From Robocop to the Terminator to Eve 8, no image better captures our deepest fears about technology than the cyborg, the person who is both flesh and metal, brain and electronics. But philosopher and cognitive scientist Andy Clark sees it differently. Cyborgs, he writes, are not something to be fearedwe already are cyborgs.
In Natural-Born Cyborgs, Clark argues that what makes humans so different from other species is our capacity to fully incorporate tools and supporting cultural practices into our existence. Technology as simple as writing on a sketchpad, as familiar as Google or a cellular phone, and as potentially revolutionary as mind-extending neural implantsall exploit our brains' astonishingly plastic nature. Our minds are primed to seek out and incorporate non-biological resources, so that we actually think and feel through our best technologies. Drawing on his expertise in cognitive science, Clark demonstrates that our sense of self and of physical presence can be expanded to a remarkable extent, placing the long-existing telephone and the emerging technology of telepresence on the same continuum. He explores ways in which we have adapted our lives to make use of technology (the measurement of time, for example, has wrought enormous changes in human existence), as well as ways in which increasingly fluid technologies can adapt to individual users during normal use. Bio-technological unions, Clark argues, are evolving with a speed never seen before in history. As we enter an age of wearable computers, sensory augmentation, wireless devices, intelligent environments, thought-controlled prosthetics, and rapid-fire information search and retrieval, the line between the user and her tools grows thinner day by day. "This double whammy of plastic brains and increasingly responsive and well-fitted tools creates an unprecedented opportunity for ever-closer kinds of human-machine merger," he writes, arguing that such a merger is entirely natural.
A stunning new look at the human brain and the human self, Natural Born Cyborgs reveals how our technology is indeed inseparable from who we are and how we think.
Cyborgs have long been a part of America's cinematic imagination (think Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator), but Clark says they're very much a reality. Not only that; pretty much everyone is a cyborg already, according to the author, who heads up Indiana University's cognitive science program. With our laptops, cell phones and PDAs, we're all wired to the hilt and becoming more so every day. As Clark points out, "the mind is just less and less in the head"; when we need information, we usually fire up our PC and access it elsewhere. Clark is at his best when he's writing for a wide audience, distilling arcane technological advances into their essential meaning. But sometimes his sheer enthusiasm for the subject takes over, and the book feels as if it's intended only for tech wonks who can appreciate the minutiae of various mind-machine experiments. Clark gives a passing nod to the negative consequences of an increasingly cyborg world-social alienation, information overload-but retains his essentially positive take on the "biotechnological merger" that is transforming so many people's lives. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.