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What is a Cyborg?

By G. Melanson
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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A cyborg is an organism with both artificial and organic components. The term “cyborg” was first coined by NASA scientists, Nathan Kline and Manfred Clynes in an aeronautics paper written in 1960 which discussed the potential advantages of a machine/human hybrid that could operate in outer space. In science fiction and popular culture, cyborgs are often depicted as “half-man half-machine” beings with robotic or bionic implants, such as RoboCop from the 1987 film of the same name or the 1970s TV shows, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Cyborgs are sometimes confused with androids, which are robots designed to resemble human beings, such as Data from 1980s-90s TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The capabilities of modern medicine have caused many to re-consider the definition of a cyborg to include mammals which are fitted with restorative technologies that helps replicate the body’s natural systems, such as a person with a pacemaker or a retinal or cochlear implant. Although the average prosthesis does not fall within the definition of cyborg technology, a prosthetic device which employs sensors to replicate a person’s natural gait, such as a C-Leg system, is considered a modern-day cyborg application.

In addition to restorative technologies, cyborg applications which may enhance human functioning beyond the body’s natural capabilities are subject to controversy. For example, the development of the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag, which is on the verge of becoming a prolific cyborg application, is a micro technology implanted in a human being or animal to potentially store information. Opponents of such a technology point to the potential invasion of privacy that might occur with such a device; it could become a defacto application for the purposes of tracking humans and animals.

Another controversial cyborg application involves the utilization of insects and animals in the military for tactical combat purposes. For example, the United States Department of Defense agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA), has begun to explore the possibility of implanting insects with pupal data sensors for surveillance purposes, as well as implanting sharks with similar cyborg sensors to detect explosives underwater.

The 1985 essay written by Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” put forth a positive view of cyborgs in the context of feminist theory. Haraway theorized that the metaphorical concept of a cyborg implies transcending the historical and patriarchal constraints of one’s natural gender.

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Discussion Comments

By anon350264 — On Oct 03, 2013

In the complete generation of cyborg, are people happy and can they be sad like human beings? --vlux.

By anon240827 — On Jan 16, 2012

Technology is very good. I like it but I have a doubt if a human is converted into a cyborg can he have food or not? Like if he had a lung cyborg machine.

By Monika — On Jul 05, 2011

@KaBoom - Cyborgs turning against their creators is a pretty frequent storyline in science fiction. I do wonder what would really happen if actual human being were given cyborg capabilities in real life. Would they really grow power hungry and turn against normal humans?

I kind of think not. I actually think that cyborg technology might be the answer to some very common health problems. Imagine if instead of waiting for a heart or kidney transplant for years a person could be given a cybernetic organ within the week.

I guess I like to see the good in people but I really think this kind of technology could be very beneficial.

By KaBoom — On Jul 04, 2011

I think the cylons in Battlestar: Galactica are the ultimate fictional cyborgs. They look human but are really machines made of both organic and mechanical components.

I think it's interesting that in most television series and movies humans create the robots or the cyborgs but eventually lose control of them. Then usually the creation turns against the creator. I think this storyline shows that a lot of people have a deep seated distrust for technology.

By Jacques6 — On Jul 03, 2011

@Zeak4Hands -- Robots, androids and cyborgs are all different.

Robots are a completely robotic creation that are designed to do a specific task and have only very basic artificial intelligence to do so. They aren't super smart and do only what they are told to do.

Androids are similar to robots -- they are completely robotic (no human parts) and are programmed. The difference is that they have superior AI and can function free of human command.

Cyborgs are unique from the other two here -- they are largely organic or work off of organic parts (ie, their brain) but have robotic or cybernetic components in order to work. Cyborg fighters for the military and so on.

I have only seen the first two Terminator movies, but I think that they are clearly cyborgs. They are a combination of organic and robotic -- and they can work freely of command (for the most part). I think the Terminators are still following pre-programmed orders like a robot, but they clearly can think for themselves. Hope this helps! I think I'll have to watch the TV series sometime.

By zeak4hands — On Jul 02, 2011

Cyborgs are one of my favorite subjects in sci-fi movies. Cybernetics could be used for so much in the future -- both in the military and in everyday life. The Terminator series is a great example of a possible type of military cyborg.

In the Terminator movies and the TV series, the Terminators are a metal robot skeleton covered by a organic skin and flesh. I always wondered if that made them a robot, cyborg or an android? They have skin, but they are robotic otherwise. Any thoughts?

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