The Cyborg Apocalypse Is Pink

When she adds a bazooka to the limb can the targeting laser frequency be set to pink too?
When she adds a bazooka to the limb can the targeting laser frequency be set to pink too?

When Washington University in St. Louis puts out a press release with a link-bait title, at least the title is accurate: "Pink prosthetic arm 'printed' for teen girl by university students".[1] The cost of the arm? US$200.

Is this young lady now an inhuman melding of machine and meat? One day soon she's going to have a mechanical arm that is stronger than her arm of flesh and bone. Eventually she may have to make a choice between keeping her machine parts and having a regenerative treatment to grow a new arm. By then her mechanical parts may be much more than a replacement for her missing limb. What if her arm is also her telephone, telescope, and taser? Would replacing all that with a 'natural' arm make her more human? Does a missing limb then make her less human?

Hm.

It seems we dip into unresolvable philosophy pretty quickly when considering these ideas. This is usually a sign that the questions we are asking are not valid - not because they're badly formed, but because they are too narrow. The problem space we are exploring isn't big enough to ask meaningful questions or seek meaningful answers. So let's take advice attributed to Gen. Eisenhower: "expanding the boundaries of a tough problem makes it soluble."[2]

In this case, the expanded boundary is a look into the actual relationship humans have with technology. In "The Cyborg In The Mirror" (the afternoon keynote at WIBADD 2014 on May 6th) I claimed that humans are now cyborgs, have always been cyborgs, and that "business analysts make better cyborgs - in both senses." This is based on a three ideas.

Idea 1: A cyborg is a human enhanced by technology.

The traditional definitions of 'cyborg' usually include several concepts that omitted or altered in this definition. (We're not going to worry about dogs with ID chips or remote controlled cockroaches right now.) For example, googling "define cyborg" returns this:

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg)

noun: cyborg; plural noun: cyborgs

a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

It seemed reasonable to drop 'fictional or hypothetical' given folks like Sydney Kendall walking around with a pink plastic prosthesis.

Replacing 'physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations' with 'enhanced' is a generalization intended to accommodate a range of alterations, such as replacement limbs and cochlear implants. Few would argue that having one arm is a 'normal human limitation' - but there are "Deaf people (with a capital D) [who] see themselves more as an ethnic minority, with their own (sign) language, schools and proud history." Is a hearing aid extending physical abilities beyond normal human limits? What about Oscar Pistorius and his artificial legs?

Finally, the line between 'built into the body' and 'worn' is also a bit blurry. Are contact lenses 'built into' the body? They do come out - but then, so does a 3-year contraceptive stick, despite being under the skin. Earrings are built into the body; so is tattoo ink. Does my tattoo make me a cyborg by extending my skin colour beyond normal human limitations? Does a colostomy bag? Dropping this clause from the definition does extend the boundaries of the problem; it seems like a useful place to start.

Idea 2: Technology is the practical application of knowledge.

Establishing a reasonable scope for the word 'technology' seems as difficult as it is to find the scope of technologies themselves. Is language a technology? C++ probably is. Why isn't French? Is it because French is too limited and bland to be applied in a practical way, such as coordinating the efforts of hundreds of thousands of soldiers to create an empire that spans much of Europe?

Hm.

Technologies are practical as opposed to possible, and applied as opposed to abstract or theoretical. They can be tangible or intangible (a hammer or an idea). If technology includes intangible-but-practical applications of knowledge, a "cyborg" should include humans enhanced by any kind of technology, including processes, rules, and memes. Note that the distinction between a hammer (tool) and a hammer(technology) is in the wielder, not the device: a tool is only used to affect the world in useful ways; a technology is also used to affect tools in useful ways. This means technologies can be used to build new technologies - as in, "If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Idea 3: A solution is a specific way of satisfying a need in a context.

From the IIBA Business Analysis Core Concept Model.

Defining a cyborg as a person 'enhanced by' technology is broader than the traditional definition. This is, in part, because we usually think of technologies in terms of physical objects - machines or programs that run on machines. It is also because we usually think of a cyborg as a person with technology embedded in their flesh.

With these limitations stripped away, the remaining kernel of the idea closely mirrors the IIBA definition of a solution. From a BAs point of view, 'solution' and 'technology' are really the same thing, described differently.[3]

So What?

If we combine these ideas (and other BACCM core concepts) into one statement, we end up with thoughts like: "A cyborg is a stakeholder enhanced through the practical application of knowledge," and "A cyborg is a stakeholder experiencing value though contextual and practical application of knowledge." BAs make better cyborgs because every day because BAs help stakeholders integrate new and changing solutions into their lives - or rather, help stakeholders enhance themselves by integrating with useful technologies.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing a fair bit about business implications of our cyborg nature, and I'll publish as often as I can.

Please share your ideas and thoughts.

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[1] I read about this first on ScienceDaily, a pretty good news aggregator for science and technology. They don't really tell you what the science or technology means, or how likely it is to come to market. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140508141745.htm)

[2] This is often stated as 'if you can't solve the problem make it bigger" and is attributed to Einstein, Donald Rumsfeld, and others.

[3] I do not advocate that BAs use 'technology' in place of 'solution' with non-BAs. The common conception of technology is too skewed to machinery for that to be a useful way to talk to most stakeholders most of the time.

Julian Sammy

A passion for business performance has driven Julian’s decades-long, evidence-based exploration of human behaviour, emerging technology, and information science. His insights are often surprising, and are shared in a provocative, engaging style in print and in person. Julian has delivered inspiring and informative keynotes, created and delivered many track sessions, and advised senior managers and executives from many industries. As the Head of Research and Innovation for IIBA, Julian led a global team of volunteer researchers in the creation of a scientifically testable theory of business performance. As a member of the Core Team developing the next version of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK® Guide) for IIBA, he drove the collaborative development of the Business Analysis Core Concept Model — a work that is so fundamental to the profession that it is the foundation for the new definition of the profession. In March 2014 Julian Sammy and Kathleen Barret co-founded MicroMarketplace, to get on-demand expert advice to managers, one hour at a time.