Tim Maly, over at Quiet Babylon, is celebrating 50th anniversary of the concept of the cyborg (first coined in 1960) by soliciting brief essays from a bunch of writers. I contributed a very short essay that is adapted from a section of my new book. A snippet of the piece he is running as the first of 50 posts about cyborgs.
Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius at the start of the men’s 400 meters race at the Track and Field Golden Gala in 2008.
The deep union of ourselves with our inventions is not new. If a cyborg means a being that is part biological and part technological then we humans began as cyborgs, and still are. Our ancestors first chipped stone scrapers 2.5 million years ago to give themselves claws. By about 250,000 years ago they devised crude techniques for cooking, or pre-digesting, with fire. Cooking acts as a supplemental external stomach. Once humans acquired this artificial organ it permitted them to evolve smaller teeth and smaller jaw muscles and provided more kinds of stuff to eat. Our invention altered us.
We are not the same folks who marched out of Africa. Our genes have co-evolved with our inventions. In the past 10,000 years alone, in fact, our genes have evolved 100 times faster than the average rate for the previous 6 million years. This should not be a surprise. As we domesticated the dog (in all its breeds) from wolves and bred cows and corn and more from their unrecognizable ancestors, we, too, have been domesticated….
Clearly, we are self-made. We are the first technology. We are part inventor and part the invented. We have used our minds to manufacture our selves and thus we humans today are the first cyborgs. We have invented ourselves. And we are not done yet.