Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cyborg Devolution

So, the term cyborg was coined in the 1950s, as a short form of cybernetic organism, with the very serious-minded goal of creating a better type of prostethetic device for those who need one, one more like the biological body part it is meant to take the place of, one that actually involves a feedback mechanism, and can be adjusted and controlled.  Of course, this also introduced the idea of enhancements to an already healthy and whole body.

Marshall McLuhan didn't use the term cyborg in his 1964 classic, Understanding Media, but the same basic idea was there when he wrote about how all media and technologies are extensions of the body, and as extensions are also amputations, numbing the part that they replace, and functioning as prostetic devices.  This comes over two decades before Donna Haraway made the idea a commonplace in cultural theory with her "Cyborg Manifesto," and precedes the famous Six Million Dollar Man series of 1973-1978, which used the synonymous term bionic, but which was based on a 1972 novel by Martin Caidin called Cyborg; The Bionic Woman, a spinoff of the Six Million Dollar Man, ran from 1976 to 1978, and was the subject of a shortlived remake in 2007.  But perhaps more than anything, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator in 1984 that popularized the term, although it's questionable whether a robot with organic components actually fits the definition; certainly, 1987's Robocop is a better representative example of the cyborg in science fiction.

But the point is that the basic goal of cyborg technology is to restore functioning where it is lacking, improve functioning that is already present, or provide functioning that has never been available.  But a new form of cyborg technology does not do any of the above, it's neither a restoration of an ability nor an advancement into greater capability, but actually functions as a kind of devolution (see my previous post, Evolution Now?) back to a more animal-like functioning, one in which nonverbal displays of mental states and feelings are produced.  This comes to us from Japan, where cosplay, short for costume play, is especially popular.  Here's a write-up from MCM BUZZ:

So you’re all set to cosplay as Dejiko from Di Gi Charat, maybe Ritsuka Aoyagi from Loveless, or Felicia fromDarkstalkers, but you’re missing one vital part – the cat ears. Worry not, as Japanese company Neurowear are here to save the day with their 

Neurowear’s Necomimi ears and believe us these are no ordinary cat earsNeurowear have developed cat ears that move depending on your mood. Sensors built into the headband supposedly detect brainwaves given off by the wearer, which therefore causes movement of the ears. Their website even questions limits on the human body, suggesting that maybe it’s possible to control organs on our bodies that don’t exist.</

According to Neurowear, “Necomimi is the new communication tool that augments a human’s body and ability. This cat’s ear shaped machine utilizes brain waves and expresses your condition before you start talking. Just put on Necomimi and if you are concentrated on [something], this cat’s ear shaped machine will rise. When you are relaxed, your new ears lie down. [If concentrated and relaxed] at the same time, your new ears will rise and move actively.

And here's the video:

And that's not all.  As Devo says, "they tell us that we lost our tails evolving up from little snails..."  And do we really miss having a tail?  Appaently so.  Again, let's hear from  MCM BUZZ about it:

Following on from the success of Neurowear’s brainwave controlled cat ears the Necomimi, the company have now unveiled their latest fashionable prototype that utilises brainwaves. Named Shippo, it is a tail that moves depending on your mood.

Showcased at the Tokyo Game Show, a concept video has been released (see below) which demonstrates how it works. If you’re feeling relaxed then the tail will swish slowly. If you happen to be concentrated on something then the tail will start to sway more quickly. But the tail is not the only thing.

Neuro Tagging involves wearing a brain reading sensor that is connected to a smart phone. A neural app will read your mood, with cute cartoony faces visualising how you are feeling. It will then tag your mood and location on a map which can be shared. So if for example you were inside Mr. Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe and the neural app read your mood as ‘excited’ then this would be recorded on a map for other users to see.


And once more, let's go to the video:

This does point out the interesting relationship between social media and geolocation, and the basic animal behavior of marking one's territory.  And while this video is all very sweet and charming, it does come down to basic nonverbal displays relating to sexual availability, interest, and mating.  I mean, this goes way beyond those old mood rings that were popular back in the 70s, that never seemed to work right anyway.

Neil Postman would pose the question, to what problem is this new technology a solution?  And I think that is a question we really need to ponder, not just in the sense of an old person (like me) saying to a youngster, what for?  That always had a bit of a dismissive quality to it, that being young and playful and having fun wasn't answer enough.  Sometimes it isn't, but sometimes it is.  But in this instance, I think Neil would pass the question on to Sigmund Freud, and say, Dr. Freud, what deep-seated need or conflict is this an attempt to resolve?  I think this speaks to the id and basic human drives, and the underlying need to allow for the return of the repressed. That's what technology unleashes, and that's something that requires a great deal of careful analysis. And I'm not just wagging the dog on this one.

No comments: