Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Cyborgs and Slavic Barbies

Izel Sulam

I gaze from my window at the Nike-shod cyborgs on Memorial Drive. Their meat feet slap the surface of the solid world; their Walkman-augmented ears suck in signals from the virtual. Part-human, part-electronic jogging Januses, they have it two ways at once. Their bouncing bodies span different domains of existence.

Mitchell makes an important, yet trivial observation regarding cyborgs. Of course the modern day person is a cyborg. Using a PDA, making a telephone call, watching TV, scribbling a note, putting on a sweater or simply talking to someone else, we extend the capabilities of our anatomy through cultural constructions. We enhance our cognitive, expressive, creative, sensory, and adaptive capabilities through the use of cultural and / or technological constructs. In a way, we are the first species to control our own evolution.Yet, that constitutes only an elementary level of discussion regarding the cyborg.

Is Dolly a cyborg?

Mapping the human genome is considered to be the most ambitious biological research project ever undertaken, and it is expected to reach completion within a decade or less. The information thus gathered will be sufficient to create exact replicas of human beings. The techniques for such a procedure are already available, as illustrated by the cloning of a sheep named Dolly. The cloned organism is a hundred percent natural. It is not made of titanium, nor does it run a computer algorithm embedded in a silicon brain. It is certainly not a skillfully crafted android. In the case of Dolly, said organism does not use a walkman, glasses, a notebook computer, books, contact lenses, lipstick or diapers. It defies the definition of a cyborg as an organic user of cultural constructs.

However, I would consider a cloned organism, human or otherwise, a cyborg simply because its existence depends on a cultural construct. Its birth, if you will, would not have been possible except for scientific research. It may well have extended capabilities, since a full understanding of human DNA will allow weeding out the useless and / or harmful chromosomes, thereby ensuring healthy eyes and rendering contact lenses redundant. Just like the Slavic Barbies of Gibson's Idoru, cloned humans may well become products of serial production, manufactured to meet certain specific needs. Although it's debatable whether that would be a desirable consequence of cloning technology, the fact remains that we have only dealt with a first-generation discussion of the concept of the cyborg so far. Cloning is here, and it's poised to churn out cyborgs by the millions. It's everything Hitler would have desired and possibly more, and we will have to come to terms with this technology's implications if we are to use it responsibly.

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