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Appendix to “Cybofree- Cyborgs, Fantasy, Reality, Ethics and Education”

- V.R. Manoj and Jayapaul Azariah
Post Graduate Student of Microbiology,
1160, 6th Avenue, Z-Block, Annanagar, Chennai - 600040, India

-  Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.
President, All India Bioethics Association,
New No. 4, 8th Lane, Indiranagar, Chennai 600 020. India

1. Cybernetics and definition of cyborgs

The concept of cyborgs is linked with the concept of cybernetics.  It was Weiner (1948) who first introduced this concept and coined the word cybernetics.  He derived the word from the Greek word KUBERNETES which means “Steersman”, which is the science of communication and control in the worlds of animals and machines. Cybernetics is a field, which recognizes random events where a simple change in a complex system would have far reaching implications leading to an unpredictable and radical change in the entire system. Since then the word has been used to indicate different shades of meaning. Ampere (1834) defined it as the science of government. McCulloch (1965)  used the word in an experimental context as the communication between the observer and his/her environment. On the other hand (Odum, 1976) defined it as the ecological science of control systems with negative and positive feedbacks which bring about eco-balance. More importantly, Beer (1959 ) defined it as the science of effective organization since an organized whole determines how different components of a system interact with one another and how such interactions determine and change the organizational structure. Later, this concept was extended to the application of machine systems to control and interact with living biological organismal systems to bring about balanced coordination between a machine and a human being. Therefore, the question of human interaction with complex and computerized machine system, the conclusions of which are thought to be unpredictable, was considered. Clynes and Kline (1960), coined the term ” Cyborg “. In their “Cyborg Study”, they explored the possibilities for technological extensions of the human body and their advantage in space travel. The idea behind such an innovative experiment was to develop a machine system, which would continually monitor and regulate physico-chemical functions and other external conditions while the human participant concentrates on space exploration and doing other vital experiments. In their study, a 220 gram rat was implanted with a Rose-Osmotic pump to permit continuous injection of chemicals at a slow and controlled rate so as to modify and regulate homeostatic states.

Another type of classification is that of utilizing the already available information on cyborgs that are fictional characters. This type of classification is incomplete, as it does not provide information on the present development of bionic technology.  Since the earlier classification appears to be incomplete in the light of modern advancement in cyborgology and also inadequate to include different portfolio-fantasy-type of cyborgs, a more basic and realistic system of classification of cyborgs are required. Addressing cyborgs of reality can solve such problems. Therefore, a critical analysis into the various shades of identity crisis and portrayals of human characters as cyborgs can give a clear idea of the human identity in a cyborg body.

In developing such a classification, care has been taken not to offend the sentiments of human beings who use conventional type of technologically supplemented external mechanical devices such as a pair of spectacles, false teeth, a wig and contact lenses.

Any device that involves the merging of human senses with a machine interface, in the physical world, could be termed as Cyborg Technology. The convenient cyborgs are those who would use this technology to enhance professional function (military applications) or for recreation such as body suits for cybersex. The prominent use of cyborg technology in this nature has been the use of Wearable Computers. These can be worn on the body as an accesory body part to access and execute complex tasks. The most prominent use has been in Information acquisition.


2. Implications of the present cyborg classification and Fantasy

The cyborg classification proposed in this paper is an attempt to properly differentiate the exact meaning of the cyborg from the commonly used and obvious notions. The term is not a terminologically offensive word in any sense since it does not include the commonly used technological extensions to human physical limitations of eyesight, false tooth and wooden crutches. It should, therefore, be clearly understood that the term refers to those anthropomorphic machines or machines in built into human body where there is the feedback system of information generation and control systems which bring about a perfect integration between part-machine and part-human psyche/soma. The term refers to convenient-type cyborg and conditional-type cyborg. The present level of technological advancement is in the direction of the conditional cyborg. Although cultural and social rules dictate that the word “cyborg” can be referred to as some kind of machine but it is not so.

The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word “fantasy” as “fanciful illusion or a visionary” (Neufeldt and Guralnik, 1988). Although the origin of current fantasy cyborgs can be the results of the scientific study of the NASA project on “Cyborg Study”, such an idea can be traced to several ancient Greek mythological references such as the “The Fall of Icarus” where man has expressed his fantasy desire to be like gods and fly.


Fantasy cyborgs can also be linked with their character and role-play in a story. For example the wooden leg stump of Long John Silver in the story “Treasure Island”(Stevenson,RL.1998) is an expression of his character as a villain and that of Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick”(Melville.1919) is an indication of his determination and vengeance. Modern fantasy cyborgs (FC) are an extension of these characters, which depict the true fantasy of the human body. The principal idea behind the most popular cyborg, “The Six Million Dollar Man”(1974) is the possibility of rehabilitation of a totally incapacitated human body using digital technology to a functional human person who is part machine consisting of bionic parts. (Bionic parts mean the prosthetic devices which have one or kinds of direct interfacing with working body parts). In such a fantasy-portfolio, people brought back as cyborgs as a rehabilitation into human society; depicts the cyborg as a superhero and very different in appearance combined with a moral preference towards good.  One of the chief characters of the FC is aversion to evil and eccentric human desires.  Other pleasing characters are (1) a law-abiding citizen performing outlandish feats in the name of justice and freedom (2) pleasant physical appearance rather than horrifying body proportions and a positive character befitting a superhero.  The above characteristics have been depicted in the FC, ROBOCOP with a human face.  However, from the perception of a FC there is an internal conflict, which is that of the imbalance between his human feelings/side of his personality to which he once belonged and his newly acquired mechanical-emotionless part of the cyborgation. There is a conflict for gaining identity between the technological half and the human half. The rules of fantasy about cyborg were actually broken by ROBOCOP by providing a total cyborg instead of the conventional half human-half machine representation.

Cyborg characters are a step above human characters with perfect moral judgement at its disposal.  Such singularly unique FCs enhanced the chances of introducing them into human society with futuristic perspectives. The depiction of cyborgs among us is a new concept. One such example is that of the comic book character, namely “The Teen Titans”(Teen Titans,1982), a teenager who met with an accident turns into a cyborg. He was capable of superior feats but was not accepted in a human society. Hence, the cyborg of the next stage of development had to fit into a human society. Such a need has led to the development of cyborg characters that are not considered as special and hence they are accepted as persons in a human society.

The more basic characteristics of the cyborg fantasy characters were:

     

  1. All the cyborgs of fantasy can control their bionic parts through their thinking alone. Thus, a total merger of man and machine is achieved (Endogenous information generation).
  2.  

  3. The cyborgs of fantasy are better, faster and more efficient than their normal counter parts.


Thus, a critical perusal of the role play featured by cyborgs, in movies, may revel the presence of four major stereotyped categories namely (1)  Unique/solitary cyborgs (2)  Social cyborgs (3) Futuristic cyborgs and (4) Reluctant cyborgs.

 

  1. UNIQUE/SOLITARY CYBORGS
  2. ROBOCOP and BIONIC MAN represent the unique and solitary type of cyborgs. These cyborgs are usually alone and unique in their crusades. In the portrayal of Robocop, the cyborg stands out as a sentinel of human fantasy as a superhero, always ahead of other fellow human beings with reference to their intelligence and capabilities. Extended capabilities of the Bionic Man always makes him to win due to his superhuman abilities. Such technological abilities in human body are magnified. The machine character dominates the human character. In these portrayals human nature is mildly expressed as a show of sentiment and weakness which, when expressed often makes the cyborg to fail in his venture. In short, in these cyborgs the normal human part is weak, illogical and destructive. However, the society looks to these cyborgs and fantasies for their protective capabilities.


  3. SOCIAL CYBORGS
  4. These cyborgs live in world where cyborgs are the social norm. They actively interact with society. For example,  in the book, “NEUROMANCER”  by Gibson (1995) and the movie “CIRCUITRY MAN”  (1990)  portray cyborgs as bartenders and vigilantes,  where the human character dominates over the machine part. In these cyborgs, the presence of bionic extensions does not change the person’s character in any way.


  5. FUTURISTIC CYBORGS
  6. The Futuristic cyborgs (FUC) are totally fabricated and they bear no resemblance to any of the real world. These cyborgs live in a fantasy world where they are capable of extraordinary feats and are also equally matched by their opponents. They usually have higher responsibilities of saving the planet and the galaxy from destruction. The FUC’s are totally merged into a human-machine interface. In such representations, they can transform into war machines as seen in the cartoon series “CENTURIONS”(1985) and ” POWERRANGERS “(1993).  Their personalities can also be uploaded into various machines. There is neither any special importance nor there is any importance to human character. The whole idea is that they are literally born as cyborgs and their whole world compliments their nature.


  7. RELUCTANT CYBORGS.

These are the cyborgs that truly portray the human spirit by offering glimpses into the question of irreversibility of cyborgation. The Teen Titans, a teenager reconditioned cyborg, finds it difficult to fit in with the normal human society since the society is not yet ready to accept the cyborg as a human being. Similarly, if the ROBOCOP wishes to return to a fully human being/life then it is also not possible. They are forced to remain a cyborg. Such ethical dilemmas offer a rare preview of what the cyborg would really appear emotionally, if their superhuman fantasy role is stripped off from them. For the reluctant cyborgs, the cyborg body is a prison.


Fantasy has led to several other radical views also. The most important view may be found from STELARC (2000). He has suggested the following points for consideration in the process of cyborgation.

 

     

  1. An amplified body, which would have a series of choreographed lights emanating from the body whenever a physiological process takes place.
  2.  

  3. A third arm that could be used as an addition and controlled by muscles in other parts of the body,
  4.  

  5. Concepts of introducing body to internet so that remote activation can be carried out.


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Fantasy also dictates the use of a cyborg body to provide all kinds of pleasures, including implants to accelerate various emotions. Various representations of the cyborg of fantasy offer us a varied insight into human character and identity. While some cyborgs are superheroes, others are also reluctant participants of cyborgation. These show varied vies of current human tendencies towards modern technology i.e. whether, in the future, such technological extension of cyborgation will be accepted as a normal technological proces! Also, the cyborgs of fantasy offer several insights into gender description. Usually, the female cyborg is more masculine in character as in the case of character called “MOLLY” in William Gibson’s “NEUROMANCER”.  But, in all the fantasy cyborgs, neither the human biology is forgotten totally nor is there any construction of a social system around it. But, the society and the cyborg are seen in fantasy roles as complimentary to each other.


4. Reality in Cyborgation

As early as 1900s, bone plates were used as the first artificial intrusion into the human body to stabilize to bone fractures and to accelerate the healing process. Artificial replacements for blood vessels were carried out during 1950s and in 1960s artificial hip joints and artificial heart valves became realities. (Blanchard,.2000). Such a progress in bionics engineering, along with the discovery of electrical signals in nerve impulses,  made it possible to introduce motor controlled body parts that served as prosthetics. Such a combination was termed as a myco-electric process. This meant that a subtle movement of an amputee’s functional body part would send an electric pulse which can be used by a prosthetic device to being about a body movement These advances have initiated the arena of implants. Further step in this direction would be to evolve a third generation of improvements involving the creation of artificial muscles and nerves, making it possible for greater integration of human body with machine parts. In these conditional cyborgs there may be greater integration of neuro-machine interface with human body parts. These are called the bionic devices. Such bionic cyborgs have no other choice than to accept cyborgation as a means for an effective compensation of lost body parts, unless they accept less parts.


5. Currently used popular bionic devices

Most of current prosthetic technology is based on human electrophysiology or more specifically electromycography (EMG), which is the measure of electrical activity of skeletal muscle. (Prosthetic and Electrophysiology research,1996).

 

  1. The Boston Elbow
  2. The most popular prosthetic bionic arm is The Boston Elbow. It is an artificial arm that is powered by battery and controlled by signals originating from the amputee’s muscle stump.  Such a control process is called mycoelectric. The electrodes are located in the socket of the prosthesis, which detect the electrical charges accompanying the contraction of the muscles in the stump. These signals are processed and interpreted by a resident computer in the prosthesis which transmits appropriate commends to the motor nerves in the arm either to flex or to extend the arm in question. The elbow moves at speeds that are relative to the amputee’s muscle contraction. The Boston Elbow can maximize features that are useful in workplaces to lift heavy objects with simultaneous movement of the elbow and terminal devices like the hook or hand.  Since it reproduces the movement of a normal elbow flexion and extension it is capable of lifting up to five pounds of weight and can hold 50 pounds in a locked position. The Boston Elbow has a 30-degree swing that lends it a more natural appearance. The latest version of The Boston Elbow is one that enables the user to control the position, toque and stiffness or mechanical impedance of the prosthetic joints in a manner that simulates an intact neurotransmitter limb system. (Orion Design Technologies,2000).


  3. Alternatives to The Boston Elbow \ The Utah Arm          
  4. The Utah arm is the most successful alternative to The Boston Elbow.  Working on the same principle as that of The Boston Elbow, it has slimmer forearm and works noiselessly. There are currently three other major alternatives to the Boston Elbow: They are 1. Conventional model 2. Body-powered elbow prosthesis 3. Mycoelectrically controlled arm. The next series of third generation devices involve feedback mechanisms and are more directly involved with the human body (Motion control Inc,2001).


  5. Implantable Defibrillators
  6.   These are pacemakers which are implanted into the body either in the shoulder area or in the chest. They continually monitor the heart rate. If there is any abnormality in the normal functioning of the heart then they can make appropriate corrections with small jolts of electricity. This decice can also jolt the heart with sufficiently high-energy shocks, which are similar to methods followed externally with shock paddles. The device has been approved for human use. 


  7. Heart Assist pumps

  Instead of performing a heart transplant or running the risk of indefinitely waiting for a donor, this device can take over the monitoring of the heart for almost a week. This device adequately speeds up or slows down with the heart, while simultaneously monitoring it, thus making it acceptable among people who exercise.(Fellon,1999).


e. Artificial Heart

Several models of Artificial hearts have been introduced with some success, and some are still under clinical trials. Popular models of Artificial hearts developed include ‘Liotta heart’, ‘Jarvik-7’,  and ‘Jarvik 2000’. All these models have been implanted in live patients and met with varied success.The latest model of Artificial heart is the ‘AbioCor’ which is termed as the first fully implantable artificial heart. After implantation, the device does not require tubes or wires to pass through the skin. Power to drive the prosthetic heart is transmitted across the skin, reducing chances for infections. This device has both extermal and internal control units which constantly interact. The device can adjust it’s rate of function in accordance with the patient’s activity and alsi has a monitoring system. Just like a natural heart, it has two ventricles (pumping chambers). It draws power from a battery pack. (Cowley and Underwood,2001).

The next set of devices are those which come closest to the FUC’s. These involve the introduction of a human-neural integration. These third generation devices can control or alter the nerve signals to monitor or correct any of the many physiological processes. Some of these devices are described below.


f. Neural arm implants:


Some people who have very weak or paralyzed arms can make use of this implant to restore partial functions such as gripping or lifting objects. The device involves the implanting of a network of electrodes under the skin with a computer based controller device, which is placed at a movable part of the subject’s body.  Any movements of this region would send a corresponding message to the controller device, which would activate the electrodes. The pattern in the activity of the electrode would bring bout the desired muscle movement.


Implants with temperature and pressure sensors would enable the user to feel the objects being touched. Electrodes in another region of the body where the user feels the pressure monitor response to touch and temperature differences. For example, an actual contact of object with palm may be felt in the shoulder region. (Science: Inside bionic devices, 2000).


g. Artificial leg with feedback mechanism

It is also a prosthetic device equipped with pressure and temperature sensors. These sensors give a feedback to a responsive part of the body through a network of electrodes implanted. Such feedback mechanisms are important, especially in the leg prosthetic as it helps to keep posture and in maintaining balance, thus preventing injury to the person (Fellon,1999).


h. Cochlear Ear Implant

A hearing aid has been developed that directly stimulates the nerves in the ear, making deaf people actually hear. A microphone and a sound processor placed outside the ear analyzes the incoming sounds by volume and pitch, coverts them into electrical signals and then transmits these signals to the implant that is wired in the inner ear. This implant then correspondingly stimulates the ear nerves. The patient, with training can understand common sounds, including speech. (Fellon,1999).


i. Retinal Implant

This is a radical technology that almost recreates an artificial eye. There is a small video camera fitted onto a wearable spectacle, which transmits incoming images as a coded image to the eyeball by a laser beam. A microchip implanted into the eye translates this data into vision. This leads to the activation of a grid of electrons which directly stimulate the eye nerves. The wearer sees the pattern as a complex pattern of differences in light and dark,(Science:Inside bionic devices,2000).


j. Spinal Nerve Implant

This implanted device is used to alleviate chronic pain. Whenever pain signals come, this device activates the spinal nerve column to block the pain signals from reaching the brain. The device is controlled by an external remote control by the wearer. (Science:Inside bionic devices,2000)


11. Brain Implant

Brain Implant technology is still an experimental technology. It involves the implantation of a tiny circuit board in the brain which could be programmed to give off electrical signals,  mimicking normal brain function. If used, these implants could be used to correct localized brain and spinal cord damage. It could also be used in healthy brains to improve functions such as active recall of memories.(Science:Inside bionic devices,2000).


12. TREMOR CONTROL IMPLANT And EPILEPSY CONTROL IMPLANT


These implants are battery operated and implanted in the shoulder region to send small shocks or impulses to block the tremors or epileptic seizures. (Science: Inside bionic devices, 2000)


6. Convenient Cyborg

The above enhancements to human body are due to necessity. The other kind of reality cyborgs are those which use an integration of technology to enhance bodily function. These are CONVENIENT CYBORGS.


7. Military Cyborg

Technology in the military applications have already come into use. There are already heads up display devices that can be worn during combat to acquire definitive tactical information. There are systems such as SMARTDART(Lee,2000) which can provide the user with diagnostic feedback about the complex military machinery. There are now hand held devices such as the MTI (Moving Target Indicator ) and wristwatches with Global positioning system which make the soldier more of a cyborg, constantly relying on technological extensions in the body for survival and combat.


8. Working Cyborg

The recent addition of a technology called “THE WEARABLE” (Computing Devices International Airline Applications,2000) has brought cyborg like applications to make people’s working options more convenient. This remarkable ultra-lightweight computer, worn as a belt, delivers maximum information to users with a minimum of work. Designed for individuals who demand mobility, this computer offers voice control and heads up display for complete, hands-free operation. Users can enter or retrieve information while going about their jobs. For example, consultations with another office can be done on the field, instead of going all the way to that office. This ensures a convenience and also provides a high level of efficiency. It is also becoming popular amongst service personnel such as airline cabin crews who wear such devices to acquire updated information and customer data for providing optimum customer service.


Future Of The Cyborg Of Reality

The future of the Cyborg of Reality holds much promise. The latest such advancements include the development of several types of artificial muscle (Plastic Muscles Run Dry,1998 ). ‘Mister Bony’ is an experimental skeletal model developed at the University of Mexico, cycles with help of artificial muscles. His muscles are made of materials called ionic polymer metal composites (IPMCs) that respond to electricity with elasticity and responsiveness similar to those shown by human muscles. The materials were developed by a team led by Mohsen Shahinpoor, director of the Artificial Muscle Research Institute (AMRI) at the University of New Mexico (UNM). (Fellon, 1999).

Strips of these composites can bend and flap dramatically when an electric current is applied. In this sense they are large-motion actuators\they can move and exert force. Conversely, when a strip is bent, voltage is produced across its thickness, allowing the strip to behave like a sensor that can determine a given level of force and motion. Thus, Mister Bony can cycle all day with artificial muscle with a simple power source.

Another version of such artificial muscle is the synthetic fiber that has been baked and boiled in a chemical solution. The treatment imparts strength and gives the fabric elasticity that varies in the presence of an electric current, yielding materials that can expand and contract just like living tissue. Such artificial muscles are aimed at providing additional support to ailing hearts and compensating for weak or damaged muscles or tissues. Soon, we may see such artificial muscles being attached to artificial tendons and thus giving shape to a functional unit.

The next set of advancements has been the advent of Dexterous prosthesis which allow the movement of artificial fingers. This involves a prostheses with fingers attached to electromagnets. A movement in a workable muscle in the upper arm would trigger a sensor to activate these fingers to produce movements. Such a tendon-actuated prosthesis is being developed by researchers at Rutgers’ Department of Biomedical Engineering, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Such artificial muscles could someday replace an entire lost arm or other body parts. The Dexterous prosthesis is aimed at providing such dexterous functions such as playing the piano.

The ultimate aim is to control such bionic devices directly by the nervous system. In this direction, already advances have been made to design bionic nerves. Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) Center for Neural Communication Technology have developed probes which can stimulate or detect signals from individual nerve cells. The probes are made of precisely etched silicon substrates covered with thin conductive films, and insulated above and below. The upper surface is patterned using a dry etching process. Tiny openings on the upper surface of the probe shank are inlaid with gold or iridium, which are compatible with nerve tissue. These are the spots where the bionic part really makes possible direct communication with the human body’s nervous system. The success of this technology could mean that we would have realtime control over the bionic body parts just like normal body parts.


The desire of neuroscientists to obtain better and more complete images of neural activity in various parts of the brain have motivated the development of high density microelectrode arrays that penetrate into the brain or localised nerve regions and establish contact with nerve bundles. At the University of Utah, a team has recently developed silicon based electrode arrays that contain 100 microelectrodes.They are commercially manufactured by Bionic Technologies,Inc. These are built from highly pure monocrystalline silicon coated with silicon nitride. They consist of about 100 sharpened needles-0.3-2 mm long, projecting out of a 0.25mm thick silicon substrate. The materials so used are highly biocompatible. These systems have been developed to record and study multi-unit and single -unit responses of the sensory and motor neurons in animal models. They are implanted with high velocity insertion techniques. Experiments using these systems have been done in

1. Monkey visual and motor cortex.

2. Cat visual and auditory cortex.

3. Rat sciatic nerve.

4. Isolated turtle retina.

The main practical application of this system is that it aims to record long-term chronic and acute recording from populations of neurons in either the peripheral or the central nervous system. What is interesting is that these array systems have been used in stimulating certain nerves in animal models. The signals and feedback received are studied through a computer system. (Bionic Technologies,2000 Inc., Salt Lake City,UT 84108-product catalogue of Multichannel Interfaces to the Central and Peripheral Nervous system).

This microelectrode technology could have the following profound applications in the future

1. Such neuro-prosthetic applications could be the restoration of limited, but functional vision to the blind or hearing to the deaf.

2. If an array of microelectrodes were implanted in motor cortex of quadriplegic patients, the patterns of neural activity produced by the patient’s thought alone could be used to gracefully control wheelchairs or computers.

 

 

V.R. Manoj has a Ph.D in Environmental Biotechnology/Sciences from Anna University, Chennai, India. He has worked in the Renewable energy industry and currently teaches Environmental Sciences and Engineering to Engineering grad students in India. Dr. Manoj was an IEET Affiliate Scholar for 2010-2012.



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