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50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years 50
50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years 50

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

50 years of cyborgs

The concept of a man fused with a machine has been with us for half a century, but is now becoming a reality

with us for half a century, but is now becoming a reality Caspar Llewellyn Smith The

Caspar Llewellyn Smith The Observer, Sunday 3 October 2010

Llewellyn Smith The Observer , Sunday 3 October 2010 Claudia Mitchell, who was the first woman

Claudia Mitchell, who was the first woman to be equipped with a bionic arm, pictured in 2006. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty

Fifty years ago this month, the journal Astronautics published a paper titled

Space and Cybernetics"

"Drugs,
"Drugs,

, recently presented by neuroscientist, inventor and professional

musician Manfred Clynes and psychiatrist Nathan Kline at a space flight symposium in Texas. In contemplating the challenges that might lie ahead for astronauts embarking on voyages possibly lasting thousands of years – and this was still more than six months before Yuri Gagarin rocketed into orbit – the two authors proposed tampering with the crews' biological capabilities. There was no point in trying to cocoon them in artificial atmospheres – too risky, "the bubble all too easily bursts"; instead, how about "the incorporation of integral exogenous devices to bring about the biological changes which might be necessary in man's homeostatic mechanisms to allow him to live in space qua natura"?

In other words, a man-machine. And what might this be called? "We propose," Clynes

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

and Kline wrote, "the term Cyborg."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

Thus was the term coined, and since then, cyborgs have become staples of science fiction: from the silver cybermen in Doctor Who to the zombie-like Borg in Star Trek, and from the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman to Darth Vader and Robocop. (The Terminator, as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn't really count:

his skin is merely a disguise and so he might better be described as an android.) Inevitably, video games – Metal Gear Solid or Tekken, for example – frequently feature such creations, too.

"Those fictional characters speak to the horror as well as the excitement that we feel at our relationship with technology," says Tim Maly, the curator of website 50 Posts About Cyborgs and the complementary Quiet Babylon. "They ask what it is to be human and, as we augment ourselves and become dependent on these technologies, at what point do we stop being human?"

That process of augmentation has indeed begun. In 2002, Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, underwent surgery to have a device implanted into the nerves of his left arm so he could experiment with extending his nervous system across the internet. This effectively made him part-human, part-robot: the world's first real cyborg.

"It was tremendously exciting," he says, explaining that his wife also had electrodes pushed into her, becoming "a mini-cyborg", so that they could communicate nervous system to nervous system. The experiment lasted three months and since then, while two of his students have implanted magnets into their fingertips to play around with ultrasonics, Warwick has remained resolutely human.

"I'm a bit disappointed there hasn't been more research in these areas," he says. "It is risky, but the technology is certainly there. In fact, it's about time I gave it a go myself again "

Of course, anyone fitted with a pacemaker might also be considered a cyborg. Disabled athletes have been considered as such, too: South African Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius is known as the "Blade Runner" because he competes with the aid of carbon-fibre artificial limbs

Such definitions sit quite happily with Manfred Clynes, who, at the age of 85, continues to explore the man-machine relationship through his creation of a music software program called SuperConductor.

"You could even say that if you're riding a bicycle or wearing spectacles, that fits the cyborg concept," Clynes says. "There's feedback there. You don't have to go into space!"

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

The paper coining the term "cyborg" appeared in the middle of the space race at the height of the cold war. Clynes and Kline, who died in 1982, emphasised in the paper that "although some of [our] proposed solutions may appear fanciful, it should be noted that there are references in the Soviet technical literature to research in many of these same areas "

Times have changed, albeit not necessarily for the better. The professor says that "films such as The Terminator sadden me because they misinterpret our original message". That message was that technology offered mankind the chance to actuate its potential.

Or, as he and Kline concluded half a century ago: "The purpose of the cyborg

provide an organisational system in which

automatically and unconsciously, leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel."

is to

robot-like problems are taken care of

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Comments in chronological order (Total 16 comments)

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Staffin chronological order (Total 16 comments) Post a comment Contributor RoRoWa 3 October 2010 1:30AM It'sonly

Contributororder (Total 16 comments) Post a comment Staff RoRoWa 3 October 2010 1:30AM It'sonly a question

RoRoWaorder (Total 16 comments) Post a comment Staff Contributor 3 October 2010 1:30AM It'sonly a question

3 October 2010 1:30AM It'sonly a question of time. Tomorrow's computers will help us design the nanotechnology. Not just arms and legs, but brain extensions. And the sooner the better. We'll need all the enhancement we can get if we're to have a chance of preserving civilisation on an overheated planet. Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near makes very interesting reading. Seems quite

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

plausible to me. Those exponential curves are utterly convincing. Only dare. Recommend? (2) Report abuse

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mystictimOnly dare. Recommend? ( 2) Report abuse Clip | Link 3 October 2010 1:39AM Resistance is

3 October 2010 1:39AM

Resistance is fertile we have always been borg Recommend? (2) Report abuse

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been borg Recommend? ( 2) Report abuse Clip | Link usasoneiaswe 3 October 2010 2:37AM We're

usasoneiaswe

3 October 2010 2:37AM

We're going to have to pimp ourselves cyborg style for interstellar travel. Wish I had been born 500 years in the future. Recommend? (4) Report abuse

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in the future. Recommend? ( 4) Report abuse Clip | Link ashiraz 3 October 2010 2:47AM

ashiraz

3 October 2010 2:47AM

This is perhaps unnecessary and utterly misguided. We need to channel our energies in developing carbon based replacement parts and not metallic ones (or made of elements alien to the human body). Perhaps it would be better to push progress along stem cell research rather than all of this. Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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stem cell research rather than all of this. Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link

DusterUK

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

3 October 2010 2:49AM

As anyone who watched BSG knows, we are all descended from Cylons anyway. All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. On of the many reasons I refuse to give up smoking is the fact I'm counting on robotic lungs being invented in the not too distant future Recommend? (2) Report abuse

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ralhaqdistant future Recommend? ( 2) Report abuse Clip | Link 3 October 2010 6:14AM i As

3 October 2010 6:14AM

i As anyone who watched BSG knows, we are all descended from Cylons anyway. Canonically incorrect. Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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incorrect. Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link ralhaq 3 October 2010 6:47AM As anyone

ralhaq

3 October 2010 6:47AM

As anyone who watched BSG knows, we are all descended from Cylons anyway. Canonically incorrect. Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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incorrect. Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link FundusVentriculi 3 October 2010 8:17AM Someone really

FundusVentriculi

3 October 2010 8:17AM

Someone really should come up with a viable flying device.

I can't be bothered walking about anymore

-Put your heads together and do it. Call me when you're done- Peace out. One love. Smoke weed Recommend? (0)

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

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DesArchReport abuse Clip | Link 3 October 2010 8:58AM @DusterUK " On of the many reasons

3 October 2010 8:58AM @DusterUK

"On of the many reasons I refuse to give up smoking is the fact I'm counting on robotic "

lungs being invented in the not too distant future dont forget the drinking:) i am planning to have a liver as well as lungs :)) Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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as lungs :)) Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link TrinculoFish 3 October 2010 9:07AM

TrinculoFish

3 October 2010 9:07AM

As I get progressively older the idea of replacement parts seems very attractive. I'd volunteer straight away to become a cyborg with replacement metal knee joints - mine are shot to pieces. And I can think of a few other bits that could do with updating! Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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with updating! Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link Strangegoldfish 3 October 2010 9:10AM I

Strangegoldfish

3 October 2010 9:10AM

I was kind of hoping the article would at least mention Claudia Mitchell and the amazing arm she's been fitted with. That's a pretty cool picture. The editors obviously found it later, after the writer turned in the piece, but rather than use an image from a sci/fi movie they used this picture because it is so compelling. Maybe the author could have reworked the story a bit? I'm whinging now. But come on! She's bionic! Can she lift a car? One or two lines would have been enough. Now I have to spend the day wondering

if Claudia Mitchell can lift a car. Recommend? (3) Report abuse

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

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EvilMikeClip | Link 3 October 2010 9:19AM I stopped reading the article after

3 October 2010 9:19AM

I stopped reading the article after you began to quote Kevin Warwick. Everything he

does has been calculated for publicity and none of it has advanced the cause of science or our understanding of cybernetics. Everything you need to know about him can be found here on The Register, who have kept a close eye on his antics over the years: http://www.theregister.co.uk

/Tag/captain%20cyborg

If you want to write a serious article on human-machine interfaces why not discuss the DARPA project focusing on limb replacement for injured soldiers:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/07/human-trials-ahead-for-darpas-

mind-controlled-artificial-arm/

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Recommend? ( 5) Report abuse Clip | Link Rollocks 3 October 2010 9:34AM I am an

Rollocks

3 October 2010 9:34AM

I am an entry-level cyborg, 'cos I have a cobalt/chrome hip resurfacing.

Sadly, it did not give me the power to leap tall buildings or run faster than a greyhound,

but at least I can now walk more than 50 yards unaided

There technlogies are so exiting, and have so much potential - I just hope that people don't get too turned on by the tech and manage to remember that it is all about improving peoples lives in real terms. Recommend? (1) Report abuse

Yay!

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terms. Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Yay! Clip | Link SionedGoch 3 October 2010 10:15AM No

SionedGoch

3 October 2010 10:15AM

No way were the Borg 'zombie like'. They were more like ants, a collection of units acting

50 years of cyborgs | Discover | From the Observer | The Obs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/oct/03/50-years

from a central control. Recommend? (1) Report abuse

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euangraycentral control. Recommend? ( 1) Report abuse Clip | Link 3 October 2010 10:32AM ashiraz We

3 October 2010 10:32AM

ashiraz We need to channel our energies in developing carbon based replacement parts and not metallic ones (or made of elements alien to the human body) Why? EG Recommend? (0) Report abuse

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body) Why? EG Recommend? ( 0) Report abuse Clip | Link ElmerPhudd 3 October 2010 11:11AM

ElmerPhudd

3 October 2010 11:11AM

EvilMike "I stopped reading the article after you began to quote Kevin Warwick." Ah yes, Cap'n Cyborg "I've shoved a chip up my bum and now I'm an interface". You're right, Mike. There are far more important and worthy areas of research other than Warwick's ego. Recommend? (0) Report abuse

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