The origin of cyborg is intricately tied to the origins of the space program. When Clynes and Kline proposed the term to describe cybernetically enhanced organisms (they meant humans), no person had ever been sent into orbit. But they had big plans. Because no one believes me when I say that Cyborgs and Space [PDF] is a really fun and easy read, and because a fair number of people still think of cyborgs as being exclusively people with robot body parts – I’d like to present a summary of Clynes and Kline’s expansive vision of what cyborg enhancement might be.
Each of these proposals is explicitly explored in the paper. It’s worth noting that they also consider yoga and hypnosis as evidence about the plasticity of human ability and discuss their work on a drug to make hypnosis easier, potentially for later application in space travel.
The 17 Upgrades
- Drug regimes to keep you awake and effective for weeks or months at a time (they call these “short-duration” flights).
- Automatically administered anti-radiation drugs.
- Hybernation for long flights to reduce the weight of food required for the journey.
- Solar or nuclear-powered air exchangers hooked directly to your veins. (No atmosphere in space? One solution: “Don’t breathe!”)
- Urine recycling and intravenous feeding to reduce bodily waste to near zero.
- Modified enzymes. Kline and Clynes are quite clear that no one really knows what enzymes are for, but they’re pretty sure that they could be modified in some useful way.
- Draining or perhaps filling the inner ear to reduce disorientation and dizziness.
- Rewiring the brain to change the regulation of your heartbeat.
- Drugs to counter muscle atrophy from long periods of weightlessness.
- Systems to simulate atmospheric distortions in light transmission, so that we will see things in the manner we’re accustomed to.
- Reduction of operating body temperature so that your blood does not boil when you step out into space without a pressurized suit.
- Self-adjusting, colour-changing cloth that darkens or lightens to help maintain a consistent body temperature.
- Drugs and temperature controls to adjust the metabolism for differing amounts of gravity.
- Something to retard or facilitate the effects of magnetic fields, depending on how that will affect us, which we don’t know because no one’s ever been to space.
- Regimes of sensory stimulation and variance to prevent you from having a psychotic break due to the monotony of space.
- Remotely controlled, automatically administered anti-psychotics in case you end up having a psychotic break due to the monotony of space.
- The ability to put yourself into long term limbo in case you find yourself in a situation where you’ve had a terrible accident, you’re in extreme pain, and you need to wait – perhaps for years – for rescue to come.
This is one of 50 posts about cyborgs a project to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coining of the term.