To be a cyborg, or not to be a cyborg, that is the question.

Lots of cochlear implantees often talk about becoming ‘cyborgs’ as a result of getting their cochlear implant.  Most do so for comic effect, others because they think it sounds cooler than the term ‘prosthetic’ (which is essentially what a CI is), but others are deadly serious. The term isn’t very useful as a label, though,  as it means different things to different people.

Michael Chorost, a cochlear implantee who wrote an excellent memoir of his journey to getting a cochlear implant entitled ‘Rebuilt: how becoming part computer made me more human’, provides a clear and convincing definition of the word cyborg: “The essence of cyborgness is the presence of software that makes if-then-else decisions and acts on the body to carry them out.”

By this reckoning, someone with an artificial hip or limb is not a cyborg. Someone with a pacemaker is, and so does someone with a cochlear implant. But, as Chorost notes, pacemakers and CIs are two very different cyborg technologies.  In doing the simple job of making sure your heart doesn’t stop, you can easily forget about about a pacemaker. “When the control is over your senses, however, you can never forget about it. You are living in a new version of reality.”

Profound stuff, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, I’m practising my robot impression.


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