Men and machines – and what does it mean to be human?

Binary_edited-1A couple of months ago I produced two blogs discussing robots and androids; why would we want them to look like us and what would human like androids get out of life.  These seemed to generate quite a bit of interest and it got me thinking further about the relationship between man and machines.

Now battles between man and the machine (albeit super intelligent machines) is not an uncommon theme in science fiction.  We give birth to them, as it were, and they grow to be more intelligent and powerful than we are.  Then basically they decide we’re doing it all wrong.  In the Matrix the machines have won and are breeding human beings as a source of power, keeping them happy in an illusional world.  But why must it be an us and them thing?  As I see it there could well be a gradual ‘blurring of the lines’.  We carry technology with us or even wear it, it’s so much a part of our lives.  Why wouldn’t that become integrated with us more permanently?

computer eye_edited-1Also, even now we have metal and plastic replacement joints, artificial valves.  The technology of artificial limbs is advancing all the time.  You can imagine a future when they might be better than the real thing.  Artificial vision seems to be in its infancy, but progress is being made.  We only do heart transplants because at the moment we can’t make an artificial heart that’s as reliable or efficient as a flesh and blood one, but surely that time must come?  So will we gradually replace bits of ourselves with ‘machine parts’ as and when we need them, or because they are superior?

I know there are stories with cyborgs etc., although not something I’ve read a lot of.  In what I have read, these are often man and machine melded to produce ‘super soldiers’.  In one of my own stories I use the idea of a brain enhanced neural net and an enhanced nervous system etc.    But why stop there? why not a total integration of the biological and the machine?

This then raises another issue that I want to explore in a future book – what will that do to our definition of what it means to be human?  Surely the human bit is the thinking intelligence.  Does it matter whether its housed in a soft squidgy bag of blood, flesh and bone or not?   There are stories where the human ‘intelligence’ is purely housed in a computer (although that seems rather an inadequate word) either temporarily or as permanent storage of a personality whose body has long since passed.

In my future book I imagine a conflict between those that see the soft squidgy bag of blood flesh and bone as essential and those that don’t.  The argument being when and why would progress to a machine based body stop you being human?

Ian Martyn


Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: