Monday, April 2, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: Cyborgs

Ah, cyborgs. If there's anything more terrifying than an apocalypse caused by an out-of-control AI, it's an apocalypse where we're all turned into some kind of cyborgs controlled by that out-of-control AI. Okay, I hear you zombie people out there, but don't get me started on zombies (I already did a post about that). Besides, I think we see a lot of similarities between the cyborg masses (like the Cybermen and the Borg) and zombies, and the cyborgs were here first. En masse, that is. In fiction. [The Cybermen pre-date Night of the Living Dead by two years.]

Anyway... this isn't meant to be a debate between cyborgs and zombies, so you zombie people shut it.

As with artificial intelligence, the concept pre-dates the word, which didn't come about until 1960 (in an article about human-machine systems in space). In the 1840s, Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Man That Was Used Up" about a man that has been so damaged, has to use so many prostheses, that he has to be put together every morning before anyone can see him. "He's more machine, now, than man." (No, that's not from Poe's story for anyone that's wondering. It is, however, what immediately came to mind.) However, it was Jean de la Hire who is attributed to creating the first literary cyborg in 1908 with the character Nyctalope from The Man Who Can Live in the Water.

Edmond Hamilton may be more responsible for bringing cyborgs into fiction than anyone else, though. In his novel The Comet Doom (1928), he has characters that are a mesh of organic and machine parts which enable them to operate in outer space, the very thing that was cited in the scientific article in 1960 in which the term cyborg originates. He is also the first person to use the term in a piece of fiction in his 1962 short story "After a Judgment Day."

Possibly, the most famous (earthly (because, let's face it, it's hard to actually get more (in)famous than Darth Vader (yes, he's a cyborg))) individual cyborg (as opposed to a cyborg race like the Cybermen or the Borg) is Steve Austin from the novel, you guessed it, Cyborg from 1972 by sci-fi author Martin Caidin. The book was adapted into the television show The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin off The Bionic Woman. Several sequels to the book followed.

Cyborg systems are a thing of the now even if not in ways that would cause us to think of people as cyborgs. Our current emphasis is to use these systems to restore function to ailing body systems (as with artificial hearts) or replace lost limbs. Prosthetics are not so simples these days as they were when they amounted to just a hook or a peg. Many of these artificial limbs could be capable of enhanced performance; we just don't do that. Yet. I'm sure that day is coming.

As soon as it's shown to be profitable, that is.

But cyborgs aren't limited to people, even if that's what we think of when we think of cyborgs. We think of this:
But, really, this also counts:

Yes, that is a snail. A cyborg snail. Yes, it is real. And it's kind of scary. You can go read all about it here. It's scary because cyborg insects seem to be a big deal to the military. Yeah, you can step on them, but it will mean that anything could be a surveillance device. Anything. [And, since that article is about sustainable power, I also saw an article about robotic jelly fish (robojellies or something like that) that have sustainable power (but I didn't keep the link).]

All of that to say that cyborgs are here. Now. Maybe not all around you, but they could be. And sooner than you might think.


  1. In a comic book example, Tony Stark's recent Extremis armor basically makes him a cyborg.

    I'm glad they dropped it though, because it was bordering into the creepy for me.

  2. Hi Andrew, all the best with being published! Dropping by from A-Z challenge,

    This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.

    Duncan In Kuantan

  3. The cyborgs could actually be zombies. Kept functioning by the implants while the human they are a part of is brain dead. See? Now everyone's happy.

  4. Andrew, brought back memories - used to watch the six million dollar man and the bionic woman as a child. Its really interesting to see what medical advances are being made with machinery and health. Looking forward to reading more of your posts, just going off now to read about the snail....have a blessed day, Amanda

  5. Andrew, you amaze me with all the stuff you, like, know. And now, thank you very much, I'm scared about government insect cyborgs. Which I knew nothing about until now.

  6. You zombie people shut it. That's what I love most about this blog... the warm, welcoming atmosphere.

    A cyborg snail?

  7. I can not express how frightening a thought that is to me. Thanks for sharing......I guess. Now I will be having nightmares about government insect regular insects aren't creepy enough.

  8. Hi, Andrew. I just want to say thank you oh-so-much for the nightmares I'll most likely be having tonight :/ Haha, jk! Cyborgs are scary, though. I remember when I was little watching Star Trek shows with my dad and covering my eyes whenever the Borg made an appearance. They remind me too much of zombies and I don't like zombies. Or cyborgs! Creeeeepy.

    Nice to meet you and happy A to Z!!

  9. Borg from Star Trek were the best cyborgs hands down. The ones in Star Wars were interesting though. Lando couldn't have done what he did without one.

  10. Great post. It is amazing the number of cyborgs that we have around us. Also it is interesting to wonder about at what point is a person a person or a cyborg?

  11. Between cyborgs and zombies, I'm betting on the cyborgs to win. Cool info.

  12. Cyborg snails. Now that is scary. Or slimy. Not sure which.
    Would you classify the creation in 1924's Metropolis as robot or cyborg?

  13. I don't even like real insects, so governmental cyborg insects are really creepy. Cyborg snails...can you eat them? Hmm, perhaps Cyborg cows could give you cocoa.

  14. Have you read NEXT by Michael Crichton? All about the next step from cyborgs - nanobots.
    The novel he was working on when he died - just came out, can't recall the title - is also about nanobots. Cool stuff.

  15. Robojellies and cyborg snails? Great, now I have something else to worry about.

  16. What can I say, except..."Resistance is futile".

  17. Lauren: I haven't followed comics in a few years now (okay, longer than a few), so I missed that.

    Duncan: Thanks for stopping by!

    Rusty: Well... that's just no fun.

    Amanda: I should have mentioned the guy with the extendable legs, too!

    Alyssia: There is -some- research involved; although, to paraphrase a famous Doctor, "I've forgotten more than most people will ever know." :P

    M.J.: Hey! Um... well, okay... I'm warmer than a zombie, though!

    Jennifer: Don't worry, they'll just be there to spy on you. Until they start programming them to assassinate people.

    Laura: Nightmares are my speciality!
    Thanks for coming by :)

    Michael: I like the Cybermen. More personality.

    Josh: There has to be some sort of electronic connection between the organism and the machine to be a cyborg, I believe.
    Thanks for stopping in!

    L.G.: Yeah, I'm betting on cyborgs, too. Zombies just don't have the braaains for it.

    Alex: I'm pretty sure that's a robot in Metropolis, but it's been so long since I've seen that that I don't remember for sure. I do know it was a robot in the anime adaptation.

    Donna: You could probably eat the snails; just watch out for the crunchy bits.
    I think the cocoa cows are more likely from my "G" post.

    Melodie: Nah, I quit reading Crichton a long time ago. All of his books were basically the same.

    Sarah P: No, you're okay. These things are only in the US, right now.

    Emanuel: Delete! Delete! Delete!

  18. I have been implanted with a bionic ear. On my way!

  19. Stephen: How's that doing, by the way? I did see in my research that those things are actually called bionic ears. heh
    You cyborg, you!