Technology is an incredible thing and has existed alongside humanity ever since we learned the effective use of rocks and sticks to achieve a particular end. We’ve been using technology even before modern man has existed, tracing its use back millions of years to our earliest ancestors. And humanity is, if not the masters of technology, than an animal that is just most adept at creating and using it. Recently, we’ve reached the point where we are able to create self-operating machines as well as merge organic components with mechanical elements. This is what this entry is all about.
What inspired me to write this post was a Star Wars special that I saw years ago. At first, it was initially only going to consist of bionics and androids, but after some consideration, I realized that I couldn’t talk about either one of these without talking about robots and cyborgs as well. This is due to the fact that all four of these categories are interconnected and overlap with each other. So here we go.
Bionics: A bionic is any organic being that has been either enhanced by or at least has parts replaced with a synthetic material. What this essentially entails is that any person who has a body part replaced with something created by science to function similar to the original, replaced, part is a bionic. This artificial replacement can range from the insertion of an artificial pace-maker to the use of an artificial limb. In the realm of science fiction, this is taken to the extreme with total body reconstruction. Two of the most famous examples of bionics are Darth Vader and the Six Million Dollar Man. Both Vader and Steve Austin are both human beings that required major surgery to replace missing and damaged tissue and organs with mechanical replacements. And despite their major surgeries and tissue replacements, they still constitute human beings. This is due to the fact that, despite the amount of synthetic replacements that they received, their core being is still that of a human being. And if the core being of a creature remains that of an organic creature, they are considered a bionic.
Robots: A robot is an artificial being that requires external information and input for it to function and operate properly. It is totally reliant upon outside information for it to operate. It is used by humanity to enter and explore an environment that is unsafe for them to enter or which the person is unable to reach on their own. Examples of this include defusing a bomb or exploring the surface of Mars. They are also used as a labor saving device when the situation calls for it. One such example is on an assembly line, allowing the process to become more effective and allow the company to make more of a given product in a given amount of time.
Androids: An android is an artificial being that is able to operate on its own without instructions or input from an outside source. It receives its instructions and commands from itself based upon its own desires and wishes, so to speak, though they can receive instruction from others if they so wish. Everything that it needs to operate is located within its microchips and motherboard. In this way, it is an autonomous being, though it possessing self-awareness is something that is yet to be determined. Essentially, it is an advanced version of a robot. The size and shape of the android is irrelevant, as long as it is self-reliant. Examples of androids are R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars and Data from Star Trek. All three examples possess sufficient software to operate on their own. It’s also important to note that all three possess artificial intelligence. This allows them to better interact with their surroundings because it allows them to reason and learn. Artificial intelligence, however, is not absolutely necessary for an android to be able to function and operate properly. It’s just an attribute that we generally associate with them because it allows us to better relate to them as an audience.
Cyborg: The word cyborg stands for cybernetic organism and it is a synthetic being that possesses at least some organic material. Essentially, it is nothing more than an android with flesh. The amount of flesh it possesses, and where it is located, is irrelevant, as long as the underlying structure is mechanical. In the real world, we are yet to develop what I have just described. In the realm of science fiction, however, is another story. Cyborgs have already appeared in several science fiction stories. Two such examples are the Terminator and RoboCop. With the Terminator, it is nothing more than an exoskeleton android that is surrounded by living human tissue. This living human tissue is designed to disguise the true identity and nature of the Terminator. And as long as the Terminator possesses this tissue, it’s still classified as a cyborg. However, as soon as it loses its tissue, it becomes classified as an android. RoboCop on the other hand can be a little tricky. RoboCop was created from the corpse of Alex Murphy, and since OCP started off with the body of Murphy, it could be argued that RoboCop could be classified as a bionic. But for a person to be classified as a bionic, he or she needs to be alive when the implants are put into place. The use of Murphy’s body after he died was just a formality. This is due to the fact that for the RoboCop project to work, OCP needed the training and experience Murphy acquired over the years of being a cop. In all tense and purposes, RoboCop is nothing more than a machine that just so happens to possess a human brain and some other organs to allow the brain to function. The only reason why people would call RoboCop a bionic is because OCP put a human brain into one of its machines. But just because a human brain could be found within the metal skull of RoboCop doesn’t qualify him as a bionic, though a moral debate can arise surrounding his humanity, which was addressed in RoboCop one and two. For a person to be considered a bionic, synthetics need to be added to the human body, not the other way around.