Cyborgs, or “cybernetic organisms” have fascinated sci-fi enthusiasts for decades. Innumerable science fiction stories have explored the possibilities and consequences of combining human and mechanical parts into a single being. Common themes include: the struggle between organic and synthetic parts for control of the being, and the risks mechanized enhancement. Some of our most beloved sci-fi characters are cyborgs. Who can forget The Six Million Dollar Man or the Bionic Woman? Also some of most beloved action sequences in modern cinema, come movies with a cyborg protagonist, such as RoboCop and Star Wars. We’ve even seen cyborgs show us their romantic potential in movies such as “Cyborg”, where Jean Claude Van Damme rescued the Pearl Prophet, a synthetic damsel in distress.
Oftentimes when we think of cyborgs, one of the first characters that comes to mind is the Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The cyborg in that movie was the infamous T-800, a humanoid robot encased in organic tissue. For the T-800, organic tissue served as the perfect disguise and it’s what ultimately allowed it to infiltrate the remains of humanity after a civilization ending nuclear war. The film’s post-apocalyptic premise, it’s special effects and Schwarzenegger’s cold inhuman demeanor made for a terrifying film. Cyborg purists, will of course claim that the Terminator was a robot, not a cyborg, because it lacked a human consciousness, and its organic and mechanical components functioned in isolation. Nonsense I say. The T-800 is a perfect depiction of an amalgamation of human and robotic components, that have united to form the ultimate assassin.
The cyborg is actually quite an old idea and science fiction novels have toyed with the idea for quite some time. A classic example of this can be seen in The Clockwork Man, which was written by EV Odle in 1923. This novel features a man with clock-like machinery installed in his head. Another fantastic example, Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, is the story about astronaut Steve Austin and his transformation into a super human cyborg. And then there’s The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. This novel takes a more sobering look at the future. In this novel’s version of our future, cyborgs are used as soldiers, slaves, and prostitutes and then ultimately discarded without any regard for their humanity.
The merging of man and machine will soon be upon us, and a never ending tide of technological advances will soon make it a reality. Advances in robotics, nanotechnology, and computer interfaces are bringing us ever closer to the creation a real cyborg. Thus, as the cyborg transitions from fiction into fact, we have to ask ourselves, will man become obsolete?