The proverbial problem of teaching an old dog new tricks recently became the focus of a new discipline in computer systems design -- the theory of upgrading old, or "legacy" systems. The problems of enhancing outdated systems of all kinds have faced the evolutionary process for a long time. Many techniques used now for improving computer systems have been employed to improve various technological and biological structures, including our own bodies. We do not have to wait for some future society to generate "cyborgs", for instance. In a sense, they are already among us.
And you might be one of them.
In such cases, systems architects may use new elements to enhance the old "legacy" systems, using the following techniques:
This may include providing the legacy system with necessary resources, pre-processing them for the input, performing some tasks the old system is not good at, storing some intermediate products, troubleshooting and repair, etc.
This experience should be taken into account by the Science Fiction writers and futurists envisioning future technologically enhanced humans as "cyborgs" -- creatures that will have human biological bodies as their legacy core, but will hopefully have many important [and complex] biological parts directly replaced with improved technological equivalents (and a variety of new ones added).
Of course, images of mechanical parts sticking in and out of our bodies seem impressive enough to be worth putting into SciFi plots.
However, the cyborgization of the humankind -- the merger of biological and technological elements -- has been, and most likely will be, proceeding according to the usual scenario of the evolution of legacy systems.
Parallelism and integration of efforts were implemented before we became humans -- and actually were an important prerequisite for our existence.
As humans developed sufficient intelligence to embark on the long journey of supplementing their convoluted, undocumented and structurally inflexible biological bodies with intentionally designed extensions, they started with simple methods and simple physical parts. At this stage of development, wrapping and external aids were used, from wrapping the body with clothing to providing it with external implements serving both as extensions to biological organs and as parts of increasingly friendly environments -- this includes tools, houses, transportation, heating, cooking, etc.
Also, at this stage new systems began to be used not only for supporting, but for "troubleshooting" the body (medicine) - still without interference in the original design.
As things get more sophisticated, the technological supplementation of the biological body repeats the same steps with the information processing. It is the human functional body that is now being wrapped and augmented, as the new systems consequently accept important tasks of information acquisition, storage, transmission and processing.
Even at this stage, the direct replacement of biological organs, in accordance with the legacy systems theory, is rare and confined to simple physical parts.
However, there are ways of introducing implants and shortcuts without violating the structural integrity of the old kludge. For example, if your brain does not have sufficient memory for carrying some operations, it may use external memory (e.g., a scratch pad) for storing intermediate data, and then read the results back into the brain's "wetware". This neat trick allows the new elements to play the role of functional implants, representing at the same time an internal structural part of your extended intelligence and an external part of the body.
So while people have been playing with the images of cyborg future of their bodies, they have overlooked the ongoing process of functional cyborgization they were already taking part in.
In the scenario of physical integration of biological and technological structures, a cyborg can (and has been) defined as a physically mixed system -- an organism with a sufficiently large infusion of technological parts.
A functional cyborg ( should we call it a fyborg? funorg? fuborg? ) may be defined as a biological organism functionally supplemented with technological extensions.
If you do not pay attention, the stream of technological supplements may turn you into a functional cyborg before you notice it. To prevent this, I would recommend that you periodically submit yourself to the cyborgization check-up by answering the questions of the following
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Regardless of the intelligence of the developing process, there are only a few basic options here. Endless patching of aging systems is not the ultimate engineering method. The evolutionary role of a legacy system is to perform some necessary functions and test novel design ideas while better systems are being built from scratch elsewhere. After the new designs become fully operational, the legacy system is invariably placed into a trashbin. Or, if it is particularly good, healthy and lucky -- into a historical museum.
Surprisingly, this last journey may not be easy to notice. You may observe it by the following signs: you feel overwhelmed by the complexity and fluidity of the environment and lose both understanding and interest in what is really going on. Instead, you concentrate on your local old-fashioned interests and keep playing with the old toys as if they still mattered. The advantage of a museum over a trashbin here is that the museum feels better, your needs are met there, and ailments treated. You may be offered simple, convenient and wrong token "explanations" on how this is done, yet have no capacity or desire to really understand it. You are even provided with some entertainment and support for your atavistic and resource- wasting activities, together with assurances that they are still quite valuable. In a trashbin, without all these luxuries, you feel lost, sick and useless; new things look weird and alien, old are gone or broken; whatever remains "of value" seems rotting around you... The only advantage of a trashbin is that it doesn't attempt to disguise itself as normal life, so you are at least granted a chance to understand where you really are. But is it worth it?
Believe it or not, this is an optimistic scenario. The world moves ahead. It just gets too good for you after a while...
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