• Question: could we ever become cyborgs?

    Asked by Dylon to Ed, Kerrianne, Oli, yoyehudi on 15 Nov 2017.
    • Photo: Oli Wilson

      Oli Wilson answered on 15 Nov 2017:

      In some ways we’re part way there already! Have you ever met someone with a cochlear implant, or a pacemaker? They’re not particularly rare, but they’re both examples of technology implanted in humans to enhance their senses or keep them alive – I wouldn’t ever call these people cyborgs, but it certainly sounds like a step in a cyborg-y direction. I think people have managed to remote-control hands with the use of a computer and just their brain, some people have implanted access chips under their skin, and there are scientists researching how to link computers and nervous systems up to make things like prosthetic limbs better for people (like this group at Imperial College in London https://www.imperial.ac.uk/neural-interfaces/research/). All slightly cyborg-y and we’re not even in the future yet…
      I’m sure Edward will know of some specific examples of this kind of thing – having seen a couple of his research videos, I even wonder whether he’d consider any of his mice cyborgs…

    • Photo: Kerrianne Harrington

      Kerrianne Harrington answered on 15 Nov 2017:

      How do you know I’m not already a cyborg? ;P

      I personally think it will happen slowly over time, especially to get beyond the restorative kind that help with medical issues. As Oli said, we kind of already have small touches of cyborg technology! If cyborgs are squishy beings, like ourselves, with technological enhancements that can responsively restore functions or enhance abilities, we definitely have some options already available to us when we get sick. I think it will be a much longer time until it’s something you just chose to adopt, to get more capable or more powerful, like is done in a lot of futuristic sci-fi. I’m not sure how far we will get in our life times, beyond pacemakers, hip replacements and implants. I think a lot of our ‘cyborg’ enhancements in our lifetimes will be about helping our health and mobility.

      There’s a really nice dilemma that comes up in a piece of sci-fi I really like called ‘Ghost in the Shell’. In it two cyborgs are discussing if they’d quit their jobs and retire one day, but with retirement comes no more upgrades to their bodies. It’s like being stuck with an outdated mobile phone, and keeping it until you die, but it’s your entire being. That was always kind of terrifying to me! I guess there is no escaping aging of any kind, whether your stuck in outdated tech or your original fleshy self.

    • Photo: Ed Bracey

      Ed Bracey answered on 16 Nov 2017:

      I think we’re all already kind of cyborgs really.
      So many of us now rely on our phones and other devices as an extension of our brains – we don’t need to memorise as many things because we can search online!
      In terms of connecting machines to ourselves, one of the main problems is how our brains can control those machines.
      You can put electrodes into the brain that can record the activity of brain cells and use them control say a robot arm.
      However, over time the brain forms a scar around the electrodes and you lose some of the electrical signals, so we may need to overcome this in future.
      There’s a great video here of a woman who’s paralysed but doctors and scientists have put electrodes into the part of her brain that would normally control her muscles, called the motor cortex.
      She’s able to give herself a drink by controlling a robot arm, something she hadn’t been able to do for nearly 15 years.
      Honestly the look on her face at the end of the video after she does it gave me goosebumps!