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A cyborg is a cybernetic organism (i.e., an organism that has both artificial and natural systems). The term was coined in 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline used it in an article about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space. D. S. Halacy's Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman in 1965 featured an introduction which spoke of a "new frontier" that was "not merely space, but more profoundly the relationship between 'inner space' to 'outer space'-a bridge...between mind and matter." The cyborg is often seen today merely as an organism that has enhanced abilities due to technology, but this perhaps oversimplifies the category of feedback.

Fictional cyborgs are portrayed as a synthesis of organic and synthetic parts, and frequently pose the question of difference between human and machine as one concerned with morality, free will, and empathy. Fictional cyborgs may be represented as visibly mechanical (e.g. the Cybermen in the Doctor Who franchise or The Borg from Star Trek); or as almost indistinguishable from humans (e.g. the "Human" Cylons from the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica). The 1970s television series the Six Million Dollar Man featured one of the most famous fictional cyborgs. Cyborgs in fiction often play up a human contempt for over-dependence on technology, particularly when used for war, and when used in ways that seem to threaten free will. Cyborgs are also often portrayed with physical or mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart (military forms may have inbuilt weapons, among other things).

Real (as opposed to fictional) cyborgs are more frequently people who use cybernetic technology to repair or overcome the physical and mental constraints of their bodies. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, they can be any kind of organism.


According to some definitions of the term, the metaphysical and physical attachments humanity has with even the most basic technologies have already made them cyborgs. In a typical example, a human fitted with a heart pacemaker or an insulin pump (if the person has diabetes) might be considered a cyborg, since these mechanical parts enhance the body's "natural" mechanisms through synthetic feedback mechanisms. Some theorists cite such modifications as contact lenses, hearing aids, or intraocular lenses as examples of fitting humans with technology to enhance their biological capabilities; however, these modifications are no more cybernetic than would be a pen or a wooden leg. Cochlear implants that combine mechanical modification with any kind of feedback response are more accurately cyborg enhancements.

The prefix "cyber" is also used to address human-technology mixtures in the abstract. This includes artifacts that may not popularly be considered technology; for example, pen and paper, and speech and language. Augmented with these technologies, and connected in communication with people in other times and places, a person becomes capable of much more than they were before. This is like computers, which gain power by using Internet protocols to connect with other computers. Cybernetic technologies include highways, pipes, electrical wiring, buildings, electrical plants, libraries, and other infrastructure that we hardly notice, but which are critical parts of the cybernetics that we work within.

Bruce Sterling in his universe of Shaper/Mechanist suggested an idea of alternative cyborg called Lobster, which is made not by using internal implants, but by using an external shell (e.g. a Powered Exoskeleton). Unlike human cyborgs that appear human externally while being synthetic internally, a Lobster looks inhuman externally but contains a human internally. The computer game Deus Ex: Invisible War prominently featured cyborgs called Omar, where "Omar" is a Russian translation of the word "Lobster" (since the Omar are of Russian origin in the game).


The concept of a man-machine mixture was widespread in science fiction before World War II. As early as 1843, Edgar Allan Poe described a man with extensive prostheses in the short story "The Man That Was Used Up". In 1908, Jean de la Hire introduced Nyctalope (perhaps the first true superhero was also the first literary cyborg) in the novel L'Homme Qui Peut Vivre Dans L'eau (The Man Who Can Live in Water). Edmond Hamilton presented space explorers with a mixture of organic and machine parts in his novel The Comet Doom in 1928. He later featured the talking, living brain of an old scientist, Simon Wright, floating around in a transparent case, in all the adventures of his famous hero, Captain Future. In the short story "No Woman Born" in 1944, C. L. Moore wrote of Deirdre, a dancer, whose body was burned completely and whose brain was placed in a faceless but beautiful and supple mechanical body.

One of the earliest uses of the term was by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline in 1960 to refer to their conception of an enhanced human being who could survive in extraterrestrial environments:

For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term ‘Cyborg'. Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline

Their concept was the outcome of thinking about the need for an intimate relationship between human and machine as the new frontier of space exploration was beginning to take place. A designer of physiological instrumentation and electronic data-processing systems, Clynes was the chief research scientist in the Dynamic Simulation Laboratory at Rockland State Hospital in New Yorkmarker.

However this may not have been the earliest use. Five months earlier The New York Times had printed:

A cyborg is essentially a man-machine system in which the control mechanisms of the human portion are modified externally by drugs or regulatory devices so that the being can live in an environment different from the normal one.

A book titled Cyborg: Digital Destiny and Human Possibility in the Age of the Wearable computer was published by Doubleday in 2001. Some of the ideas in the book were incorporated into the 35mm motion picture film Cyberman.

Individual cyborgs

Generally, the term "cyborg" is used to refer to a man or woman with bionic, or robotic, implants.

In current prosthetic applications, the C-Leg system developed by Otto Bock HealthCare is used to replace a human leg that has been amputated because of injury or illness. The use of sensors in the artificial C-Leg aids in walking significantly by attempting to replicate the user's natural gait, as it would be prior to amputation. Prostheses like the C-Leg and the more advanced iLimb are considered by some to be the first real steps towards the next generation of real-world cyborg applications. Additionally cochlear implants and magnetic implants which provide people with a sense that they would not otherwise have had can additionally be thought of as creating cyborgs.

In 2002, under the heading Project Cyborg, a British scientist, Kevin Warwick, had an array of 100 electrodes fired in to his nervous system in order to link his nervous system into the internet. With this in place he successfully carried out a series of experiments including extending his nervous system over the internet to control a robotic hand, a loudspeaker and amplifier. This is a form of extended sensory input and the first direct electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.

In 2004, under the heading Bridging the Island of the Colourblind Project, a British and completely colorblind artist, Neil Harbisson, had an eyeborg installed on his head in order to hear colors. His prosthetic device was included within his passport photograph as confirmation of its permanent and embedded cyborg status.

Social cyborgs

More broadly, the full term "cybernetic organism" is used to describe larger networks of communication and control. For example, cities, networks of roads, networks of software, corporations, markets, governments, and the collection of these things together. A corporation can be considered as an artificial intelligence that makes use of replaceable human components to function. People at all ranks can be considered replaceable agents of their functionally intelligent government institutions, whether such a view is desirable or not.

Cyborg proliferation in society

In medicine

In medicine, there are two important and different types of cyborgs: these are the restorative and the enhanced. Restorative technologies “restore lost function, organs, and limbs”. The key aspect of restorative cyborgization is the repair of broken or missing processes to revert to a healthy or average level of function. There is no enhancement to the original faculties and processes that were lost.

On the contrary, the enhanced cyborg “follows a principle, and it is the principle of optimal performance: maximising output (the information or modifications obtained) and minimising input (the energy expended in the process) ”. Thus, the enhanced cyborg intends to exceed normal processes or even gain new functions that were not originally present.

Although prostheses in general supplement lost or damaged body parts with the integration of a mechanical artifice, bionic implants in medicine allow model organs or body parts to mimic the original function more closely. Michael Chorost wrote a memoir of his experience with cochlear implants, or bionic ear, titled "Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human." Jesse Sullivan became one of the first people to operate a fully robotic limb through a nerve-muscle graft, enabling him a complex range of motions beyond that of previous prosthetics. By 2004, a fully functioning artificial heart was developed. The continued technological development of bionic and nanotechnologies begins to raise the question of enhancement, and of the future possibilities for cyborgs which surpass the original functionality of the biological model. The ethics and desirability of "enhancement prosthetics" have been debated; their proponents include the transhumanist movement, with its belief that new technologies can assist the human race in developing beyond its present, normative limitations such as aging and disease, as well as other, more general incapacities, such as limitations on speed, strength, endurance, and intelligence. Opponents of the concept describe what they believe to be biases which propel the development and acceptance of such technologies; namely, a bias towards functionality and efficiency that may compel assent to a view of human people which de-emphasises as defining characteristics actual manifestations of humanity and personhood, in favour of definition in terms of upgrades, versions, and utility.

One of the more common and accepted forms of temporary modification occurs as a result of prenatal diagnosis technologies. Some modern parents willingly use testing methods such as ultrasounds and amniocentesis to determine the sex or health of the fetus. The discovery of birth defects or other congenital problems by these procedures may lead to neonatal treatment in the form of open fetal surgery or the less invasive fetal intervention.

A brain-computer interface, or BCI, provides a direct path of communication from the brain to an external device, effectively creating a cyborg. Research of Invasive BCIs, which utilize electrodes implanted directly into the grey matter of the brain, has focused on restoring damaged eye sight in the blind and providing functionality to paralysed people, most notably those with severe cases, such as Locked-In syndrome.

Retinal implants are another form of cyborgization in medicine. The theory behind retinal stimulation to restore vision to people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and vision loss due to aging (conditions in which people have an abnormally low amount of ganglion cells) is that the retinal implant and electrical stimulation would act as a substitute for the missing ganglion cells (cells which connect the eye to the brain).

While work to perfect this technology is still being done, there have already been major advances in the use of electronic stimulation of the retina to allow the eye to sense patterns of light. A specialized camera is worn by the subject (possibly on the side of a their glasses frames) the camera converts the image into a pattern of electrical stimulation. A chip located in the users eye would then electrically stimulate the retina with this pattern and the image appears to the user. Current prototypes have the camera being powered by a hand sized power supply that could be placed in a pocket or on the waist.

Currently the technology has only been tested on human subject for brief amounts of time and the amount of light picked up by the subject has been minimal. However, if technological advances proceed as planned this technology may be used by thousands of blind people and restore vision to most of them. Robot assisted surgery is another way cyborgs are being integrated into medicine.

In the military

Military organizations' research has recently focused on the utilization of cyborg animals for inter-species relationships for the purposes of a supposed tactical advantage. DARPA has announced its interest in developing "cyborg insects" to transmit data from sensors implanted into the insect during the pupal stage. The insect's motion would be controlled from a MEMS, or Micro-Electro-Mechanical System, and would conceivably surveil an environment and detect explosives or gas. Similarly, DARPA is developing a neural implant to remotely control the movement of sharks. The shark's unique senses would be exploited to provide data feedback in relation to enemy ship movement and underwater explosives.

In sports

The cyborgization of sports has come to the forefront of the national consciousness in recent years. Through the media, America has been exposed to the subject both with the BALCO scandal and the accusations of blood doping at the Tour de France levied against Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis. But, there is more to the subject; steroids, blood doping, prosthesis, body modification, and maybe in the future, genetic modification are all topics that should be included within cyborgs in sports.

As of now, prosthetic legs and feet are not advanced enough to give the athlete the edge, and people with these prosthetics are allowed to compete, possibly only because they are not actually competitive in the Ironman event among other such -athlons. Prosthesis in track and field, however, is a budding issue. Prosthetic legs and feet may soon be better than their human counterparts. Some prosthetic legs and feet allow for runners to adjust the length of their stride which could potentially improve run times and in time actually allow a runner with prosthetic legs to be the fastest in the world. One model used for replacing a leg lost at the knee has actually improved runners' marathon times by as much as 30 minutes. The leg is shaped out of a long, flat piece of metal that extends backwards then curves under itself forming a U shape. This functions as a spring, allowing for runners to be propelled forward with by just placing their weight on the limb. This is the only form that allows the wearer to sprint.

In art

The concept of the cyborg is often associated with science fiction. However, many artists have tried to create public awareness of cybernetic organisms; these can range from paintings to installations. Some artists who create such works are Neil Harbisson, Isa Gordon, Motohiko Odani, Nick Lampert, Patricia Piccinini, Jenifer Gonzalez, Simbiotica and Oron Catts, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Steve Mann, Orlan and Stelarc. H.R. Giger

Machines are becoming more ubiquitous in the artistic process itself, with computerized drawing pads replacing pen and paper, and drum machines becoming nearly as popular as human drummers. This is perhaps most notable in generative art and music. Composers such as Brian Eno have developed and utilized software which can build entire musical scores from a few basic mathematical parameters.

In popular culture

Cyborgs have become a well-known part of science fiction literature and other media. Examples of fictional biomechanical cyborgs include Robocop, Replicants, Star Trek's Borg and Star Wars' Darth Vader. Mechanical models include Cylons, and Terminators.


  1. " Cyborgs and Space," in Astronautics (September 1960), by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.
  2. D. S. Halacy, Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1965), 7.
  3. Technology as extension of human functional architecture by Alexander Chislenko
  4. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century by Donna Haraway
  5. Sterling, Bruce. Schismatrix. Arbor House. 1985.
  6. Manfred E. Clynes, and Nathan S. Kline, (1960) "Cyborgs and space," Astronautics, September, pp. 26-27 and 74-75; reprinted in Gray, Mentor, and Figueroa-Sarriera, eds., The Cyborg Handbook, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 29-34. (hardback: ISBN 0-415-90848-5; paperback: ISBN 0-415-90849-3)
  7. OED On-line
  8. Otto Bock HealthCare : a global leader in healthcare products | Otto Bock
  9. Warwick, K, Gasson, M, Hutt, B, Goodhew, I, Kyberd, P, Schulzrinne, H and Wu, X: “Thought Communication and Control: A First Step using Radiotelegraphy”, IEE Proceedings on Communications, 151(3), pp.185-189, 2004
  10. Alfredo M. Ronchi: Eculture: Cultural Content in the Digital Age. Springer (New York, 2009). p.319 ISBN 978-3-540-75273-8
  11. Andy Miah, Emma Rich: The Medicalization of Cyberspace Routledge (New York, 2008) p.130 (Hardcover:ISBN 978-0-415-37622-8 Papercover: ISBN 978-0-415-39364-5)
  12. Gray, Chris Hables, ed. The Cyborg Handbook. New York: Routledge, 1995
  13. Lyotard, Jean François: The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984
  14. The Boston Retinal Implant Project - Publications
  15. The Boston Retinal Implant Project - Mission Statement
  16. Washington Times - Military seeks to develop 'insect cyborgs'
  17. Military Plans Cyborg Sharks | LiveScience
  18. Neil Harbisson personal website
  19. Patricia Piccinini personal website
  20. Gray, C.H.: The Cyborg Handbook. Routledge, 1995.
  21. Simbiotica personal website
  22. Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle Guggenheim Museum page
  23. Zylinska, J: The Cyborg Experiments. Continuum, 2002.
  24. Generative Music - Brian Eno - In Motion Magazine

External links


Further reading

  • Balsamo, Anne. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.
  • Caidin, Martin. Cyborg; A Novel. New York: Arbor House, 1972.
  • Clark, Andy. Natural-Born Cyborgs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Crittenden, Chris. "Self-Deselection: Technopsychotic Annihilation via Cyborg." Ethics & the Environment 7.2 (Autumn 2002): 127-152.
  • Franchi , Stefano, and Güven Güzeldere, eds. Mechanical Bodies, Computational Minds: Artificial Intelligence from Automata to Cyborgs. MIT Press, 2005.
  • Flanagan, Mary, and Austin Booth, eds. Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.
  • Gray, Chris Hables. Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the Posthuman Age. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2001.
  • Gray, Chris Hables, ed. The Cyborg Handbook. New York: Routledge, 1995.
  • Grenville, Bruce, ed. The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002.
  • Halacy, D. S. Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
  • Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
  • Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women; The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1990.
  • Klugman, Craig. "From Cyborg Fiction to Medical Reality." Literature and Medicine 20.1 (Spring 2001): 39-54.
  • Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Viking, 2005.
  • Mann, Steve. "Telematic Tubs against Terror: Bathing in the Immersive Interactive Media of the Post-Cyborg Age." Leonardo 37.5 (October 2004): 372-373.
  • Mann, Steve, and Hal Niedzviecki. Cyborg: digital destiny and human possibility in the age of the wearable computer Doubleday, 2001. ISBN 0-385-65825-7 (A paperback version also exists, ISBN 0-385-65826-5).
  • Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell. Endnotes, 1991. Kodansha ISBN 4-7700-2919-5.
  • Mitchell, William. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.
  • Muri, Allison. The Enlightenment Cyborg: A History of Communications and Control in the Human Machine, 1660–1830. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.
  • Muri, Allison. Of Shit and the Soul: Tropes of Cybernetic Disembodiment. Body & Society 9.3 (2003): 73–92.
  • Nishime, LeiLani. "The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future." Cinema Journal 44.2 (Winter 2005), 34-49.
  • The Oxford English dictionary. 2nd ed. edited by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Vol 4 p. 188.
  • Rorvik, David M. As Man Becomes Machine: the Evolution of the Cyborg. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971.
  • Rushing, Janice Hocker, and Thomas S. Frentz. Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Smith, Marquard, and Joanne Morra, eds. The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. MIT Press, 2005.
  • The science fiction handbook for readers and writers. By George S. Elrick. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1978, p. 77.
  • The science fiction encyclopaedia. General editor, Peter Nicholls, associate editor, John Clute, technical editor, Carolyn Eardley, contributing editors, Malcolm Edwards, Brian Stableford. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979, p. 151.
  • Warwick, Kevin. I,Cyborg, University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Yoshito Ikada, Bio Materials: an approach to Artificial Organs

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