Monday, 11 August 2014

Cyborg - "Not a Robot"

Movie poster of The Terminator
Flesh on the outside, machine in the middle, bad acting all the way through.


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Blend of CYBERNETIC adjective and ORGANISM.]

A person whose physical tolerances or capabilities extended normal human limitations by a machine etc.;
an integrated man-machine system.

One of my favourite moments in the 1984 classic movie The Terminator is when Kyle Reese gets all pedantic with Sarah Connor as she tries to get to grips with the fact that there's suddenly a hulking, virtually unstoppable death machine stalking her:

Kyle Reese:
He's not a man - a machine. A Terminator. A Cyberdyne Systems Model 101.

Sarah Connor:
A machine? Like a robot?

Kyle Reese:
Not a robot. A cyborg. A cybernetic organism.  

The wonderful thing about Kyle's pedantry is that they are actually being chased by the Terminator at that very moment, which just goes to show that one is never too busy for a little catachrestical correction. As Kyle goes on to explain (while still being chased):

The Terminator's an infiltration unit - part man, part machine.
Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis, microprocessor controlled. Fully armoured. Very tough.
But outside, it's living human tissue: flesh, skin, hair, blood - grown for the cyborgs.

So, apparently, what makes the Terminator a cyborg (and not a robot, Sarah) is that it has an outer covering of flesh, even though they're fully capable of functioning without this mortal shell. However, if this is the criteria, it means that very few of the Terminators are actual cyborgs - according to Reese, the early models had rubber skin (and were rubbish), and the shape-shifting T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgement Day was made entirely of liquid metal. Thus, with no biological components, these Terminators were robots, not cyborgs.

So in this form, without its skin, the Terminator is a robot
(photo from Wikipedia
All of which makes one think - at one point do you become a cyborg? I wear glasses, for example, and at an even deeper level of integration I often wear contact lenses to enhance (or correct) my vision. And what about people that have artificial hips? What about pacemakers or hearing aids, both of which introduce electronics to the melding of man and machine? Do these make you a cyborg?

And if you're not convinced that any of this qualifies one for cyborghood, consider the rapidly advancing field of bionics. Although at present this is used largely for replacing lost limbs, it's already the case that some prostheses have abilities beyond that of the corresponding unmodified human limb, which leads to the ethical debate about whether people should be able to undergo elective limb or organ replacement because the bionic version will have superior functions (the Cyborg Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the creation and research of cyborg-related projects). If this is already happening, and as humans we're clearly not averse to modifying ourselves mechanically, maybe we all have a bit more in common with the cyborg Terminator (not a robot) than we thought.

Are you a cyborg?

Would you be a cyborg?

Do please leave your most integrated comments in the central processing box below.


  1. Brother Cyborg,
    I had Lasik. So I think that puts me a step closer ;) ahahah
    But to be honest - not that I'm saying they shouldn't put me as a Leader of the Cyborghood (after OED we should have a Lexi for Eddie's Words ;)) - when one looks at what science, medecine and robotic evolved there are human beings that could perfectly qualify. Look at Pistorius (now might be your chance as he might have to leave soon :(), part of his mobility is pretty much extended by a machine. And if his defence lawyer wins he proved that without his "machine" he's vulnerable and "incomplete". Donc, Cyborg. And much more frightening than Arnoerminator... and those Sarah Connor dialogues ;)

    1. I applied for laser eye surgery, but my eyes aren't suitable for some reason (it's part of the wider problem of discrimination against people with funny-shaped eyes).

      Pistorius is a good example although, again, he prostheses are only replacing (rather than enhancing) what the human body should already have. What will be interesting is when a replacement limb or organ excels over a human one, and whether or not we'll all be having these installed through choice rather than necessity.

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