If you are one of the cyborgs on the planet Earth, and if by chance don’t know any other, don’t worry – you are not alone.
Neil Harbisson, the “man with an antenna” who we recently wrote about here, is perhaps the first cyborg, as he claims for himself, but for some time now, there have been a few others. Moon Ribas is a dancer from Spain who built a seismic sensor into her elbow thanks to which she can sense an earthquake from the first level of the Richter scale, anywhere in the world, and which serves as inspiration for choreographing her dance performances. There is also Enno Park, who went almost completely deaf in his youth, and then he had a special implant built in, directly connected to the hearing nerve in his head. Now, not only does he hear (let’s face it, this wouldn’t really be any news), but he can also use this device to control what he wants or doesn’t want to hear, depending on the situation. This gives him an advantage in comparison to the “ordinary” homo sapiens because he himself decides which sounds in a particular situation he wants to focus on, and which to tune out.
People who have any of the physical or sensory impairments are not the only people interested in getting the latest technology to help them compensate for their deficiencies. Lately, more and more people in optimal physical condition are becoming interested in how to further develop and strengthen their existing physical abilities and natural senses.
At first glance it might seem that they’re overreaching, but this is not the case. When we look a bit closer, during the whole history of humanity, a series of technological innovations have enhanced our natural properties and contributed to the development of the human community. Some of them aren’t recognized today as significant technological innovations. For example, the wristwatch enabled us to know exactly what the time is, instead of having a vague idea in which part of the day or night we are. And that wristwatch was the result of the necessity imposed by the industrial revolution, which was accompanied by working hours and travel timetables, so everyone had to have that piece of technology at hand in order to be able to participate in the work process at all.
So the wristwatch practically became the part of the human body. In the same way, the mobile phone is today. We have already transferred some vital functions to this device from which we never separate. For example, we have transferred a significant part of the memory function from our brains to the pockets. How many phone numbers do we know by heart? Do we still ask someone to explain to us how to get to a place where we have never been before? Why should we discuss the accuracy of some data today when we can check it in an instant?
Because of this same “mobile phone”, the number of people who don’t carry watches on the wrist increases, and very soon we won’t even need wallets, because our money will be stored in our “phone”, right next to the updated health status data whose key parameters are monitored, recorded and stored on the device in real time so that when we come to the doctor, there will be no need for measuring temperature measurement or “I want to take a look at your throat”, but the doctor will read the data, write the therapy, and you’ll go to the pharmacy where the pharmacist will only read the online prescription from your health file, and all you should do is to swallow what the pharmacist had given you, and this only when that same phone rings or its extension which you carry on your wrist instead of that antique wristwatch your dad still wears and threatens to leave you in his will, vibrates to remind you.
That’s why we shouldn’t be shocked by the antenna of Hill Harbisson, the Moon Ribas’ elbow sensor, or the implant behind the right ear of Enno Park. They are only the most visible part of the process of homo sapiens robotization which is to not be perceived as a result of technological advancement only, but as a new evolutionary phase in the development of the human species.
Viewed from this perspective, stories about artificial intelligence which will further develop in machines and robots that can destroy human beings are exaggerated. Our civilization is not in for a battle with the robots who’ll want to enslave us, while we put up heroic resistance like we were taught by SF flicks. We are becoming robots managed by the technology we have created ourselves. Not only does it suggest what to buy next and where to travel to, but it also authoritatively tells us what we need to believe in and who to vote for. And what’s more, our emotional life hasn’t been left up to us alone, because as we know, we can make a mistake as we did so many times before. That is why there are applications that choose the right candidates for our intimate or life partner.
The best part of the story is that we are convinced that it is all our free will. And so it works, because everything that is suggested, proposed and ordered to us is based on all those information and traces that we consciously or unconsciously gave and left at any moment. That’s why we are less and less able to distinguish what is really our interest, and where we’re just being manipulated.
The challenge is to make that border more invisible. And this can be achieved by an already familiar technique that is nothing new and it’s not from yesterday. It’s called marketing and serves to confirm that we are always right, especially when we buy something, and to convince us that this is in our best interest and just the way we wanted it.