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.