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Natural-Born Cyborgs

Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence

by Andy Clark

Last tended to November 23, 2020

Andy Clark is a heavyweight in the world of cognitive science and philosophy. He's been writing in the field of embodied cognition and extended mind theory for decades.

Clark is here to convince us we are natural-born cyborgs. That we have always been cyborgs. That the distinctive feature of human intelligence is "precisely [our] ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with nonbiological constructs, props, and aids." (5)

Our tools are not simply external props, but instead deeply integrated cybernetic systems entwined with our understanding of human intelligence.

Calls speech, counting, written text, numbers, printing, and digital encodings "a cascade of 'mindware upgrades'" - "cognitive upheavals in which the effective architecture of the human mind is altered and transformed" (4)

Andy proposes our relationships to our tools is changing though – our tools have always designed us, in the same way we design them. Yet new kinds of tools may start actively and automatically tailoring themselves back to us dynamically.

Since Andy was writing in 2003, many of his examples focus on implants of various kinds – "direct bioelectronic signal exchanges, made possible by various kinds of implant technology" (21)

He cites examples like chochlear implants that bypass the auditory nerve and feed sound waves directly into the brain stem. He mentions Kevin Warwick's Cyborg experiments (a professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading) who embarked on a more classic metal-and-flesh experiment implanting a silicon chip under his arm that sent radio signals around his office to open and close doors, turn lights on and off.

Andy also nods to the promise of Ubiquitous Computing and Internet of Things mythologies – suggesting that "soon" everyday objects around our homes and workplaces will be interconnected and "smart"

At this moment in time we might consider how the promise of Machine Learning and specialised Artificial Intelligence may lead to self-reflexive programmes that can adjust their functionality as they gather information over time.

Calls the idea of Transhumanism or "post-humanism" dangerous and misleading. The kinds of things we're most likely to label as "post-human" technological extensions of the self, "reflect nothing so much as their thoroughly human source" (6)

Andy is taking aim at the crude Cultural Dichotomies of Western Cosmology that have stifled our thinking for centuries – "the complex, conflicted, and remarkably ill-understood relationship between biology, nature, culture, and technology" (7) "Human intellectual history is, in large part, the tale of this fragile and always unstable frontier." (8)

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