How Cyborgs Will Change the Fabric of Society

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 23 2011 1:01 PM

How Cyborgs Will Change the Fabric of Society

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WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 14: Claudia Mitchell demonstrates the functionality of her 'bionic arm' during a news conference on September 14, 2006 in Washington, DC. Mitchell is the first female recipient of a 'thought controlled bionic arm', an advanced prosthesis, developed by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Though the word cyborg conjures up images of exoskeletons and computers welded to bodies, the reality is far more mundane: Anyone who has a cochlear implant, for one, could be termed a cyborg.  So is the resourceful fellow who made his prosthetic finger into a USB drive. In the coming decades, we’ll see more of these subtle marriages of technology and body, creating new ethical questions.

At the blog Cyborgology, P.J. Rey, a graduate student who writes about emerging technologies, examines the trust relationships we have with the technologies—and the people who develop them—that become engrained with our daily lives. While many have fretted that technologies permit us to become ever more isolated, Rey argues that the opposite is true:

Being a cyborg is risky business; we must depend on the expertise of others to ensure that our equipment is fit for use. This radical dependency on expert systems—and the societies that create them—make cyborgs fundamentally social beings. In fact, it is through dependency on technology, and the subsequent loss of self-sufficiency, that we express our commitment to society. Technology has always been part and parcel to the division of labor. Think bows and shovels. In this sense, being a cyborg requires not only trust in technology producers, but trust in other technology users. There is no such thing as a lone cyborg. The birth of cyborg marks the death of the atomistic individual (if such a thing every existed).
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Read more on Cyborgology.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.