bionic man

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bionic man Human life-form integrated with robotic and cybernetic mechanisms. The possibility of a species of bionic men and women has been elaborately imagined in science fiction portrayals of alien races such as ‘The Borg’ in the Paramount television series Star Trek The Next Generation. The scientists responsible for creating a bionic man on Earth in the science fiction television series of the 1970s, The Six Million-Dollar Man, claimed that ‘We have the technology, we can build him,’ but success in transferring fiction into fact has been minimal. While human life has been supported by devices such as heart pacemakers, the development of robotic prostheses for limb and organ replacement remains primitive.

During World War II, American social scientists and physical scientists were mobilized to assist the war effort by developing a range of activities from psychological warfare to breaking intelligence codes and building atomic weapons. Following the war a collection of war-service scientists in the US attempted to explore an interdisciplinary route to developing artificial intelligence that could mimic human behaviour. This group, which included social scientists Lawrence Franck, Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson, and mathematicians Norbert Weiner and Jon von Neumann, set up a series of conferences funded by the Josiah Macy Jr Foundation, which met annually between 1946–53 and became known as the ‘cybernetics group’. Weiner became a leading figure in post-war cybernetics and the work achieved through the Macy Conferences helped to construct the discipline that now informs the study of both artificial and human intelligence.

Although substantial advances have subsequently been made in the study of robotics, especially in the context of space and military research, the development of either completely artificial or combined artificial and human life-forms remains a distant cybernetic goal. The sophisticated integration of robotic circuitry with organic life-forms, such as that achieved by ‘The Borg’, may yet have to wait until the twenty-fourth century.

Dorothy Porter


Heims, S. J. (1991). Constructing a social science for Postwar America. The Cybernetics Group 1946–1953. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

See also automata; cybernetics.