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We Have Always Been Bionic

A mong the most intriguing beings in the virtual history are those that combine the living with the nonliving, such as the cyborgs Deirdre and RoboCop. These particular examples consist of a machinelike body of superior physical capability that is controlled by an implanted human brain. A hybrid being might also begin as an ordinary human, who is significantly modified with artifi- cial parts or implants. (This is how theTinWoodman became what he is in The Wizard of Oz: he started as a human, but as he accidentally chopped bits off himself and had them replaced by a tinsmith, he eventually became wholly metallic.) In either case, there is poignancy in the merging of human softness and frailty with the hard precision and power of a machine, and in the extreme, in the image of a mind and spirit isolated from the run of humanity within a dead shell.

It is easy to imagine such a hybrid as a spiritual amphibian, infi- nitely more displaced and alienated than, say, a person caught between two cultures and not fully belonging to either. At a deeper level, human–machine amphibians force us into a close examination of what living and nonliving really mean. In these beings, the boundary be- tween the two states blurs, providing a third mode of existence that lies somewhere between unfeeling machine and feeling human.

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