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Cyborgs: The Ethical Dilemma of Linking Human and Machine Mental Functioning

Modification of human consciousness with the merging of human and machine

Where the cyborgs represent a powerful ethical dilemma is in the case when an individual’s conscious-ness is modified by the merging of human and machine. Essentially it is not so much the physical enhancements or repairs that should be our cause for concern but where the nature of an individual is changed by the linking of human and machine mental functioning. In the case of a human this means linking technology directly with the human brain or nervous system, rather than by a connection which is either external to the nervous system but internal to the body or even one which is external to both.


To be clear, the type of cyborg considered in this paper is one in which the cyborg is formed by a human,machine brain/nervous system coupling. Whilst this does refer to a relatively narrow definition with respect to all cyborg possibilities, much of the arguments that follow are dependant on such a definition.Connections between technology and the human nervous system not only affect the nature of the indi-vidual, raising questions as to the meanings of ‘I’ and ‘self’ but they also directly influence autonomy.

An individual human wearing a pair of glasses, whether they contain a computer or not, remains respectfully an autonomous being. Meanwhile a human whose nervous system is linked to a computer not only puts forward their individuality for serious questioning but also, when the computer is part of a network or at least connected to a network, allows their autonomy to be compromised.It is this latter class of Cyborg that is the subject of this paper. The main question arising from this discourse being: when an individual’s consciousness is based on a part human part machine nervous system,in particular when they exhibit Cyborg conscious- ness, will they also hold to Cyborg morals, values and ethics? These being potentially distinctly different to human morals, values and ethics.

Also, as a consequence, will cyborgs, acting as post humans,regard humans in a Nietschian like way (Nietsche 1961) rather akin to how humans presently regard cows or chimpanzees? Some may prefer to look through Hollywood-style,philosophical pink glasses (Harraway 1985) and see post-human cyborgs as being “conducive to the long range survival of humans.” Surely it will be the cyborgs themselves that will make the ultimate pro-human,anti-human decisions. A missile heading towards an individual will not cease from its course and disap- pear, simply because that individual does not like the thought of missiles or does not exhibit the intelligence to comprehend them.

Implications of the linking of human nervous system and technology on autonomy


fool the expert into thinking it is a human. In 2001 I was one of 5 experts at the Loebner Competition held in the Science Museum, London to try out the Turing idea. I was shocked when 2 of the 5 experts (not me) picked out one of the machines as being more human than either of the two humans who were acting as respondents. Clearly it will not be long before the Turing Test will be yet another castle in the sand, slip- ping ignominiously into the sea (Turing 1950; Sparrow 2001).Overall though, from a human point of view, a number of distinct advantages could be accrued by becoming a Cyborg. With a human brain linked to a computer brain, that
individual could have the ability to:
− use the computer part for rapid maths
− call on an internet knowledge base, quickly
− have memories that they have not themselves had
− sense the world in a plethora of ways
− understand multi dimensionality
− communicate in parallel, by thought signals


All of the above would appear to be extremely valid reasons for an individual human to wish to become a Cyborg. But at what cost? What might the consequences be? What about the problems associated with actually becoming a cyborg? Most importantly,
is this mere philosophical discussion or are we talking actual science? Clearly the realisation of such cyborgs presents enormous questions that affect all aspects of human society and culture. Political and normative implica-tions are very much part of this. In attempting to answer such questions a string of positive and negative potentials appear. Standing still is not an option. In the extremes, if humans, en masse, opted for a non-cyborg future, could the result be an intelligent machine super- culture (Warwick 1998)? Conversely, if humans, en masse, opted for a cyborg future, could society and culture cope with such a distinct non linearity in evolution?

For every journal, include a summary and analysis of all the texts that you read for the week. Failure to summarize/analyze will result in half credit (or less) for the journal. The prompt (this is separate from the summary/analysis) is a guideline, and will usually be open-ended (i.e. not a question with a right or wrong answer. Additionally, I want you to explore your own thoughts and feelings and ideas along with the texts and the subject matter in order to improve your critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. Journal Prompt: In addition to your summary/analysis, watch the following video and respond. Do you agree with Amber Case? Did you learn anything new from this video? Did anything surprise you? Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now (Links to YouTube)

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