Being a cyborg means to realize that technology defines humanity. Human society as a whole is a cyborg but we as individuals rarely see ourselves this way.
Not so long ago we were asking ourselves whether we are heading towards a future where the human race merges with machines. Well this question is outdated and one proof for that are cyborgs. A cyborg or a cybernetic organism in IT is defined as an organism with both biological and technological components. It is an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. We could easily say that super heroes that we know from fairytales are here. Superhuman strength, dexterity, and senses are no longer science fiction, they are already here.
One living example of this extraordinary technology is Enno Park. He is a cyborg, author, speaker as well as the founder and chairperson of Cyborgs e.V. in Berlin. He is a member of the research project “futurebody” at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and member of Advisory board of VALID research project on ethical aspects of digitalization in the health sector at University of Applied Sciences, Furtwangen, Germany. Enno Park will share his experience at the “Cutting Edge of Digital Mind” conference on September 20 in Austria Trend Hotel in Ljubljana.
The definition of a cyborg is clear – an organism with both biological and technological components. But tell us from your perspective, what does being a Cyborg actually mean and at what point does one become a Cyborg?
Being a cyborg means to realize that technology defines humanity. It started when we began to use fire and outsourced parts digestion to cooking. History of culture is also a history of technology. So, being a cyborg isn’t about having artificial implants inside your body, but rather being a part of a cybernetic system. Human society as a whole is a cyborg but we as individuals rarely see ourselves this way.
Has becoming a cyborg influenced your career in any way or vice versa – did your career in any way influence your decision to get cochlea implants?
Despite some exceptions being deaf usually limits your opportunities which jobs to choose. I’ve been working as a designer and later as a software developer because those are jobs where verbal communication isn’t that important. Gaining my hearing back, with cochlear implants, had a deep impact on my life. You can do phone calls, watch movies without subtitles, and it’s way easier to have a flirt at a crowded bar. By changing what things I could do, it changed my behavior and through this my identity. Shortly after implantation, I started working as a publicist, did video and radio pieces, started to study again and met people to establish the Cyborgs e.V. with.
“One of the biggest goals is to keep (democratic) control over the technology you’re entangled with.”
As mentioned above, you are a founder and chairperson of Cyborgs e.V. in Berlin. Could you tell us what exactly you do and what is your mission?
Firstly, Cyborgs e.V. is about hacktivism. You have a medical implant or prosthetic and want to know how to hack, program and control it beyond the possibilities vendors usually allow. Security became an important point, not only when you have a digital pacemaker. For the better picture we try to run a public debate on digitalization beyond the old positions of solutionism on the one hand and seeing technology as unnatural and perverted on the other hand. One of the biggest goals is to keep (democratic) control over the technology you’re entangled with – no matter if you have a medical device, a smartphone, a computer, an e-book reader or other algorithmic systems to influence your life.
In the last period we started considering privacy more seriously. You have a piece of technology inside your body – does this mean that theoretically you could be a target of a cyber-attack?
There are security breaches in cochlea implants but they’re not connected to the internet or any other computer outside the clinic. So I’m safe. It’s that simple – never connect implants or other devices your life relies on to the internet.
We could probably agree that human evolution is an ongoing process. And with new technologies and implants we are shaping this process. Do you think that in the future everyone will become a Cyborg?
Trans-humanism tends to confuse technological development with evolution. Humans of the future will be humans as we are. Of course new technologies can prolong life expectancy or enhance our abilities, but you have to see it in the context of human history. In the 1800s when industrialization started, there was a need for everyone to have a new sense – time. So watches became ubiquitous. Of course there have been lots of technical enhancements people could attach to their body before, but watch was the first device nearly everybody was wearing it strapped to a wrist on a daily basis. Right now it happened again with smart phones. They aren’t implanted, but you always have them with you. So you don’t have to wait for things like brain implants to study the effects of cyborg devices on society.