EDGE: NATURAL BORN CYBORGS? - Page 1

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We see some of the "cognitive fossil trail" of the Cyborg trait in the historical procession of potent Cognitive Technologies that begins with speech and counting, morphs first into written text and numerals, then into early printing (without moveable typefaces), on to the revolutions of moveable typefaces and the printing press, and most recently to the digital encodings that bring text, sound and image into a uniform and widely transmissible format. Such technologies, once up-and-running in the various appliances and institutions that surround us, do far more than merely allow for the external storage and transmission of ideas. They constitute, I want to say, a cascade of "mindware upgrades": cognitive upheavals in which the effective architecture of the human mind is altered and transformed.

What's more, the use, reach and transformative powers of these cognitive technologies is escalating. New waves of user-sensitive technology may soon bring this ancient process to a climax, as our minds and identities become ever more deeply enmeshed in a non-biological matrix of machines, tools, props, codes and semi-intelligent daily objects.

We humans have indeed always been adept at dovetailing our minds and skills to the shape of our current tools and aids. But when those tools and aids start dovetailing back — when our technologies actively, automatically, and continually tailor themselves to us, just as we do to them — then the line between tool and user becomes flimsy indeed. Such technologies will be less like tools and more like part of the mental apparatus of the person. They will remain tools in only the thin and ultimately paradoxical sense in which my own unconsciously operating neural structures (my hippocampus, my posterior parietal cortex) are tools.

I do not really "use" my brain. There is no user quite so ephemeral. Rather, the operation of the brain is part of what makes me who and what I am. So too with these new waves of sensitive, interactive technologies. As our worlds become smarter, and get to know us better and better, it becomes harder and harder to say where the world stops and the person begins.

What are these technologies? They are many, and various. They include potent, portable machinery linking the user to an increasingly responsive World Wide Web. But they include also, and perhaps ultimately more importantly, the gradual smartening-up and interconnection of the many everyday objects which populate our homes and offices.


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