Cyborgs Among Us

Slashdot points out that September is cyborg month. I, myself, have been accused of being more man than machine. Seriously I strongly appreciate the work of the early cyberneticists, realizing that there is far more to the space of ideas than the popular conception of cyborgs. Slashdot’s post links to the writings by a group of artists and writers exploring the idea more deeply in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coinage of the word cyborg.

I can’t help but relate this anniversary to a couple of other stories I saw in my feeds, today. First is a Technology Review article explaining new research combining thought control with artificial intelligence. This sort of combination almost seems obvious to me. It certainly would to some of those first cyberneticists, many of whom were interested in the idea of augmented cognition.

As the article explains, the artificial intelligence interprets simpler commands from the operator, alleviating the burden of thinking through many of the complex tasks most of us take for granted. I expect this strongly mirrors the sort of subsumption hierarchy that takes place in our own minds. We consciously think about moving and operating at a higher, simpler level and unconsciously unfold lower level, more complicated steps to accomplish those ends. It is astounding work for achieving such compelling, early results.

The other story is also from Technology Review and discusses two projects tackling one of the tougher challenges in the arena of replicating, or even improving on, human senses, namely our sense of touch.

The new electronic-skin devices “are a considerable advance in the state of the art in terms of power consumption and sensitivity,” says John Boland, professor of chemistry at Trinity College at the University of Dublin. “The real advance, though, is moving away from a flat geometry to a flexible device that could be used to make something in the shape of a human finger,” he says.

I could easily see both projects eventually leading to prosthetics that really are indistinguishable to the operator from the original.

Wheelchair Makes the Most of Brain Control, Technology Review
Electric Skin that Rivals the Real Thing, Technology Review

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