Throughout the month of September, Tim Maly of Quiet Babylon has been posting cyborg-themed articles to honor the 50th anniversary of the first use of the term. I’m reading them with a fair bit of interest: ever since I got my own machine part, I’ve been asking people what they think about the future of cybernetics. One thing I’ve learned – most people think cyborg parts will make you a better ass-kicking machine.
I don’t buy it. I’ve talked to folks who think that someday people will voluntarily chop off their legs to replace them with better, stronger, computer-driven mechanical appendages. None of them can really answer my question: Why should they? Yes, some people do things just ‘because it's cool.’ But if they really want to run 70 miles per hour, they could forgo the surgery and just buy a motorcycle.
I’ve also talked to people – let’s call them cyborg purists – who think that if there’s no feedback loop, it’s not a cyborg. To these people devices like my insulin pump, no matter how high tech, aren’t real cyborg parts because they can’t sense changes in their environment and respond appropriately. But a lot of prosthetics don’t need active feedback systems – some of the newest artificial legs work by passively storing and rereleasing elastic energy at each step. And machines can improve: last year I “upgraded” my pump system by adding a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). The two machines don’t talk to each other – they’re not even made by the same company, but the CGM gives me a constant stream of blood sugar readings, and I can use the data to make more informed decisions about what my insulin pump is doing. In short, it’s a feedback system, which I guess makes me even more cyborgy now. But it still requires a lot of attention.
“Yeah, sure” you say. “How much work could that possibly be?” Let me show you, as I go through
ONE CYBORG DAY
MIDNIGHT: I fold the last pile of laundry and (finally) get into bed. I plug in my CGM receiver to recharge overnight – it reads 135 mg/dl: a little higher than normal for a non-diabetic, but still in my target range. It’s safe to sleep.
4:30 AM: My turn to get up in the middle of the night to walk the puppy. I check the CGM before I stagger downstairs – it’s reading 132 and the trend line is flat, which means I’ve been pretty stable while sleeping. That’s good news: one bad dream can send my blood sugar raging toward maple syrup territory.