Opinion: How technologies materialize the concept of the cyborg

*Eduardo Ferreira // South African Oscar Pistorius gained notoriety when he was banned from competing in the Beijing Olympics (2008) and, later, getting a place in London 2012. This was because the athlete had both legs amputated and was running with carbon fiber prostheses. possibly, it would enhance their times, giving an unfair advantage over “ordinary” competitors.

A few years later, in 2016, the first Olympics will be held. cyborg, with the goal of bringing researchers together in the field and testing the limits of technology to simulate everyday tasks performed by humans through implanted and external devices, such as exoskeletons. The conducted experiments enabled the construction of an artificial model for cyborg and its limits. The difference between one and the other is the addition of artificial devices activated by neural interfaces, thus materializing the concept cyborg modern.

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In 1985, Donna Haraway presented in her Manifesto “the cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organic material, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

This confusion can be summed up in the following question: how is it possible to build machines that mimic the motor and biological functions of human beings and are controlled by intelligence? The answer lies in the definition of intelligence cyborg: exchange of information between artificial components and biological organisms. In addition to merely transmitting visual, tactile, auditory, and olfactory responses, computers are already capable of encoding neural responses as electrical stimuli to directly modulate neural circuits. Thus, it is possible to establish a direct communication channel from the machine to the brain.

To explore the limits of this communication, companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink are already able to produce practical technologies that use the ability to encode signals sent by the brain. There are already 34 people in the world with some kind of brain implant, designed to restore sight or hearing loss or recover from some physical or mental dysfunction. The activation of the device is based on a cognitive model related to the process of performing repetitive activities: a soccer player does not need to know physics to apply a curve and hit the ball at an angle. Likewise, neurological engineers do not need to understand the entire way the brain works in order to generate the optimal stimulus to produce a response and activate a device. It is “calibrated” over time to interact with the stimuli coming from the user.

While some see the auxiliary possibilities of such devices, others already see the possibility of gaining advantages. The writer Zoltan Istvan, who ran for president of the United States in 2016, was implanted with a chip with the function of opening the door of the house or unlocking the computer without a password. He sees other possibilities, such as a direct neural interface with Google and real-time language translation, for example. These kinds of “improvements” represent the possibility of a multimillion-dollar industry operating at the border between computing, engineering, medicine, and biology.

Added to this is the fact that the market for personal computers, smartphones and tablets is expected to decline by an average of 7.6% in 2022, while the market for IoT devices (Internet of Things) is expected to grow. So what would be the effect if these devices were connected directly to the brain? It is already possible to imagine a market for plug-and-play neural devices, a network of sensors and actuators spread across cities that can connect to brain implants and devices inside and outside the body. In such a society, the barrier between machine and body becomes less and less, since both can receive a similar amount of stimuli and offer a predefined set of responses.

Sound like a dystopia or an alternate reality? Put your hand in your pocket or where you usually keep your mobile device. What if it’s not there? The tendency is for the boundary between external (outside the body) and internal (inside the body) to become smaller and smaller, as the senses are artificially extended by many of these devices.

*Eduardo Ferreira has a master’s degree in Applied Computing from the Faculty of Computing and Informatics (FCI) of the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie (UPM)

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