There’s a lot to be said for cybernetics–they allow the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the handicapped to walk once more (sometimes even as superheroes!). Such enhancements can be extremely impressive, sometimes offering vast improvements over your average human’s capabilities. But let’s not be chopping off limbs as an excuse to go full cyborg just yet; just as often, there’s a high cost associated with obtaining cybernetically enhanced strength or senses. We have to consider exactly what it is you’re giving up: your ability to touch, perhaps… or even your very personality. Here are four dangers commonly faced by those who’ve chased after the perfect blend of man and machine, to offer you a chance to avoid them.
4. Metal Arms Can’t Feel
It depends on how advanced the technology you have access to is, of course, but a sense of touch really is one of the things you’re most likely to lose when considering a cybernetic “upgrade.” While we know how, to some extent, to encode audio and visual data in a way that a machine can interpret, touch is a whole other ball game. Luke was able to get some synthetic skin, but that Galaxy Far, Far Away has quite a lot of technology that’s hard to come by. If what you’re facing is a bare metal, robotic-looking arm, then the odds of retaining touch are very low indeed. Sure, it might be strong, but you’ll be missing out on more than just the warmth of a friend. Touch alerts you to danger, things like temperature and proximity. The lack of pain might help you out in a fight, but it’s just as likely to cost you when unaware of your arm’s decreased functionality. There are other lesser known senses too, like proprioception, which could be affected in unpredictable ways
And while cyborg arms and legs are a popular choice due to the sheer power they offer, there’s still a hard limit to how strong they can make you. After all, be it the elbow or the shoulder, that arm has to attach to the organic skeleton somehow. What good is a cybernetic arm that can lift 10,000 pounds if it snaps loose from your body any time you try to reach full capacity? You may find yourself using that hydraulic press level of force just to crush beer cans as a bar trick.
3. A Cyborg’s Power…
One of the most frequently overlooked downsides to a cybernetic implant or limb is the fact that it needs to draw power from somewhere. The muscles in your real arm use protein and sugars and fats to remain active, but converting food into an efficient fuel source for an electronic device is extremely tricky. There are certainly other options–thermal energy, or kinetic energy from your movements, or possibly solar. Not everyone can have an Arc Reactor built into their chest, you know. But whatever your method of energy generation, that power has to be stored somewhere, which means lugging around a heavy battery everywhere you go. There are people walking around our modern Earth today who face this problem already, and it’s not easy. Occasionally batteries are located inside the device itself, and a smaller implant might not need such a large battery, but more often they’re placed in the chest cavity, creating a literal weight in the pit of your stomach.
There’s also the under-considered problem that all these electronic cyborg enhancements are seriously vulnerable to certain types of weapons, such as ElectroMagnetic Pulses (remember using those against the robotic revolt?) and even everyday tasers. Imagine what a terrifying weakness it would be to stand before your enemy, only to have your sight snatched away by an EMP you can’t even know is coming. And this only gets worse the more dependent you become on cybernetics; if you’ve had your capacity for thought expanded by added processing power, few things would be as disorienting as having half your intellect ripped away in an instant.
2. A Metaphysical Cost
In less cyborg-friendly universes, a dangerous rumor persists that cybernetics will LITERALLY damage your eternal soul. This is, of course, impossible to prove; we can’t measure a soul, nor can we even be certain it exists, but many people are hesitant to disregard the concept entirely. If you aren’t the religious type, this might be easy to disregard. What promise can heaven offer that your artificially lengthened cyborg life cannot? After all, the tech will just keep getting better and better, right? You might be able to live indefinitely, which is a much safer bet than some afterlife that isn’t guaranteed to exist.
But we can look at this on a more demonstrable, physical level as a loss of “what makes you human.” As we move on from replacing limbs and eyes, a brain implant could start to cause more ordered, logical, “robotic” thinking, for example. And hey, it’s not an entirely unfounded fear–if you start replacing portions of the brain, like with a positronic net, it can affect the distribution of hormones like dopamine and other body chemicals that really do influence emotion. There are even indications that things like radically altering the shape and nature of the body can change your way of thinking, beyond the hormonal. At some point, you have to ask yourself: is the value of these devices worth it, if it means that the version of you who began as a human is all but erased in the process?
1. The Allure of the Hive Mind
As you continue on the path of perfection, striving to become the ideal cyborg, you may eventually run into a wall. There is a limit to what you can add to and change about your body; to go further, you may have to start offloading components instead. And at first, a simple and brilliant idea might seem to be to store memories and knowledge at a remote site. With the kind of wireless technology at your disposal, it’d just take a few extra milliseconds to access, and now your capacity is nearly limitless. And you won’t be the only one who comes up with this idea… so why not start sharing your knowledge and experience? It’s like a cyborg wikipedia, with contributions from everyone to create a more accurate, informative way of looking at the world.
But with such a wealth of information available to you at all times, what value do your own, personal experiences hold? If you can download new memories at any time, from anyone and anywhere, it wouldn’t take long before there was more in your head from other people’s lives than your own. The distinction between what happened to you and others would slowly vanish, soon to be followed by the line between your individual ego and theirs. At what point do you cease to be a group of people sharing their memories and experiences, and become a single super-organism with dozens, perhaps hundreds of bodies who now exist only to increase the knowledge base of the collective?
Eventually, a day may come where new data must be gathered, data which can only be obtained from those who haven’t chosen to contribute, and the hive mind decides that extreme action is necessary to acquire it.
No, lonely one; do not fight it.
What have you decided, my cyborg friend? Will you continue to grow beyond a mere human, no matter the cost? Or are there some other downsides that I never even touched on? You can let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. If you enjoyed the article, be sure to share it, be that with friends on social media or in places that might appreciate some tongue-in-cheek transhumanist or cybernetics discussion. And personally, for the record, I’m all in on this. Bring on the upgrades!