THE INHUMAN CONDITION

entire Cyborg

I have been thinking about cyborgs recently.  Are we that far from the science fiction notion of becoming half human, half machine? A pacemaker for my dodgy ticker, well that’s mainstream these days.  Maybe I’ll chuck out the glasses and get some new eyes that can automatically enhance the information  sent to my brain and adjust to different light qualities?  Or a chip that can hear colours transforming the frequency of light to that of sound and hear it through bone conduction.  A new hip perhaps, (a hip chip?) with a chip in it that makes it possible to ride a bike for longer periods over harsher terrain?  New hands to replace useless arthritic claws, strong enough to open the devilish packaging now mandatory for food producers, or impervious to extreme temperatures but delicate enough to enable me to incise into my etching plates?  At what stage do these enhancements change us from human to cyborg, or in fact make us posthuman, even transhuman?

The term cyborg is a little outdated as these days we can readily accept the intrusion of technology into our bodies, seeing those springy appendages of Oscar Pretorius as something to envy – only his legs mind you. The definition of a cyborg used to be a body which was dependant on something electronic or mechanical to exist, nowadays I cannot envision existing without my electronic devises, I feel diminished without them.

It seems that if the technology is good for the person and doesn’t threaten his/her humanity then it is acceptable but if it helps to make a person achieve beyond their human capabilities then this is perceived as threatening. Man as superman belongs in the comics or with Nietzsche, not our everyday lives.  The ethical choice is that I have a right to enhance and you have a right not to enhance.  It’s your body, your right to enhance as long as it doesn’t harm anyone, but there must be no coercion to enhance, or not to.

The tendency is to think that technology outside ourselves, when  it can be turned on or off,  is acceptable.  I find myself sometimes making cyborgian assumptions, like the phantom rumble in my pocket where the phone usually resides even when it’s not there. Trying to scroll down a paper page. Searching my brain like it was a Google Search. Trying to pinch zoom the view like it was a screen when I just wanted to see a sign somewhere far away.  So I suppose that most of us can be termed everyday cyborgs – when we wake up in the morning the first thing we do is check our mobiles, the device is the life-blood of our social reality, they symbiotically exchange information with the world.  We don’t notice the device, we achieve social union using technology. We meld into the computer and become part of it.

And then, if our bodies are beyond helping what about our brains?  Can our brains keep on living even after our body dies? Sounds like science fiction to me, but celebrated theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking recently suggested that technology could make it possible.  “I think the brain is like a programme in the mind, which is like a computer,” Hawking said, “so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and to provide a form of life after death.”

Some people are actively working to develop technology that would permit the migration of brain functions into a computer. Russian multi-millionaire Dmitry Itskov, for one, hopes someday to upload the contents of a brain into a life-like exoskeleton as part of his 2045 Initiative.  And a separate research group, called the Brain Preservation Foundation is working to develop a process to preserve the brain along with its memories, emotions and consciousness, called chemical fixation and plastic embedding, the process involves converting the brain into plastic, carving it up into tiny slices, and then reconstructing its three-dimensional structure in a computer. This then offers the possibility of a machine which is dependant on human consciousness to exist – a reversal of our initial definition of a cyborg yet no less valid or frightening.  I must ask, is this an attractive promise of possible life after death?

But are we not moving ever closer towards some kind of symbiotic relationship with the technological other?  The technological construct now enters the flesh in unprecedented degrees of intrusiveness and the nature of the human-technological interaction has shifted towards a blurring of the boundaries between genders, races and species, following the trend of the contemporary inhuman condition.  The technological other today – a mere assemblage of circuitry and feedback loops – functions in the realm of an egalitarian blurring of differences. Has cyborg tendencies inspired a philosophy that seeks to make us so superhuman that we will not die?

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VISIBLE, ALL TOO VISIBLE

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The visible has been and still remains the principle human source of information about the world.  When we can see we can orientate ourselves.  Even perceptions coming from other senses are often translated into visual terms, when we say “I see” we really mean “I understand”, and the sensation of vertigo originates in the ear but is experienced as a visual spatial confusion.

Thanks to the visible we recognise space as the precondition for physical existence.  The visible brings the world to us.  But at the same time it reminds us ceaselessly that it is a world in which we risk to be lost.  The visible with its space also takes the world away from us.  Nothing is more two-faced.

The visible implies an eye, it is the stuff of the relation between seen and seer.  Yet the seer, when human, is conscious of what the eye cannot and will never see because of time and distance.  The visible both includes us because we can see and excludes us because we cannot be everywhere.  The visible consists of the seen which, even when it is threatening, confirms our existence, and of the unseen which defies that existence.  The desire to see something like the sun setting behind the horizon, the stars on a clear night or heat haze in the dessert,  has a deep ontological basis.

To this human ambiguity of the visible one then has to add the visual experience of absence, whereby we no longer see what we saw.  We face a disappearance.  And a struggle ensues to prevent what has disappeared, what has become invisible, falling into the negation of the unseen, defying our existence.  Thus, the visible produces faith in the reality of the invisible and provokes the development of an inner eye which retains and assembles and arranges, as if in an interior, as if what has been seen may be forever partly protected against an ambush of space, which is absence.

Both life itself and the visible owe their existence to light.  Neither the optical explanation of visual perception nor the evolutionist theory of the slow, hazardous development of the eye in response to the stimulus of light dissolve the enigma that at a certain moment appearances were revealed as appearances.

Theories and observations of visual perception have been the main source of inspiration for computer vision (also called machine vision, or computational vision). Special hardware structures and software algorithms provide machines with the capability to interpret the images coming from a camera or a sensor. Artificial Visual Perception has long been used in the computer industry and is now entering the domains of automotive and robotics.

Areas of artificial intelligence deal with autonomous planning or deliberation for robotical systems to navigate through an environment. A detailed understanding of these environments is required to navigate through them. Information about the environment could be provided by a computer vision system, acting as a vision sensor and providing high-level information about the environment and the robot.

Artificial intelligence and computer vision share other topics such as pattern recognition and learning techniques. Consequently, computer vision is sometimes seen as a part of the artificial intelligence field or the computer science field in general.

ZERO STATE

In a state of zero there are no questions.

An empty void waiting to be filled?

On my bike today is my existence elevated by

a black cormorant sweeping low over the water and a flying fish jumping out to meet him,

the sun in an azure sky, small white clouds low above the horizon,

eight duckling chicks with protective Mother, a moorhen’s precarious nest propped against a post,

a cluster of iridescent dragonflies busy on the banks,

one of the first cuckoos singing in the distance,

elegant reeds – standing tall and soft in their massed ranks,

pink-tinged wild roses abundant along the banks rubbing branches with blowsy elderflower bushes in full bloom,

a cacophony of smells – hot hearth – damp algae – fishermen’s decaying maggots – a lavender bush – grass cuttings accumulating on the water,

all carried to my senses on the breeze blowing from the water?

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All senses indeed elevated by the experience.