For many cyborgism is the realm of science-fiction. It’s Arnie as the Terminator or reruns of the Six Million Dollar Man. In reality cyborgs are already amongst us and soon there is a very good chance that they will be interviewing for your job.
OK, the above paragraph may be a little alarmist but it is not entirely untrue. Firstly the cyborgs ARE amongst us. Do you know someone with a cochlear implant or a pacemaker? They are a cyborg, a person whose abilities have been enhanced by technology. Although neither of these technologies would offer a distinct advantage if they were interviewing for your job there is a new wave of human centric technologies that certainly are.
Before we go further, it is worth clarifying the definition of cyborgism. Personally I don’t see that cyborgism requires technology to be built into our bodies. Personally I think that this is a very crude form of cyborgism that will fail to get a lot of traction (except in quality of life situations as above). In the words of Ben Hammersley at the recent Wired for Wonder conference ‘When computing power doubles every two years, no one is going to want last year’s plug embedded in their heads’.
Instead I think cyborgism in the near future will consist mainly of technology that more seamlessly integrates with our bodies such as wearable computing. Taking this broader view of cyborgism it is arguable that we have had cyborgs in the workplace for as long as we care to remember. Individuals have used calculators to improve their maths, pens and papers to augment their memories and mobile phones to enhance their communication. In each case I would argue that these technologies, although basic, have allowed a new generation of office worker to out-compete the last one.
In each of the examples above the office worker uses a ‘personal-scale technology’ ie one that is easily worn or carried upon the person. Up until recently changes in personal scale technology have been relatively slow but this is now changing quite dramatically. The exponential growth in computing power has lead to smaller and smaller devices. The result of this is that most office workers now carry around with them enough computing power to put a man on the moon, and this is just in their smartphone.
Cyborgism is not on possible, I would argue that in the new world of work it is highly desirable. Although there are very few (if any) jobs that can be undertaken in a completely digital environment there is a greater proportion of every job that is now conducted online. This means the more seamlessly we can integrate the activities we undertake in the physical world with the information available in the digital world the more effective we can be at work.
Stay Tuned for Cyborgs at Work Part 2: The technology