Robotics and Cyborgs

Cyborg Systems

JozelonThe cyborg concept, first proposed by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline in 1960, to adapt human beings to space environments, has proved a rich resource for science-fiction writers, most notably Martin Caidin whose novel "Cyborg" (1972) was adapted as TV's "Six Million Dollar Man". However, the history of cyborgs in science fiction predates Clynes' and Kline's analysis of the possibilities of a human/technical hybrid by at least two decades. In 1944, "Astounding Science Fiction" magazine published a story by Catherine Lucille Moore which explored the possibilities of a prosthetic body made of "metal rings" and controlled by "electromagnetic currents" generated by a human brain and, in the 1950s, Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon" imagined remote devices controlled by human telepaths and guided by cats.

By the 1980s, when the idea of direct human interface with computers was being entertained as a serious possibility, the work of the so-called "cyberpunk" writers was littered with imaginery cyborgs. In Tom Maddox's "Snake Eyes", a war veteran called George appears to time-warp into Cordwainer Smith's story when his brain implant, designed to enable instant communication with the systems aboard his space ship, malfunctions to the extent that it forces him to eat cat food. In John Shirley's "Wolves of the Plateau", "brain chips" are a valuable currency.

Jeam TagProsthetic devices to enhance and extend the range and function of human vision are probably the most pervasive of cyborg systems in recent science fiction. Engineer Geordie La Forge's "visor" in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" allows him to see in the infra-red spectrum and can be adapted for remote sensing, and in Marge Piercy's "Body of Glass" (1991) and William Gibson's "Neuromancer" (1984) implanted chronometers dispense with the need for watches.

The writers who have also imagined an extension of the virtual-reality principle whereby human consciousness can actually inhabit a virtual body are almost too numerous to mention, suggesting perhaps that the next stage of what Clynes and Kline called "participant evolution" may be cyborg systems that allow us to go into space without leaving our armchairs.

The concept of cyborgs and mutants is a theme often explored in films, including "Terminator", "Robocop", "Universal Soldier" and the more recent "X-Men" where the heroes are children of the atom, homo superior, the next link in the evolutionary chain. Each was born with a unique genetic mutation, which at puberty manifested itself in extraordinary powers: thus one's eyes release an energy beam that can rip holes through mountains; another's strength is both telekinetic and telepathic; and a third can manipulate all forms of weather.

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