cyborg detector

by erich berger, patricia futterer, sandy stone

Cyborg Detector: The Text

Technology was once something abjected from the individual; it was perceived as clearly outside of the body -- technology meant objects that individuals used. Not much thought was given to the networks of beliefs and practices by means of which the abstraction of technology gained substance and power in human life. By the turn of this century, however, our understanding of technology had begun to change. With the increasing and powerful assimilation and mobilization of technologies by capital, and the introduction of the concept of progress as a way of justifying the disruptions and depradations many technologies thus inflicted on human society, technology was promoted as a tool to extend and perfect the human being.

At the close of the twentieth century (which also marks the close of the mechanical age in Western developed nations and its displacement onto the former Third World), the status of technology in the west as savior, destroyer, or endlessly fecund mother of fascinating consumables has become so common as to be taken as background against which the drama of civilization unfolds.

Western humankind is still a child of the Enlightenment and its essential binary episteme: mind is not body, soul is not flesh, creator is not created. Meanwhile, of course, the ways in which developing knowledges have undermined the binary episteme have tended to be ignored, swept under the carpet, or worked around. Thus, for instance, laser radiation technology enables observations that at the quantum level objects can both exist and not exist at the same time; while at the level of human culture body and technology, to take the perspicuous example, are treated as separate categories.

Of course, in actuality the gradual disappearance of the boundaries between technology and flesh -- not only speaking practically, since that boundary never existed, but epistemically as well -- has become integral to Western culture. At the same time, the question of what the flesh factor is in this technology-informed culture has become a controversial issue. The implosion of body and technology works both ways -- as technology invades spaces formerly sacred to the body, bodies are invading spaces formerly occupied solely by technology. Concomitant with this, comfortable assumptions regarding the essential distinction between categories are shaken when almost anything of importance to the Western mind can be digitized, processed, and simulacratized. Technoflesh shares the stage with the many definitions and predictions about the manifold realities that this environment offers to the sense-of-self of the inhabitants of late capitalist technoculture.

Technology, the fantasies and dreams about what technology can offer to humans, the history of sense-of-self and the contemporary stratified experiences of reality that we encounter in techno-culture, feed back into the flesh. Concomitantly, transfigured flesh feeds back into technologies -- coevolution and emergence. Through new and evolving interfaces/boundaries, the smooth flesh receives more than just an imprint of information. The flesh itself mutates in this ongoing exchanging process. Base-pair synthesis is a technology of inscription; "writing the body" becomes literal. (And so long as base pairs cost US$1 apiece, our most interesting problem a very few years hence -- life hacking -- remains a speculation...heh heh..)

Our human sense of physical self is no longer based on a body with a carbon substratum alone. By merging flesh, which has a carbon substratum, with silicon and other inorganic substrated devices like semiconductor chips, the human experience of a physical sense-of-self is altered by the properties and cultural factors of the absorbed components. The degree of assimilation varies strongly among people and no one sense of reality predominates.

There are many definitions of cyborgs, but basically, anyone could be a cyborg. Cyborgs are .. flesh, hardware, software, culture, politics, and imagination.

The cyborg detector is an installation that gives visitors an ironic experience of the interplay of technology and human identity. The boundaries between technology and flesh, individual and society, society and culture, are vague and mobile. Just as there is no clear definition about the boundaries of identity, there is also no universal definition of cyborgs.

Cyborgs can be experimental prototypes of contemporary cultural identity. We intend to initiate dialogues in which people ask themselves how integrated technology and their sense-of-self in our information society is in their lives.

Cyborg Detector: The installation

We will "evaluate" a person's CQ (Cyborg Quotient) by measuring their technological and cultural usage and attitude via a TCE (Technological Components Evaluator, otherwise known as a metal detector) and an interface questionnaire.

This doesn't necessarily mean that someone with a high degree of metal content is a cyborg. Not all cyborgs possess metal parts. To qualify as a cyborg one must also identify with some of the cultural implications of cyberculture.

Visitors walk through the TCE system, which measures the metal content in and on their bodies. Then they proceed to a clinic office where a digitally generated "scientist" skilled in counseling cyborgs will interview them to determine their cultural attitude toward, and usage of, technology and cyberculture. However, the scientist seems to lack strength of character, because s/he changes shape in an attempt to track the cyborgness of the interviewee.

Your Kindly Doctor

Finally our SACK (Scientifically Accurate Cyborgian Knowledgebase) calculates the visitor's CQ and the scientist tells them their cyborg degree.

But technological calculation by a machine or a determination /categorization by humanoids or cyborgs cannot realistically determine the state of a being.

The final question -- that the individual has to ask her/himself -- is: "Are you a cyborg?" - which is the most important question.

The result gives the visitor an indication of their Cyborginess at the moment of evaluation.

If appropriate, the scientist also gives them a cyborg ID badge. This ID is a microelectronic device with a specific resonance to sensors at the Ars Electronica Center (at the Global Village, there is an Ars Electronica Tent where it will work).

If a cyborg passes one of the sensors, such as the one at the entrance of the Ars Electronica Tent, the sensor detects the cyborg and sets off the system's VACWS (Visual and Acoustic Cyborg Welcome Signal). The monitor also signals: "cyborg detected".

Non-cyborgs who find themselves experiencing cyborg envy can apply for an upgrade at a special terminal. There they can redesign their identity by downloading information and integrating a piece of technological hardware into their lives.

Afterwards, they can go back and redo the cyborg test, and they may find that the virtual scientist has incorporated their hardware into his/her body as well.

A The cyborg activity at the Global village Exhibition Space will be made accessible and visible worldwide via the web. Tests and upgrades are only possible locally because our worldwide satellite CLUNK (Cyborg Location and Upgrading Ko-ordinator) is not yet completed. The information download for non-cyborgs will also be available on the web.

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