Sunday, November 18, 2018

Is this Anthropology?

According to Amber Case in this YouTube presentation, Cyborg Anthropology is the study of mankind's relation to technology.

Cyborg Anthropology: A Short Introduction

Date: This event took place live on August 05 2010
Presented by: Amber Case
Duration: Approximately 8 minutes.

"Cyborg Anthropology is a way of understanding how we live as technosocially connected citizens in the modern era."

According to the presentation Cyborg anthropology is now a recognized sub-field within American Anthropology. But is this really a unique human phenomena in anthropological sense? Is it an extension of the long line of human cultural evolution? Or, Is it just another fad that attempts to redefine anthropology and in the process cut anthropology away from its roots?

In the Anthropology Newsletter Vol 29 Number 5 (May 1988) Philip Saltzman, from McGill University wrote an article entitled, "Fads and Fashions in Anthropology." If he were to write that article today, I am quite certain Cyborg Anthropology would be near the top of the list. As Saltzman said back in 1988 ,

We anthropologists seem to change allegiances and world views almost as quickly and repeatedly as Little Richard switches between gay rock star and Baptist preacher.
What is Cyborg about Cyborg Anthropology?

Let's start by exploring the concept "cyborg."  Cyborg is a term was coined in 1960 in an article by  Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline entitled "Cyborgs and Space"  which appeared in Astronautics (September 1960). Their goal was to consider what would be needed to free Man to explore space. It would have to be a system that integrated man and machine to perform the self-regulating functions that a biological organism performs on earth, but perform these in a hostile environment.  They stated:
What are some of the devices necessary for creating self-regulating man-machine systems? This self-regulation must function without the benefit of consciousness in order to cooperate with the body’s own autonomous homeostatic controls. For the exogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system unconsciously, we propose the term “Cyborg.” 
This concept of a "cyborg" relates to a dramatic extension of human capabilities to adapt through cultural means to environmental challenges. The "cyborg" concept is really an extension of the diving bell, breathing apparatus used by firemen, the submarine and other technological adaptations humanity has developed over the millennium to exploit new opportunities or adapt to new threats. In facing the challenges of an extra-planetary excursion, as envisioned in 1960, the question of protecting the individual crew member from the hazards of such an environment called for much deeper thinking than missions here on Earth. How is the man-machine interface to take place? What should that interface include and how should it operate?

Today, the presents of humans in space has been limited mostly to orbital flights to build the space station. These have include extra vehicular "space walks."

Are Cyborgs and Robots the same?

Writers of science fiction grabbed onto the idea of man machine, machine man and variation there of as early as Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. in 1921. In 1942, Issac Asimov proposed  three laws of robotics and intelligent machines.
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
   Issac Asimov went on to develop the positronic robot in a series of stories beginning 1950. This was a robot with a fictional technological device that serves as a central computer for a robot, and, in some unspecified way, provides it with a form of consciousness that is recognizable to humans.Asimov influenced a generation of science fiction writers and others. Yet today as we push forward in building weapons systems with AI (artificial intelligence) we, as Gods to these systems, are already violating the Laws of Robots as proposed. And like God, we may regret our invention.

While our attention may be tilted toward Space and warfare, a more subtle change is taking place here on Earth in regard to the biological, organic relationships between humanity and other life forms and between humans themselves. This is the role of the "superorganic" or "cultural" dimension that is bridging the generational gaps on the one hand and destroying the remaining indigenous human cultures on the other.

Case refers to cyborg culture as a tool that has become an extension of humanity into the mind, Humanity evolved through the ability to create existential objects, technologies, that solved problems based on the ability to conceptualize and invent material solutions. The hand ax to cut and chop meat and bone where the biological tool -- teeth and nails could not compete with fang and claw -- replaced the need and time required to evolve and adapt. Tool making initially augmented the human capacity to do work. Today these tool have made it possible to fly to the moon and dive to the bottom of the sea. We can dig two miles into the planet after gold and build broadcast towers that extend a half mile into the sky. These are physical, existential things that can be seen and felt and used.

But the cyborg culture that she refers to world of binary strings that mimic the animal brain that takes in signals picked up by the sensory organs through bio-chemical and bio-electronic means. These signals are captured by our sensors, cell phones, etc, and transferred and stored, not just in our physical memory. Instead it becomes stored in our devices and available for immediate  recall. But even more than that, it transfers and stores the memories of everyone making it available to everyone at any time. [Forget about the code messages and firewalls -- they are temporary lapses to be hacked later through the evolving human invention of AI].  Amber Case has expanded our ideas about "culture" and "technology" as humanity's Darwinian process of adaptation to our self create environment. It is a worthy subject for anthropological study and speculation.

The only question that remains is: Will this adaptation be positive or negative for the planet and our species in the long run? There is no guarantee that the current success will not lead to extinction in the long run to be replaced by the next stage of life on this planet.

Your Comments on this question will be deeply appreciated.