I had dinner with a cyborg. (And you can too.)
Imagine you’re getting yourself ready to speak to a crowd, you want to sound brilliant, challenging the audience to think about the future and how technology influences humans. Then someone pulls you aside and whispers in your ear: “You’ll be on stage right after our cyborg artist.”
A cyborg? Really? You’re suddenly aware of your utter lack of superhuman powers, feeling immediately inadequate. How could you, a mere human, possibly follow that up?
The cyborg in question on the day this sentence was spoken to me was Moon Ribas, a performance artist and activist with an implant in her elbow that enables her to sense seismic activity occurring anywhere on earth in real time.
Every time an earthquake happens, Moon’s elbow vibrates. (And there are a lot of earthquakes.)
In her performances, she stands in a pile of sand on a large white cloth and interprets those vibrations through dance.
Later that evening, Moon and I sat down to dinner with some friends, and she humored me while I peppered her with all sorts of questions she probably hears too often.
Although she says that early on, her implant was distracting and would wake her up in the middle of the night, after several years of living with the implant, she now perceives the vibrations just as she does any other sense. Moon refers to her extended abilities as a “seismic sense” that connects her to the planet she calls home, connects her deeply with others through shared experience.
Simply, to Moon and others like her, being a cyborg isn’t about becoming part machine; it’s about using technology to become a better human.
So while the word cyborg may elicit ideas of transhumanism or images of Doctor Octopus and the Borg, in the strictest sense, a cyborg is simply a being with abilities that have been extended beyond normal human limitation.
Which led me to an interesting thought.
Consider, perhaps, that you are a cyborg too.
I wear contact lenses. My best friend has a titanium plate in her leg. My great uncle has a pacemaker. From insulin pumps and replacement limbs to exoskeletons and brain implants, we are in many ways inseparable from technologies that help us reach farther, move faster, perform better, and live longer.
Even a smartphone is an outsourced neocortex, and the use of medication applies biological and chemical technology to extend the limitations of our bodies.
Ask a person from 1900, when the worldwide average life expectancy was 31, and to them, all of us are beings whose abilities are extended beyond normal human limitation.
Yet, do you consider yourself a cyborg?
We find ourselves at a point in the development of technology where we are now able to not just respond to deficiencies or damage or necessity, but rather make design choices about the human we want to be.
As we find new and more integrated ways to leverage technology to be better, faster, stronger, and more capable, we are compelled to question where the line is drawn between humanity and technology.
But if ingenuity and adaptability are key traits that differentiate homo sapiens, then in some ways, the technology we create to augment our experience is itself what defines our species.
So when you sit down to dinner tonight, gather up the cyborgs closest to you, and dive into a big question. Does that line between humanity and technology really exist at all?