation or widening gaps between the population. For example, if 10% of the population accesses a BCI multiplying by several their cognitive potential, it will not take long to produce, earn money and otherwise dominate their technologically lagging contemporaries. Awakening people to the idea that they are already cyborgs – and that further improvements would not further compromise their identity and identity than existing devices and technologies – could help narrow that gap and allow us to deploy new technologies faster.
At one level, the argument is pedantic. The term "cyborg" has no, and perhaps no formal and precise definition, because we use such a gray area in the use of technology. But we are developing a world on the verge of being defined by technology, and if we can not accurately assess and define our relationship with this technology, we will never be able to find it. exploit properly, let alone use it responsibly.
No matter what you feel, just think that humans are already cyborgs for technologists to already take the position – and that alone deserves a closer look and an open mind to possibilities.