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Beyond Human: Living With Robots And Cyborgs by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre (book review).

May 3, 2019 | By | Reply More

I bought ‘Beyond Human: Living With Robots And Cyborgs’ by Gregory Benford and Elizabeth Malartre several years back and with a bit of a lull now, have gotten into reading it. The title of the book clearly gives away the subject matter as it explores our reality and how cybernetic technology is rebuilding us. Although there is a 12 year lag from this book’s release, if you have been keeping up with these advances, as the writers tick them off you can figure out how far we’ve come in that time. Sometimes, you’re going to come away thinking not nearly enough. There’s also a lot of SF book references showing how fiction invariably got there first before covering some film and TV references.

With Benford’s SF background, I assume his comparisons to Science Fiction are his contributions, more than his wife’s, although surprised at some of his choices or, occasionally, his lack of knowledge. He draws some comparisons to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘The Bionic Woman’ but doesn’t reference Martin Caiden’s original novel, ‘Cyborg’, for the technical info of transformation. Everyone was convinced at the time that, because of Caidin’s military background, that he had been privy to the construction of a real cyborg. If nothing else, I’d have been interested in what he made of it. Likewise, with Anne McCaffrey’s ‘The Ship Who Sang’ as Helva wasn’t simply a brain connected to a spaceship but still encased in her own body.

I haven’t heard of ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ as either a book by Dalton Trumbo or film and it’s more a lack of communication to a totally disabled person than cyborg issues but will try to fit in one day.

An interview with Dr. Anne Foerst about robot faces being inert is still applicable today. I think to some extent, we take for granted the visual clues of a mobile face and only spot something is wrong when they aren’t present but unable to know what is wrong. If anything, it just goes to show how useful these nuances are and how difficult it is for mechanical assimilation.

It’s also inevitable that Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are explored but should be rather frightened that such things aren’t being considered for war-orientated robots. If anything. I think there should be a back-up switch to turn them back on or at least limit the length of time they are active killers that way or it could end up being your own troops being under fire.

Something to be really aware of now is how people have gotten used to be in continual contact with other people these days and is only seen as a pipedream in 2007. Granted it went the way of those smartphone thingies but I do have to wonder how people would find technology that is more intrusive. This brings us to an interview with Steve Mann, whom I heard of years ago who wears glasses that give him continual Internet/social networking access through one lens. I have to confess that if you thought people walking around with their heads in their phones and not looking where they are going worrying, then having someone multi-functioning and sending messages by eye movement while walking around even more divided. Oddly, none of this comes up in the interview.

It’s rather odd reading things in this book where they hit on various subjects without him knowing the source, checking the bibliography at the back and this includes General Semantics and even the 1972 ‘Search’ TV series telemetrics without even being aware that these things have already been done.

I did expect to find out more about robots and cyborgs from 2007 here than Science Fiction references. Although I’ve commented above that we haven’t moved on nearly far enough, there have been some advances. Certainly the technology is miniaturising and half-robotic arms for amputees have become more compact and I’d be surprised there won’t be proper nerve connections and permanent attachments made in the next decade.

GF Willmetts

April 2019

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2007. 272 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: It varies a lot but I didn’t pay much for my copy. ISBN: 978-0-7653-1083-5)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com

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Category: Books, Science

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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