Is the Cyborg – a person who's body is integrated with technology, augmenting their physical abilities – moving from the realm of fiction to fact? It would appear so.
I was struck yesterday by an article I read on The Verge about new artificial hearts that have no pulse. The story originally hails from Popular Science who delve into the details.
The heart is an incredibly difficult organ to reproduce artificially because it's constantly beating. Any artificial materials that will need to go through the work a heart actually does seem to break down very quickly. So the doctors in question have decided to address the beating problem, looking at creating an artificial heart that does the job but doesn't beat. Rather, it provides a continuous flow throughout the body. And apparently it works.
Think about it – a human being who is alive but has no pulse. This is the first time that such a thing is possible. And it leads to incredibly deep questions.
One lady who has the continuous-flow system installed remarks in the story of how she feels perfectly fine – even though she carries no pulse. The system runs on a small battery packpack and a controller which plug in through a hole on her side.
As per the article: “My cousin once disconnected me, though, by mistake,” she said. “I was showing her how to change the battery. She disconnected one, and then—I was distracted for a second—the other. I yelled, ‘You can’t do that!’ and then passed out. The device blares at you. She reconnected it, and I came back. I was probably out for 10 seconds. She was completely freaked out. She wanted to go right back to Switzerland.”
Think about it: needing to plug yourself in at night and give yourself a charge? It seems all rather odd. Without a pulse the questions a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution asks around what makes a human a human suddenly become very relevant.
Here's a video about the heart. It's fascinating:
To do a bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution promotion, Square Enix got Rob 'Eyeborg' Spence involved. Spence has an artificial eye that is in fact a wireless camera. Spence travelled around the world and put together a 12 minute documentary on cyborgs, which includes interviews with people with artificial legs and the latest developments in eye technology. It's all very interesting. See it below.
Governments have already begun to use cyborg technology to create spy insects. That in itself is another fiction becoming reality. According to Weburbanist, in 2006 researchers in a Tokyo University were able to create cockroaches that they could direct with remote controls. Now the roaches' own bodily functions are being used to power up the spy devices they need to carry. Beetles can also now be remote-controlled with chips planted into their brains. Sounds a bit like the chip technology in Syndicate, doesn't it?
The website Oobject has a list of sixteen current cyborg technologies. These include bionic limbs, skin, artificial livers, pneumatic muscles, artificial kidneys, artificial stomachs, bionic lungs and retinal implants. But more than just replacing what we already have, the technology also includes vision enhancing contact lenses and tooth and ear cellphone implants.
According to Wikipedia, the Cyborg Foundation was formed in 2010 – the world's first international organisation that is dedicated to helping humans become cyborgs. It was formed by real-life cyborgs Neil Harbisson – the first person to wear an Eyeborg that allows him to differentiate colours artificially, something he can't do naturally as he has a rare disease called achromatopsia, which only allows one to see in black and white – and Moon Ribas, a performer.
Rob 'Eyeborg' Spence, real-life cyborg
"The foundation's main aims are to extend human senses and abilities by creating and applying cybernetic extensions to the body, to promote the use of cybernetics in cultural events and to defend cyborg rights," says Wikipedia.
How long before cyborg technology becomes cheaper and is used to augment our current abilities? It seems to me that this might be exactly where things will go. All it needs is one serious capitalist to see the potential. Then humankind will start asking questions it's never asked before and who knows what conflict could result? The next 50 years could be very interesting indeed.
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter has been an avid gamer for over 25 years, seeing the industry evolve from King's Quest to what it is today. He is the editor of Do Gaming and a ghostwriter of fantasy and sci-fi. His fantasy book When Twins War is available at Amazon.com, in the iBookstore for the iPad or at Smashwords.com.