In his engaging essay “Googling the Cyborg”, William Gibson effectively argues that the expectation that ‘the cyborg’ will be a human being with an electronic eye and a robot arm is mistaken. The cyborg – he argues – exists in the physical interactions between human beings and machines: “The electrons streaming into a child’s eye from the screen of the wooden television are as physical as anything else. As physical as the neurons subsequently moving along that child’s optic nerve”. (The terminology there is strangely incorrect. Cathode ray tube televisions emit photons, which are produced when the electrons fired from the back of the vacuum tube hit a phosphor screen – and the optic nerve is made of neurons, it isn’t a channel that conveys them. No matter.)

Gibson argues that the cyborg is the “extended communal nervous system” that humanity has grown for itself, with all these sensors and processors and network connections.

He also argues that there is a short-changing that occurs, when we deny that the humans who are behind machines are using them as true extensions of their own being. In the context of remote-controlled rovers on Mars, he says:

Martian jet lag. That’s what you get when you operate one of those little Radio Shack wagon/probes from a comfortable seat back at an airbase in California. Literally. Those operators were the first humans to experience Martian jet lag. In my sense of things, we should know their names: first humans on the Red Planet. Robbed of recognition by that same old school of human literalism.

Gibson, William. Distrust that Particular Flavor. p.251 (hardcover)

I am not sure what should be counted as the first cyborg on Mars. Specifically, did it need to be able to move on human command? Or is moving camera shutters enough to count? In any case, hardly anyone knows the name of the person who was controlling it when it first activated on the Martian surface.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Byron Smith March 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm

If the body is extended through the senses and the senses extended via technological means, such that those operating the cameras on the Mars rover count as being there, then wouldn’t the first person on the moon have been the unknown first homo sapiens who happened to look up at the night sky and discover their vision extended all the way to the lunar surface?

anon August 2, 2017 at 11:51 pm
anon August 3, 2017 at 12:05 am

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