Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cyborg Anthropology: an introduction


In 2011 I began illustrating Amber Case's forthcoming book, "A Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology." It meant a lot robot-y pictures were popping up on my blog. I also started getting a lot of questions about what exactly cyborg anthropology is.

That's actually what the book is sort of about -- it defines terms she uses like a big glossary. But I've read the evolving draft and it seems geared towards people who already are familiar with topics like this. There's not a lot of words for us regular people.

In an effort to make the topic more accessible I put this little introduction together. This is by no means exhaustive, or else people like Amber couldn't devote her life to it. But for us not-techy-people it might be a nice soothing step into a new idea.


I am a human, this is a robot.

I am a human he is a robot

We are not the same.

I have organs that nature made, he has wheels and nobs that I made.

parts inside

I feel warm to the touch, he feels cool to the touch.

I am warm to the touch

I have desires, he waits for input.

I have wants and desires

We are not the same.

But we are friends, and we help each other.

We are friends

I get lost, he helps me find my way.


He gets hungry, I feed him.


I create beautiful ideas, he shares them with those I love.

beautiful ideas

He finds wonderful facts, I incorporate them into my thoughts.


As time goes on I find I have more robot friends.

10 more robot friends

They help me talk to my other human friends, who live far away.


My human friends and I help the robots become more familiar with our human ways.

Confusing human ways

But does that mean I’m becoming a robot?

Does that mean he’s becoming a human?

Human and robot

I don’t think so.

But, I’m different than my Uncle Bill, he does not have many robot friends.

uncle bill

Maybe that’s why some people call me a cyborg.

But, tiny robots help Uncle Bill hear me when I speak to him.

hearing aid

So maybe that’s why some people think he could be a kind of cyborg too.

A "cyborg" just means: extra things added to help one explore a new place.


It’s robots and humans working together, making a new kind of cooperation.


Some people do this a lot.  


Some people do this a little.


My Uncle Bill hardly does it at all.


He’s a little unsure about robots. They’re so different from what he’s used to.


The thing is, we use technology every day.


In a small way,  we always have.  


My robot friends want to help humanity.


They don’t want to program humanity out of existence.


We haven’t been able to solve some big problems.


Maybe if the robots help, we can solve them.


So when I see a new robot I make sure to introduce myself.


So I can make even more robot friends.



To think more about this conversation, you are probably ready to go and visit the website all about cyborg anthropology.

***Update, February 2013***: The eBook version of An Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology is now available. We are now working on "part two."