Skip to content

Not a Cyborg yet

June 2, 2013

It must be a slow news weekend for the New York Times to take seriously the idea that a Russian media entrepreneur will soon upload himself into cyberspace. At present, Dmitry Itskov’s great ambition is to create a robotic avatar of himself that uses 36 motors to “reproduce his facial expressions and voice.” An actual human requires between 40-60 head muscles depending on how you count. This attempt reminds me of the animatronic Lincoln at Disneyland.

On the one hand, it’s implausible to set a date (such as 2045) by which the first human mind will “upload” into a machine. A new machine, one should say, since (as Captain Picard reminds us in The Measure of a Man) our bodies are machines already. And we’ve barely scratched the surface of how our own brains work, let alone begun to build a conscious mind.

On the other hand, anyone wearing eyeglasses may claim to be a cyborg. Eyeglasses are adjustable inorganic parts. Well, perhaps barely adjustable, and for that matter barely inorganic (plastic can be grown by bacteria.) (But then, so can ferromagnets.) Are we confused yet? If Dick Cheney was inhuman, it wasn’t the fault of his heart pump–and getting an “organic transplant” didn’t restore him. Without naming a date, it’s a virtual certainty that some day every part of the human body will be “replaced” one way or another, including the heart and brain (beyond the Scarecrow and the Tin Man).

What difference does it make–organic, inorganic? The Sharers faced this polarity in A Door into Ocean. Some of them thought the source of Valan violence was the “culture of stone,” the use of inorganic implements, rarely found on the ocean world. But by the end of the book, the Sharers learn better.

If the Itskov story has any legs at all, the real issue is not “cybernetics” nor “inorganic beings.” It’s something else entirely. (Hint: See any females at that conference?) What these technophiles really envy is the female power to create new life In Her Image. (Itskov is single and plans no children.) Imagine a replicator machine that replicates your own adult self–with no need for a female vessel to grow the clone, let alone raise and educate.

The real problem will be how to stop with just one? Will these technophile egos be able to resist the temptation to print out two, four, a thousand? As many Darth Vaders and Barbie dolls as a toy store? What will individual consciousness mean then?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: