Homo Cyberneticus

Which one of you read the story of Bruce Bethke «Cyberpunk»? Although it was not the first of its kind, that story has given rise to a new sub-genre in the field of fantastic fiction that took its name from that publication. Perhaps one of the most famous exponents of the genre is William Ford Gibson, author of several short stories and novels as «Neuromancer» and the popular tale «Johnny Mnemonic», that was also made into a film with Keanu Reeves by Robert Longo.

All these works have one thing in common, that is, the hybridization of genres. That hybridization occurs on two levels, one more properly psychic and the other technological. The key elements are therefore, on one hand, synthetic drugs and the alteration of sensory perception and consciousness, that is, psychedelia, and on the other hand, grafts of mechanical and electronic components in a living organism, mostly in the human body, and its consequent enhancement.

All this, from the first half of the 80’s of the twentieth century to the present day, gives rise to movies well known also by the general public, such as «Blade Runner» (1982) by Riddley Scott, «Wargames» (1983) by John Badham, «The Terminator» (1984) by James Cameron, «RoboCop» (1987) by Paul Verhoeven, «The Lawnmower Man» (1992) by Brett Leonard, «Johnny Mnemonic» (1995) by Robert Longo, «Nirvana» (1997) by Gabriele Salvatores, «The Matrix» (1999) by Wachowski brothers, and «Equilibrium» (2002) by Kurt Wimmer.

An interesting aspect of this literature is that the characters who alter their physical and psychic abilities, thanks to chemistry, mechanics, nanotechnology and electronics, do it for the desire to improve, to evolve, to go beyond their limits. In practice, they have the same passion for technological gadgets that characterizes many people nowadays, with the only difference that instead of treating external devices, we have real prosthesis or even extensions of the human body. A passion that is focused on two aspects, just as happens today with smartphones, sunglasses, watches and other traditional items that are hybridizing in time with high-performance telematics: the first is the functional one, the second is the aesthetic one.

From a functional point of view, there is the seeking for ever more advanced features: virtual reality, network connectivity, production and sharing of multimedia content of all kinds. From an aesthetic point of view, a more and more extreme customization that is taking, for example, to the Google’s proposal of a modular smartphone to be assembled flexibly.

But how far we are from this world? Check out these videos. They are just a few of the many that can be found on the web, and you will realize that perhaps we have already got at that point.

On the other hand, once we have to graft in the body an artificial prosthesis to replace, for example, an amputated limb, why should not we enhance it by adding functions that the original organ had not? And why should not we customize it, transform it, produce modular add-on’s that we can fix at will? Why, for example, should we make it look like the original limb, with the risk that we can still see the difference, when we can enhance its artificial appearance with design, colors and materials? Why not?

After all, the prosthesis that many runners use to compete, despite the amputation of one or both legs, are not likely to make them even faster than their completely organic counterparts? So why should we hide, camouflage with a normal appearance, what is not normal? Maybe we got to the point where being disabled could become an opportunity to become super-abled, giving to evolution a direction that nature has not provided for and that will make us even more different than all the other species of this planet, that is, to become the Homo Cyberneticus.

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