November 19, 2014

The idea of a cyborg has long intrigued human kind since its conception in the 1960’s, spurring on countless creative and influencial masterpieces such as ‘The Terminator’, and the critically acclaimed ‘Blade Runner’. The idea that we could one day become half human, half machine would mean endless possibilities for the world and for our future, and such possibilities encouraged the imagination to run wild. However, no imagination would ever predict the form that the technological age would actually take.

Katherine Hayles in her piece titled, ‘Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere’, talks about the modern day shift from the concept of a cyborg, to the reality of a cognisphere, where the term cognisphere encompasses the “globally interconnected cognitive systems in which humans are increasingly embedded”[1]. Whilst I agree that these data flows and technological systems are very much our reality, I also believe that these systems have managed to create a certain type of cyborg: a cyborg that is not physically half human, half machine, but is instead mentally half human, half machine, and in turn, posthuman.

We live in an age where high functioning technology is commonplace, and influences the way that we function. We now have the world at our fingertips and we are able to connect with millions of people in a split second. It is this cognisphere however, that has created the modern-day cyborg, a cyborg whose thoughts are too often controlled by the technology all around them. If we take social media as an example, we begin to see how one’s thoughts are controlled by the very thing that was thought would set them free to the world. When beautiful moments are missed to instead get that perfect photo for Instagram, we begin to see the shift of awareness from reality and the present, to the virtual world where perception is manufactured and reality is warped. When people begin to live their lives for these warped, virtual moments, how human are they? Or have they become a product of the technology that they own?

These blurred lines have also begun to appear within the architectural world. In a profession that has been infiltrated and transformed by technology, there has arisen a grey area between true design and computer-generated design. You would be hard pressed to find any architect that does not realise their buildings in the computer, and it is a concern that students and professionals alike jump into the computer too quickly. Architecture has historically been wedded to hand drawing as a means of documenting, expressing thoughts, and conveying the vision. With technology now so readily available, the promise of speed and precision is so alluring that the documentation of the thought process can be lost. Sketching and re-sketching is an architect’s main tool for thought and design development. When one thought is put into the computer there follows a certain sense of finality. This arises due to the precision and rigidity that the computer brings about. This can often lead to a halt in the development process, where the perfectly straight lines become difficult to move past. Whilst machines and technology have undoubtedly opened up new possibilities for architecture and the design process, there still remains a question: are we in control of the technology or is it controlling us?

Emma Crea


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[1] N. Katherine Hayles, ‘Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere’ in Theory Culture Society 23; 159, 2006, p.161



5 Responses to “5) HALF HUMAN, HALF POSTHUMAN”

  1. eltejp Says:

    Could it not also be that we are not yet cyborg? The idea of the cyborg is often a functioning joining of man and machine, using the latter to make the first better. Assuming that, the way technology works today is only half successful. Maybe we should view ourselves, these yearly generations, as the prototyping. The first models of the line, with small defects here and there. Maybe the servos in the leg stop working after a few years. Maybe the first models are actually slower than they were before. But over time the symbiosis gets better and better. Maybe we are the metaphorical Wright brothers flying.

  2. tovehanssongronroos Says:

    I like the ctrl Z can be seen as an opportunity for more exploring and testing. I know time when I’ve worked a lot at computer and start to sketch by hand and want to ctrl Z and it’s off course not possible. I feel it in me that it should be but realize it’s not 🙂

    In a film called “Divergent” they are able to project and see what you experience in your mind. I find it scary but at the same time it would be really interesting and maybe possible to understand both ourselves and others better…

  3. emmarcrea Says:

    Tove, I think your notion of ‘idea vs realisation’ is beautiful in its honesty. I think that architects and artists alike can often have a certain communication break-down when it comes to getting ideas or feelings onto paper. This is where the idea of the cyborg becomes so alluring. Could we one day have a machine that can visualise our thoughts? And at what point would we want this? Could this become a tool for personal growth when we feel stuck in a haze of uncertainty, or even a tool to record our thoughts and hence a means to be remembered?

    This is also a topic that Dan speaks of in his comment. I like that you have looked at technology as a positive means for architectural realisation Dan. I agree that the computer is a great aid for modern day architects. Although it can inhibit development, a good architect should not allow this to happen. Furthermore, once a design is in the computer, especially as a 3D model, it can be visualised as a whole. This complete visualisation can allow for greater clarity and new ideas to appear. By having the luxury of ‘control Z’, we gain greater confidence to say “what if”.

  4. tovehanssongronroos Says:

    Your film references again makes me think of Interstellar, in two ways:
    1) It describes a situation where technology and mind is cooperatively used to take us places we’ve never been before (places we want to go but also places we don’t want to go).
    2) The cooperation between theoretical physicist Kip Thorne (his equations) and the film makers came up with the design of the black hole, ideas was made visual through technique. I think that is a splendid way of using technology to understand abstract “ideas”.
    here they where not limited by what we as architects often are (the gap between idea and realization), because the idea was a formula, not an image, to begin with. But in one episode in the film a 3d “world” is created to describe something that is 5D and here I think it gets more troublesome. We don’t know how to describe 5D because we can not really understand it or even visualize it in our minds. Sometimes I find it being the same way when I draw (in computer or by hand): I don’t really know or understand what I see/feel inside my own head.

  5. danvansch Says:

    The primitive connections we have between our mind and material form stifle our ability to physically realise our ideas and thoughts. Ours hands cannot draw exactly what we see in our minds because the complexities of the image block us from imagining the detail. Our mouth cannot articulate a description of a dream, so as somebody else can visualize it in exactly the same way, because our crudely constructed and simplified means of communication (language) will not allow it. Thoughts are never static for long enough for us to appreciate the whole, we think in pieces and when we translate them into the material world, the pieces become smaller.

    Architecture suffers from the same disposition, but I like to think that technology is beginning to bridge the gap between our minds and physical reality. Before the explosion of ‘computer aided design’ in Architecture, the pen and paper were the architect’s main tools. In the past, if a concept was to be realised and presented your to peers, the architect must first translate their complex ideas from their mind (which could be operating in many different ways, from in 3D to plans, sections, contextually etc. all at the same time) down their arms and onto the page. Once a line has been created it is almost always permanent, there was no ‘control Z.’

    Rules were quickly established as to how buildings should look and function. The architect favored geometry early because it simplified the process and provided a foundation for which decisions could be based. Mistakes are less likely to occur when you follow a set of parameters right from the beginning and work within them, rather than try to make things up as you go along. Subsequently, these parameters gave birth to many successful outcomes but are also yet another example of how we as humans, continue to break things down into smaller pieces in order to bring them into fruition in the material world.

    Computer aided design does have its faults and certainly the tendency to seemingly inhibit design development is its biggest one; but it is difficult to verify whether this is a result of lazy architects or the inability of this approach to fully document every design decision. The computer does not deliver the paper trail that our old design methods used to provide, but it does allow for more flexibility when it comes to changes in the design. In addition to this, even though they currently operate within the constraints of geometric pixels, virtual systems also provide architects with the opportunity to more easily design outside of geometric parameters, in the realm of parametric design.

    Humans are not yet at the stage in their evolution where we can directly translate our thoughts in their most pure, un-simplied form into reality; but computers may be a small step in that evolution. Post-human society could also be a post- physical one, where we no longer have a disconnection between our minds eye and what we physically see and create.

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