Androids and Cyborgs

An android is an anthropomorphic machine—that is, a robot with near-human form, features, and/or behavior. Although originating in science fiction, engineers and scientists now use the term android to describe robot systems that are being developed with advanced levels of machine intelligence and electromechanical mechanisms, so the machines can "act" like people. A future human-form field-geologist robot that was able to communicate with its human partner (as the team explored the surface of the Moon) by using a radio-frequency transmitter, as well as by turning its head and gesturing with its arms, would be an example of an android.

The term cyborg is a contraction of the expression: cybernetic organism. Cybernetics is the branch of information science that deals with the control of biological, mechanical, and/or electronic systems. While the term cyborg is quite common in contemporary science fiction—for example, the frightening "Borg collective" in the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation motion picture and television series—the concept was actually first proposed in the early 1960s by several scientists who were then exploring alternative ways of overcoming the harsh environment of space. The overall strategy that they suggested was simply to adapt a human being to space by developing appropriate technical devices that could be incorporated into an astronaut's body. With these implanted or embedded devices, astronauts would become cybernetic organisms, or cyborgs.

The War of the Worlds that brought many Americans to the state of near panic. The exceptionally realistic one-hour-long, live radio broadcast began just after eight o'clock that Sunday evening. Welles's fictitious radio show shocked listeners with the announcement of Martians landing at a farm in Grover Mills, New Jersey. It appears that listeners who lived closest to the make-believe landing site suffered the greatest amount of anxiety and fright. But the tale of this bogus invasion was broadcast to all regions of the United States, so people in other locations, relatively far from New Jersey, also experienced some level of panic and fright. Welles and a small band of actors and musicians working in the Mercury Theater of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in New York City staged the entire event. His clever use of special sound effects, realistic-sounding special bulletins, and even a parade of prestigious (though bogus) official speakers only enhanced the credibility and, therefore, the shock value of the "Martian invasion." To this day, the 1938 "Invasion from Mars" radio broadcast remains arguably one of the most famous delusions of the U.S. public that was accomplished by the entertainment media.

But the influence of H. G. Wells's famous tale of an alien invasion from Mars has extended far beyond the famous 1938 broadcast. In 1953, producer George Pal created an exciting, visually stunning film entitled The War of the Worlds. This motion picture was updated to the 1950s and

Instead of simply protecting an astronaut's body from the harsh space environment by enclosing the person in some type of spacesuit, space capsule, or artificial habitat (the technical approach actually chosen), the scientists, who advocated the cyborg approach boldly, asked: Why not create cybernetic organisms that could function in the harsh environment of space without special protective equipment? For a variety of technical, social, and political reasons, the proposed line of research quickly ended, but the term cyborg has survived.

Today, the term is usually applied to any human being (whether on Earth, under the sea, or in outer space) who uses a technology-based, body-enhancing device. For example, a person with a pacemaker, a hearing aid, or an artificial knee could be considered a cyborg. When a person straps on wearable, computer-interactive components, such as the special vision and glove devices that are used in a virtual reality system, that person has (in fact) become a temporary cyborg.

By further extension, the term cyborg is sometimes used to describe fictional artificial humans or very sophisticated robots with near-human (or superhuman) qualities. The Golem (a mythical clay creature in medieval Jewish folklore) and the Frankenstein monster (from Mary Shelley's classic 1818 novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus) are examples of the former, while Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of the superhuman terminator robot (in the Terminator motion-picture trilogy) is an example of the latter usage.

set in southern California. Actor Gene Barry played Wells's fictional hero, Dr. Clayton Forrester. In addition to the carnage being created in southern California, Pal's movie also depicted the large-scale, global invasion of Earth by the Martians. This pre-space age cinematic masterpiece set new standards for alien invasion films—including use of disintegration weapons and death rays by the alien creatures—and earned an Oscar for special effects.

The success of George Pal's invasion movie encouraged other movie-industry producers and directors to follow suit, following the advent of the space age. Mars Attacks! appeared in 1996 and was essentially a humorous spoof of all previous alien invasion movies. In 2005, director Steven Spielberg presented a contemporary adaptation of the H. G. Wells story, The World of the Worlds.

As an interesting historic note, this film was Spielberg's third major motion picture about extraterrestrials arriving here on Earth. In his previous alien movies (E.T.—The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), the creatures from space were very intelligent and benevolent toward the human race. But Spielberg's third extraterrestrial film followed the more traditional hostile-invaders theme that had been pioneered by H. G. Wells. Once again, the invading alien creatures were powerful, malevolent, and had absolutely no intention of sparing the human race. Their demise was more a matter of human good fortune and serendipity rather than technical skill and force of arms. The consequences of contact between two technically mismatched, colliding civilizations has remained a frequent theme in modern science fiction. Scientists are also aware of a dilemma that they might be creating when they attempt to communicate with intelligent alien civilizations. Such interesting questions as "Who speaks for Earth?" and "Should human beings respond to an alien message?" are addressed later in the book.

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