Science fiction cyborgs are scary. They make me wonder if we would ever co-exist with such beings in real life. Well, if you are looking for cyborgs you might as well start looking at the mirror. Our race to adopt the latest technologies is slowly but surely turning all of us into these fearsome creatures. Cyborgization is upon us whether we like it or not.
It this good, bad? Well, let me describe the trends and then we can discuss it. We’ll never wrestle with a reality that we do not name it first. As the adage goes: “the first step to healing is admitting we have a problem.”
Don’t believe me. Consider the following:
Last week Apple just announced that is making the iWatch less dependent on the iPhone. That means soon you’ll get most of the iPhone functionality in the iWatch. Elon Musk is talking about sending nano transmitters into our blood flow. In Wisconsin, a company is experimenting with just that, paying employees to implant chips in their hands. These are just a few examples of “body hacking”, where people are pushing further the envelope of fusing technology with our bodies. If technology conglomerates have their way, we are moving from buying devices we use to adding them to our bodies. The trend can be depicted as such:
desktop>>laptop>>tablet>>smart phone>>wearable device>>implant
Certainly, not everybody will sign up for implants. Yet, the fact that we now already have people willing to experiment with implants shows how far we have progressed in the spectrum above. Thirty years ago only a few of us owned desktop computers in our homes. Last year, the number of smart phones in the world surpassed 2 billion, just shy of 30% of the world population. The march towards cyborgization is in full-speed.
Cyborgs in Action: Sousveillance
So what would a world with cyborgs look like? What would we do with our extended bodies?
The events of Charlottesville this weekend reminded us of the evil undercurrents of racism that still purveys our culture.
[Here I must stop to make a few comments. Racism is goes against everything Christianity stands for. To say otherwise or to pretend there is equivalency on both sides betrays who we are. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. I also pray that we are able to come together to confront this evil in our midst.]
Curiously, the march and its aftermath also became a notable experiment in Sousveillance. Don’t know what that means, no worries. I just learned about it this week. Sousveillance is the fancy name for the growing phenomenon where people use their phones to record real-life events.
While this has been happening for a while, the novelty was the crowdsourced attempts to identify members of the march through social media. Basically, somebody recorded the faces of white supremacists marchers and posted their faces in twitter asking users to recognize and identify the individuals. As a result, one of the marchers lost his job after being outed in this social media driven act of sousveillance. Such development would not have been possible without the advent of devices that allow us to film and share images at ease.
This is an example of things to come. Ordinary individuals, leveraging their body extension tools to do things that were not possible otherwise. On the one hand this could lead to quicker apprehension of criminals in both identifying as well as providing physical evidence of their crimes. On the other hand this could quickly lead to an augmented version of mob mentality, where people are quickly branded guilty and made to pay for crimes they did not commit.While many are weary of government surveillance, citizen sousveillance can offer a welcome check. This is just one application of how cyborgization can change our world.
Framing the Conversation
So maybe becoming cyborgs is not such a bad thing. However, before dismissing or embracing this trend, it is important to ask a few questions. Here are some that come to mind.
Who is driving the march and who benefits most from it?
How does it help the most vulnerable?
How does it affect human relationships?
How do these devices enhance or diminish our humanity?
My biggest concern is not how fast these technological extensions are being adopted but how is it done. At this point, most of it is driven through marketing by large technology conglomerates telling us that we must adopt the latest gadget or else become irrelevant. The subtle message is not just that our current gadgets are outdated but that we ourselves are becoming useless.
Certainly marketing of artificial needs should not be the main driver for adopting these technologies. Instead, their adoption should undergo a deliberate process in which the questions listed above are at the forefront. Technology should never be an end to itself but a means to life enriching goals. We need to evolve from technology consumers to thoughtful agents that leverage technology for human flourishing.
At a personal level, a simple question would be: does this device improve my quality of life or not? If it does not, then it may be time to re-think its usage.