“Cyborg” is a term used in Science Fiction for an organism – usually vaguely human – that is, to some extent, a combination of biological and robotic (mechanical) elements. An extreme example would be the combination of a human brain and a spaceship featured in the Larry Niven short story “Donovan’s Brain” (and several other stories). The best known cyborgs are, probably, Darth Vadar in the “Star Wars” films and Robocop.
Cyborgs are distinguished from androids (constructions in human form – for example, Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and robots (any construction able to mimic some or all of the properties of living things – for example, Huey, Dewey and Louie in the “Silent Running”). Cyborgs can be regarded as the use of cybernetics to the augmentation or repair of living organisms (hence the name).
Cyborgs can be exhibited as the grotesque, either in form or behaviour (Darth Vadar) or as an enhancement or extension to human skills (Donovan or the Six Million Dollar Man). In the form of the grotesque they exhibit many of the features of Frankenstein’s wholly biological construction; as superior beings they are meta-images of the Superman concept.
Augmentation, in order to enhance the natural abilities and functions of the human body, especially when damaged, has long been practiced. We are all familiar with artificial limbs, wheelchairs, even simple crutches. Sometimes the augmentation is simply cosmetic: glass eyes or wigs, for example. At one extreme, even simply using cosmetics is a manifestation of such augmentation.
Human beings being the imaginative beings they are, have extended this idea of simple, corrective augmentation, to the improvement of the human body. In our current state of technological development, the augmentation is no significant improvement on nature’s endowments. True, a metal hip joint has a longer lifetime and is less prone to fracture than one of bone; but, it does not engender any greater physical attributes on the receiver of such prosthetics. And, it must be stressed, providing such prosthetics is significantly more expensive and labour-intensive than allowing them to come about naturally.
But still, the human race’s dreams of enhancements to its physical form: stronger and faster limbs; greater stamina and endurance; more precise and far-reaching senses; tolerance of more extreme environments; more perfect form and function. These dreams are being realised, to a greater or lesser extent, every day through medication (athletes taking steroids), surgery (liposuction; cosmetic surgery), mechanics (bicycles; automobiles; submarines; space suits) and decoration (tattoos; jewelery; clothes). Imagining better arms and legs instead of the ones you already have or imagining new limbs (wings for flying), are just extensions of this reality.
But, do we dream of improving the human body in general or just the one we have? Are we, in this dream of the cyborg body, imagining a better than it already is human race or simply a personal body that is better than others. Do we dream to improve the lot of all or simply so the we can win an Olympic Gold Medal in the 100 metres sprint? Being invulnerable to projectile weapons may seem attractive, especially when everyone else isn’t; but, if everyone was so endowed, other, more destructive, weapons would become commonplace.
Like all dreams, this one has its nightmare side; like sticky-tape it has its smooth and sticky side. Dream your dream of the perfect body but don’t let your dream overwhelm you and everyone else.