Absolutely everybody in the media is calling Mitt Romney a cyborg now — and that's supposed to be an insult. An increasing number of political pundits are using the "cyborg" label to bring attention to Romney's stiff, unspontaneous style and his apparent lack of compassion.
No matter what your politics are, everyone should agree the "Cyborg Mitt" meme has to stop. Along with the whole idea of using "cyborg" as a put-down. Because we live in the Age of the Cyborg — and people better start getting used to it.
Top image by Danny Hellman.
It's pretty obvious that political commentators who are calling Romney a cyborg are using an outdated conception of the term — something that harkens back to Robocops, Terminators, and the Borg. Moreover, they're also likely conflating the word with another supposedly derogatory term that's been bantered around in politics before: the robot (wasn't Obama supposed to be a robot back in 2008?). Perhaps the critics and pundits feel they're raising their game by using a more sophisticated term — without actually knowing what it means.
As most of you probably know, a cyborg isn't a robot disguised as a human — it's a human being who has supplemented or altered his or her body, through the use of technology. We don't normally think of people who wear shoes or eye glasses as being cyborgs, but in a broad sense, they are.
More conceptually, people with artificial organs, cochlear implants, or prosthetic limbs are undeniably cyborgs. The cochlear implant in particular is about as cyborg as it gets; the device allows the hearing impaired to pick up acoustic signals by replacing (or uploading, if you will) a small portion of their nervous system into the technology itself (it's essentially a system that converts acoustic information into neurological information that the auditory cortex can understand, thus bypassing the ear altogether). There are currently 250,000 cyborgs — er, people — who use these devices today — and retinal implants are next.
In addition, and as the recently concluded Paralympic Games showed, assistive technologies are very quickly allowing disabled athletes to compete at levels matching those of normal functioning humans — if not greater. In fact, promoters of the Games were promoting the athletes as being superhumans. At the same time, fans and commentators alike weren't even blinking at the suggestion that athletes like Oscar Pistorius were cyborg-like in nature owing to their remarkable prostheses.
Moreover, it doesn't even have to be this invasive. Wearable computing is turning everyday people into cyborgs — a revolution that all got started with the humble calculator watch. Today, Google glass is endowing people with a head's-up display and real time video capabilities. Likewise, the "quantified self" craze has led to the develop of many devices that are worn around the body that measure and record bodily functions (heart rate, glucose levels, sleep patterns, and so on).
And the implication behind calling Romney a cyborg, that he lacks empathy or sensitivity to other people's emotions, is especially far off the mark when it comes to cyborgs. Looking ahead to the future, there's a distinct possibility that cybernetic enhancements will actually increase a person's emotional sensitivity and empathetic awareness, not decrease them.
But as all this "Cyborg Mitt" nonsense shows, public perception has not caught up with the reality. And in fact, it has already gotten worse than this, as witnessed by the attack on wearables pioneer Steve Mann back in July — what very well may have been the first documented cybernetic hate crime.
And indeed, there are many cyborgs among us. Pioneers like Mann and Kevin Warwick are paving the way for more advanced cybernetic enhancements, while public figures like Pistorius and Aimee Mullins do their best to raise awareness and gain public acceptance.
So please, regardless of your political affiliation, don't insult someone by calling them a cyborg. What you may not realize is that you may already be one yourself.