GABBLER RECOMMENDS: What it takes to be a cyborg

‘”Cyborg” is a loaded and attention-grabbing term, bearing associations from sci-fi novels and Hollywood, and whether it’s an entirely accurate label for these activities is up for debate. Some commentators broaden the definition to include anyone who uses artificial devices, such as computer screens or iPhones. Others prefer to narrow it. As early as 2003, in an article entitled “Cyborg morals, cyborg values, cyborg ethics,” Kevin Warwick, the professor who pioneered the cyborg movement in the academic sphere, described ‘cyborgs’ as being only those entities formed by a “human, machine brain/nervous system coupling”—essentially “a human whose nervous system is linked to a computer.”

Cyborgian implantation activities take place outside the clinic or hospital, as a sort of parallel to standardised medical experimentation. There is a keen desire to win over public support, which might explain the mob of journalists at the Dusseldorf event, who almost outnumbered the public. Österlund is clear: “We’re not going to work on sick people. That’s up to the medical industry,” he explains. “But we’re upgrading healthy people so that they can predict health issues. That’s definitely going to be the future.”

The concept of enhancement is what distinguishes cyborgism from other medical implantation, or from the ordinary fact of having to wear corrective glasses. This is not about therapeutics or repair, but about augmenting human senses beyond the norm. Despite the distinct gap between cyborg implants and clinical medicine, Cannon does think that they could fruitfully interact. “I think that a lot of time you have people in academia who are squeamish,” he accepts. “But as a result of medicine being the only people allowed to experiment, that has bound our hands and stymied research for a really long time. Well, we’re talking about being able to choose to participate in these experiments as perfectly healthy people and really investigate what’s possible. It allows us to move with an alacrity that science and medicine cannot in its current state.”

Legally, cyborgism falls into a nebulous category, neither regulated nor forbidden by law. In the UK, because the devices have no therapeutic value, doctors who carry out implant procedures potentially open themselves to legal risks, according to one GP, Dr Zoe Norris, who says most doctors would view the procedures as being purely cosmetic and therefore landing closer to the desks of their plastic surgeon colleagues. A spokeswoman for the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said that the organisation isn’t aware of a plastic surgeon implanting any such device. Nurses and technicians, she said, would be sufficiently well-equipped to carry out these fairly simple procedures, with only larger devices possibly requiring a surgeon. It therefore falls to the hands of tattoo and body modification artists to conduct the procedures or, in one case I heard of, a veterinarian (the grey-suited man who implanted Michael’s magnet at the fair was a tattoo artist). The UK’s House of Commons has produced a document that sets out the legislation, health guidance, consumer law and training relating to tattooing and body piercing—without mentioning chip implants or magnets in particular. The guidelines note that “contrary to popular belief, there is no formal minimum qualification for tattooists and body piercers.”’


[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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