How Is Modern Cyborg Living?
How does it feel to be a cyborg? We debunk common myths about bionic limbs, implanted microchips and other attributes of cybernetic organisms.
In mid-summer, when there was a lot of heat in London, I decided to plunge into Serpentine Pond to my misfortune. In this small pond in Hyde Park, in the center of the city, from the 18th century, bathers used to cool down, heated by the sun, got used to. I left my clothes ashore and rushed into the cool water. And then I heard a strange crack: I forgot to remove my hearing aids. So, in the green darkness of the pond my recently returned hearing choked.
The next day, two apparatuses, peas of red and blue, still showed no signs of life. Fortunately, my otolaryngologist soon found time to receive me. I thought he would chastise me for forgetfulness, but he, on the contrary, said with enthusiasm: "See, this means that your brain has fully adapted to these devices."
This full adaptation has a downside. My brain is no longer adapted to life without hearing aids. Without them, I hear worse than I heard before. Little electronic gags became a continuation of me. I can physically separate from them (to take it out of my ears and hold it in my hand), but I cannot separate from my hearing. And I hear partly thanks to the ears, and partly thanks to these electronics.
In the end, if you learn to run very fast, maybe you end up flying - and there is only one way to check it.
It turns out that I became a cyborg out of necessity, and not out of a whim. A machine makes up part of my body, and for him that’s normal. But I don’t feel like a Robocop or Universal Soldier. If I'm a cyborg, then where are my superhuman abilities?
There is a big difference between cyborg descriptions in science fiction and the real life of people who depend on artificial implants or prostheses.
In the process of working on this column, I talked with a variety of people whom I met over the past year. Each of them joined the concept of expanding the capabilities of our body: from an artist who hears color, to a person who starts his motorcycle with a microchip implanted in his hand. What observations from their life can they share?
"The idea of devices that complement a person is not new at all," says Amal Graafstra, a motorcycle rider with a chip in my hand. Just tools have become smaller and more convenient to use. "This was the trend, and it will remain so. From rudimentary objects, stones and sticks, to forged steel and electronic circuits, and in the future to genetic engineering - the same principle everywhere, transhumanism: the desire to continuously and significantly transform the human condition "says Graafstra.
Many consider this concept of transformation dangerous. In science fiction, one cannot count fictional worlds in which body modifications divided society into an elite and outcasts. Is it true that transhumanism makes such a tough choice: to evolve using technology or to wither?
"Yes, there are fears that body modifications may lead to a kind of arms race that will leave those who have decided to do nothing with themselves outboard. But such a scenario is possible only if only the goal to surpass the neighbor moves people", - considers the transhumanist philosopher Gennady Stolyarov. In an interview in April, he told me that death does not have to be inevitable.
Stolyarov believes that instead of endlessly optimizing themselves in an attempt to achieve an ideal, people of the future are more likely to focus on individuality. “Different individuals will modify themselves in different ways, expanding their capabilities in different directions. There will not be a single hierarchy with super modified people at the top of the pyramid and ordinary people at its foot. Instead, as a result of the adoption of new technologies by society, a future will arise in which the organism’s modifications flourish magnificent color ", - Stolyarov speaks.
His point of view is closer to me, and I share his vision. Mass literacy did not make everyone want to read the same books, but created a market for a wide variety of literature - from tabloid novels to solid volumes on ancient history. People study ideas that, in their opinion, reflect their own ideas about the world. There is every reason to believe that the same principle will apply to future technologies.
In my experiment, no one had a self-satisfied coma. People are more sophisticated than rats
But in the world of cyborgs, we are unlikely to feel like supermen. Doctors made so many specialized prostheses to Paul Carter in their youth that their kit began to resemble a Swiss penknife. Carter notes that modifying the body is not a magic wand that instantly gives you some super-powers or at least the usual capabilities of a trained person: “If you give a person springy prostheses, he will not become a sprint star. For this, you need a base in the form of talent and good Sports discoveries The discoveries that we made in prosthetics have great potential and can change the lives of many people with disabilities for the better, but they need to be looked at in the context of a more general social picture, and not just as a means to achieving a single goal. "
Gabriel Litsina, who experimented with the discovery of infrared vision in people, agrees. “We need to dispel the myth that modifying the body easily turns us into superhuman. It’s important not to go beyond the scope of scientific reality. Of course, it’s possible to improve a person, but it’s much harder than eating a pill or pressing a button,” says Litsina.
He cites his own experiments as an example: his subjects found that they can see better in the dark, following a certain diet, but at the same time they began to perceive green and blue colors worse.
Transhumanism is not the best form of fulfillment of desires. Many claim that they would like to learn to fly, but the same people cannot force themselves to even run. Modification of the body should be considered rather than as a solution to the problem, but as a tool for developing oneself in the right direction. In the end, if you learn to run very fast, maybe you end up flying - and there is only one way to check it.
One more important lesson can be learned from Licin’s research: body modification is not limited to technical devices. It is not necessary to implant a chip in your head to improve brain function - you can get by with biological means. This topic was developed by John Crian: he told me that certain bacteria in the intestines can make a person smarter, without any wires and microcircuits. "Speaking about brain modification, you should not forget about the rest of the body. Neuroscientists should recognize the importance of signals from the periphery: from the immune system, hormones or gut microbes," says Krian.
In fantastical descriptions of cyborg people, a moralizing note, as old as humanity itself, is often slipping through: how pride leads to a fall. There is an opinion that mankind may play too much to improve itself and lose control over what is happening. Technology can be addictive: which of us didn’t sit in a restaurant with friends buried in their smartphones?
I spoke with Stuart Mela, the creator of a device that gives pleasure when a button is pressed. He believes that not everything is lost for mankind: "With regard to pleasure implant generators, there was a fear that such a device could cause a person to stop taking care of themselves, like the notorious rats who were starving because they could stimulate pleasure centers in the brain by pressing the lever. But in my experiment no one had a coma caused by self-satisfaction. People are nevertheless more complicated than rats. "
There are those who oppose body modifications, claiming that this is unnatural. This argument always seemed a little strange to me. Usually, those who put it forward believe that a person must certainly be the same as themselves. Neil Harbisson wears an antenna that allows him to hear color. He does not see anything unnatural in this. “There is an opinion that, by mutating ourselves, we lose something human, but I think that nothing more human can be invented,” he says. “I completely disagree with the point of view that the alliance with technology moves us away from reality, from nature or from other living beings. Take me: technology has not made me feel closer to cars or robots, quite the opposite. The presence of an antenna makes me closer to insects and other creatures with antennae; hearing through bone tissue makes me closer to dolphins and other inhabitants of the sea who hear just that; ultraviolet and infrared vision makes me closer to animals and insects that perceive this range. I feel a closer connection with nature than ever. Technology can help us get back to nature, "Harbisson believes.
The British summer is over, it’s autumn in the yard, and I don’t go swimming at the pond, but the question of how closely my body is able to integrate cars into itself does not leave me. I understand that I will not become a superman, but this does not prevent me from exploring various options for expanding my capabilities with the help of technology and biology.
Soon I will have new unique hearing aids, the prototypes of which are now being tested by a company in the south of London. They will not only enhance the surrounding sounds, but also transform electromagnetic fields into audible signals. Can my brain adapt to this? Will the ability to perceive the electromagnetic environment make me another person? Answers to these questions will be given by time and constant exercises.
Who knows what future these first steps will lead us to? Perhaps we cyborgs will someday become waterproof.