ANDROIDS ALL AROUND US
A cyborg (cybernetic organism) and a bionic human (from “bio- logical” and “electronic”) are different from the previous three cat- egories, in that both involve a combination of machine and living parts. In my usage, a cyborg has a machine portion that might domi- nate the natural part in mass and bulk but is under the mental direc- tion of the natural part—essentially, a brain in a box.A bionic human, on the other hand, is mostly natural with a relatively small portion given over to implants or replacement parts such as a heart pacemaker or an artificial limb.
The categories from automaton to bionic human include mobile and responsive robots, amusingly lifelike toys, entertainment androids, humans with mechanical and electronic implants, and others. All are part of a technology that is beginning to realize an extraordinary achievement: the creation of partly or fully artificial beings.Although these possibilities draw on the ultimate in twenty-first-century sci- ence, they are not new in the collective human imagination; artificial beings have intrigued, terrified, and exalted us for millennia.
The reasons for this long-standing interest are basic to human nature, although it is not easy to say which of the reasons dominate. Least noble, perhaps, but understandable, is the desire to ease our lives by creating workers to till our fields, operate our factories, and pre- pare our meals, tirelessly and without complaint. As long ago as the fourth century BCE no less a thinker than Aristotle saw the potential for automated machinery to reduce labor, and even its potential for disrupting the job market:
If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipat- ing the will of others . . . if the shuttle could weave, and the pick touch the lyre, without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not need ser- vants, nor masters slaves.
Aristotle’s idea was perhaps first realized in eighteenth-century France in an innovative and efficient automated loom for silk weav- ing.The silk workers immediately understood that the device meant the loss of their livelihoods and objected to its adoption.This is one example of the contradictory quality typical of many aspects of artifi- cial beings (and indeed of all technology): the good that they might bring is counteracted by undesirable side effects that might ensue.