Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The emerging cyborg
We’re all familiar with the idea of the cyborg (cybernetic organism). Ubiquitous in some of the more imaginative science fiction worlds of the last fifty years or so, the cyborg has become emblematic of the human race’s desire to pull itself up to another level of existence. Evolution takes too long, and we’re an impatient bunch – so we consume stories of cyborgs, space travel and all manner of tech utopias to fill the gap between mundane reality and a shiningly limitless scope of potential outcomes the future might hold. Or might not, as the case may be.
In practical terms, human and machine haven’t quite fused into one over the years – but there have been giant leaps and significant breakthrough technologies. If you use an artificial cardiac pacemaker, or if you’ve had any kind of joint replacement, you’re the recipient of technological treatment so advanced as to be fantasy to previous generations. Even items so simple that we take them for granted – such as contact lenses – enhance we humans by synthetic means.
Machines in the sky
Of course, when technologies such as GPS and mobile phones arrived, they enhanced us further. Imagine not needing to read a map, with your vehicle actually speaking to you, telling you where to go next. And somewhere, as your phone signal bounces from one cell to the next in the network, all of your geographical movements can be plotted on a map. Suddenly it feels as if we’re no longer simply individuals alone, but individuals interconnected through machines: machines in our cars, machines in our hands, machines in the sky.
And when the iPad came along it was almost immediately obvious that this wasn’t any ordinary computer. For one thing, it just doesn’t look mechanical or remotely boffin – like. The quest for simplicity had led to something that was clearly a new and different species of machine. And soon after its release, this was proved by the various stories that had begun to emerge. The by now iconic Apple tablet was being used by a research scientist to communicate with dolphins as a step towards creating a language interface. Would this have been possible with mouse and QWERTY? Answers on a silicon chip, please...
Sooner or later, the inevitable nexus
All of which leads to the human/machine nexus which is iPad is surely a step towards . It’s the first computer that fits ergonomically in with life, and can act as everything from a musical instrument to a television screen to an alarm clock – and a lot of other things in between. In short, it’s something we’re very attached to. Albeit in an emotionally attached sense, not physically. Could anyone really say that about their ZX81 or their old 256MB RAM HP desktop? I doubt it.
The iPad –and its progeny, which will be imminent and will eclipse and supersede it in a cosmic nanosecond –are more or less definitely the jump off from our biological origins into a world where the boundaries genuinely blur. Already we are seeing tablet computers being used in medical settings as well as scientific environments. And there are even YouTube videos of cats interacting with it, which could be the biggest tech breakthrough ever made, because we all know how fussy cats are.
Has the world gone Sci Fi? Looks like the future is here to stay...