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one small islet in the sea of digital text
April 29th, 2013 by Heather Asbeck

Digital Humanity…?!

{ Robot Grandmother }
Tony Stark

{ Tony Stark }

From The Twilight Zone to Ironman, we are no strangers to the concept of integrating humans and machines.  The links I chose for each of those illustrate the range of human-machine integration, from the soft, warm grandmother in The Twilight Zone episode who is visibly human and whose robotic components are effectively concealed, to the mechanized and weaponized robotic suit that conceals and enhances Tony Stark’s human identity.  For fifty years our culture has been fascinated by the human/machine duality, and each iteration reveals something about our fears and desires – highlighting such themes as artificial intelligence that shows agency and attempts to dominate humanity, attempting to make “regular” humans obsolete (the Terminator films), or attempting to convert humans into a cybernetic collective (the Borg from various Star Trek series and films, and the cybermen in Doctor Who, for example).  There are many examples of upgraded humanity (Chuck) and engineered evolution (Bean from Ender’s Game).

One fascinating aspect of this integration is the divide between applied upgrades and integrated ones.  Tony Stark, for example, has an integrated life support system in the form of an electromagnet that prevents shrapnel from circulating through his heart, and also powers his suit.  But what makes him extraordinary is the iron man suit that integrates man and machine, giving him superhero capabilities.  The Borg, a cybernetic collective that aggressively assimilates those it encounters into the hive mind.  Resistance is futile. . . the borg identity is (usually) a permanent change, involving a networking of mind and cybernetic transformation of the body.  Rather than merely peripheral or external modifications that can be removed at will, integrated or implanted technology changes the constitution and configuration of the human body.  Keira, the Protector on Continuum mentioned in my last post, has more than just her fancy uniform – she is an enhanced human with specialized abilities that assist her vocationally.  She has implanted nanotechnology that gives her enhanced sensory perception, facial recognition, weapons detection, night vision, enhanced strength and speed, continuous visual and auditory recording, and access to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) via an integrated communication system that allows her to communicate with anyone on the network without the use of a phone or other device.

keira sees

{ What Keira sees. }

Keira is a good example of a person not just using the Web, but becoming a part of it.  Previously, I talked about the web as something fabricated from organic materials – but “web” and “network” can also refer to living tissue, like the neural network that controls our body’s sensory and motor functions, or the matrix of living tissue that forms our physical bodies.  In this sense, then Keira’s implants are integrated into her body’s living tissues, and these enhancements to her physical matrix allow her to tap into computer networks.  She is both human and machine, but neither solely human nor merely machine.  She is a digital human.

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