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Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence [Hardcover]

Andy Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jun 2003
A revolutionary approach to the human mind imagines a future when humans have fully incorporated their tools and technologies into the biological reality of being human.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc (Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195148665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195148664
  • Product Dimensions: 24.7 x 15.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 354,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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"A book that is at once profound, ground breaking, and delightful reading. Clark, more than anybody, understands how human nature is shaped by the technology and culture through which it finds expression. Bravo!" --Jerome Bruner, University Professor, New York University, and author of MakingStories"Highly interesting, provocative and easy to read.... Natural-Born Cyborgs is impressive and entertaining, giving the book a potentially wide audience that includes those interested in cognitive science, performance art and the philosophy of mind."--Nature"In this lively and provocative treatise, Clark declares that we are, in fact, 'human technology symbionts' or 'natural-born cyborgs, ' always seeking ways to enhance our biological mental capacities through technology, an intriguing claim he supports with a brisk history of biotechnology mergers, which currently range from pacemakers to the way a pilot of a commercial airplane is but one component in an elaborate 'biotechnological problem-solving matrix.'"--San Diego Union-Tribune"This is a marvelous book, one I intend to use and reuse. I want to teach a course using it. I want to tell my friends. The neatest part is that it is both fun and deep, a hard trick to pull off, but Clark managed wonderfully. He combines a broad array of insights and stories into a charming, yet profound, excursion into what it means to be human as more and more we rely upon--and may even be coupled to--our technology. I read it in a day, but I know I will return to it often."--Donald Norman, Professor of Computer Science, Northwestern University, and author of Emotional Design"Andy Clark has given us an exciting yet realistic vision of what lies ahead. If you've ever wondered what Cyborgs are really all about, this is where you will find your answers." --Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics, University of Reading, and author of I, Cyborg

About the Author

Andy Clark is Director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University. His books include Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together and Mindware.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The year is 1960. The pulse of space travel beats insistently within the temples of research and power, and journal Astronautics publishes the paper that gave the term "cyborg" to the world. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book 25 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A very informative and pretty accessible book on artificial intelligence and philosophy of science. Highly recommended fro anyone interested in the present and future state of technology.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Analysis of the Human/Machine Symbiosis 7 Nov 2004
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
What is the future of humanity? Is the next phase of human evolution the merging of humans and machines? Or perhaps, are we humans already merged with machines and have we been for centuries? These and other questions are ones that occupy Andy Clark, director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University and author of this thought-provoking book written for an informed but lay audience. Clark makes the case that long before cyborgs became the villains of so many popular films--the "Terminator" and "Matrix" series, "Blade Runner," and "2001: A Space Odyssey" come immediately to mind--humans had become inextricably linked to machines in a way that ensured that they could not survive without them. Accordingly, even without electronic implants Homo Sapiens are cyborgs, and have been as far back as the first time one of our ancestors picked up a tree limb and used it as club. Clark argues that the human-technology symbiosis is totally natural and has been for millennia. The speed with which the merging of human and machine is advancing expanded greatly in the twentieth century as such technologies as pacemakers, artificial hips and knees, prosthetics, and other electronic implants have enhanced and sometimes prolonged the lives of millions of people.

Andy Clark explores this increasingly close relationship of humans and machines--the "cyborg-ization" of humanity--in eight chapters. Beginning with the argument that we are already cyborgs dependent for our lifestyle on all manner of technologies, he moves through a succession of possible steps into the future that will find us more and more closely tied to the technologies we have created. Eventually, we will reach a post-human state. Rather than invoking fear that we will become non-human, Clark celebrates this possibility and the wondrous potentialities it offers. He urges caution in this transition, for not all possibilities are desirable, but generally Clark is optimistic. He asks: "if it is our basic human nature to annex, exploit, and incorporate nonbiological stuff deep into our mental profiles [and he firmly believes that it is]--then the question is not whether we go that route, but in what ways we actively sculpt and shape it. By seeing ourselves as we truly are, we increase the chances that our future biotechnological unions will be good ones" (p. 198).

In my own research concerning the past, present, and possible future of spaceflight, I find much in Andy Clark's study that is useful. One of the truly fascinating developments associated with the rise of robotic capabilities is the possibility of post-human migration. In fulfilling the spacefaring dream, the intelligent life to leave Earth and colonize the galaxy may not be entirely human in form. Extensive discussions have taken place in recent years on the relationship between artificial computer intelligence, biotechnology, and human evolution. In spite of its obvious relevance to space travel, little of this has been extended to outer space. The early space pioneer Robert H. Goddard suspected that humans might be obliged to transport genetic material to distant stars rather than go themselves. The rigors of galactic flight that will likely confine humans to the inner solar system might not confine our machines. Given the great difficulties of interstellar flight, these would have to be machines with human-like intelligence or even possibly humans reengineered to withstand long-duration space travel. The possibilities are truly amazing and somewhat weird, and as remote today from common experience as were the early images of space travel to the people who first envisioned them centuries ago. Nonetheless, they are not wholly impossible. Given current directions in technology as envisioned by such authors as Andy Clark, a post-biological galaxy teeming with enhanced human intelligence is not beyond the realm of possibility. In one such vision, biological species become so technologically proficient that they cease to exist in purely biological form. The possibilities for post-human evolution has the potential to radically alter the dominant paradigm of human spaceflight.

"Natural-Born Cyborgs" is a challenging and useful book. Highly recommended.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How much 'nature' is in our 'natures'? 15 Jan 2004
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Andy Clark has a bold - no, a really bold - thesis: our minds and our selves are not limited to our 'biological skin bag' called the brain or even our biological selves. We, in reality, are cyborgs in the sense that we are merging with a world of technology so much that where 'it' begins and 'we' end is becoming a fuzzy line - a line that we might be best to dispense with altogether. Quite literally, our brains can be called only part of our mind.
Curious yet? I know I was. So, here is my experience with the book: I read it, raised my eyebrows quite a bit (and mumbled some under-my-breath "Wow"s) and remained unconvinced that we are LITERALLY cyborges in the sense that Clark has in mind. Whatt I did come away with (the reason for the 4 stars) is a new lens with which to view the world. Every time I see someone talking on their cell-phone, saving data to their hard-drive for retrieval later on, or even driving their cars, I will now be asking questions like, "How much can this piece of technology be said to add to her nature?"
Still sounds weird? Clark's method of argument is to argue that the brain - what we sometimes call the seat of the self - is suprisingly malleable and accomodating to outside influences. Even our own image of what is and is not 'part of ourselves' is radically flacid. His case is suprisingly powerful. For an appetite whetter, though, just think of yousrelf driving a car. When you are driving, you usually do not think about driving as such: "I need to turn left, and to do that, I move my steering wheel left which moves this external car, with me in it, left." You almost feel like the car and the steering wheel is an extension of you in that controlling the car becomes 'second-nature' - turning left becomes as natural [check the metaphor] as moving your left arm.
From here, Clark talks about how it is human nature, seemingly, to use tools to aid us: from pen and pencil to store thoughts, to wristwatches helping us coordiante time, to the internet allowing us to communicate farther and farther distances - that's just what we do; adding that the 'we' in that sentence is no longer simply biology, but actually includes the technologies that we use.
All this, to me, was convincing in the sense that there is much more continuity between our brains and technologies than we usually realize, and that they do help change our natures. But, it does not follow that because the self is a concept that easily adapts to technology (that is becoming constantly smaller, more invisible, and human friendly) that this means literally that we now have 'cyborg' natures: that we are not still biologal selves with ever-increasing relationships with technology. If Clark used the phrase 'our cyborg natures' metaphorically maybe I could go along (and as convincing as the book is, probably would have). But he means it literally, and he is not as convincing as he needs to be.
Buy and read the book though. Lilke me, you may remain unconvinced by his larger point but you might well be swayed by some of his smaller points. Really learning to appreciate how integral a part of our goals, natures, and every-day lives technology is, is an exciting thing. Postulating how technology could change us in the future and even eradicate or alleviate many of our limitations is not something to be feared or scoffed at, but to be embraced.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent cognitive science 10 Jun 2003
By David Robertson - Published on
This is a well-written and accessible book. The focus is not on technology per se, but on cognitive science and the philosophy of mind. Clark touches on a wide range of emerging technologies, but with the purpose of exploring how they will transform us. The picture on the cover might imply that these technologies would necessarily involve Borg-like implants, but Clark soon disabuses us of that notion through a number of arguments and entertaining examples (even including a magic trick). One of his arguments is that the way we (can) think depends on the tools we use, and the tools are becoming qualitatively different, both more closely coupled and adapted to us.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A recommended read but has some weaknesses... 25 Mar 2006
By John W. Braught - Published on
In this accessible, provocative, and thought provoking text Andy Clark argues nothing less than what the title suggests: Human nature is predisposed and especially adapted to create and interact with technologies in a way which advances human cognition. Thus, "human-machine symbiosis" is not only a fact of our future; it is that of our present and our past. We are, in a phrase, "natural-born cyborgs". The arguments that Clark presents to establish this are in fact persuasive, and I encourage anyone interested in the relationship between human beings and technology to read this book. For, whether the reader has at anytime in the past considered this complicated relationship or not, they are not likely to look at it the same way after coming away from the text.

That is not to say that all is well in Professor Clark's analysis, for he tends to take what has been referred to as a techno-enthusiast approach to technology, blatantly negating any undesirable consequences that may arise from such an intimate acceptance of technology into our everyday lives. This despite the fact that he devotes an entire chapter to supposedly addressing some of the potential negative impacts that technology poses. Yet, these are so minimized that it is obvious that for Andy Clark no price is too high for what he sees as the inevitable evolutionary advance of the human species. In addition, Clark tends to overlook the political aspects of technology involving the decisions over what sorts of technologies will be developed and how they will be implemented. Without going in to too much detail it is suffice to say that Clark's analysis is in no way comprehensive and tends to overlook the ethical dimensions of the question of technology. Still, his book is a worthwhile read (and an easy one at that) and I think as long as the reader keeps these things in mind can take much away from the text. No matter what it's lacking I do not want to minimize Clark's insight into human nature and the human-technology relationship for which he makes the strongest argument. I am convinced after reading this book that we are "natural-born cyborgs" and I suspect others will feel the same. It's when Clark starts delving into the implications of the "human-machine symbiosis" that he becomes a little shortsighted and unconvincing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, we certainly are cyborgs! 11 May 2006
By T. A. Smedes - Published on
Normally, we think about 'cyborgs' in terms of 'Star Trek'-like creatures, such as the Borg: a mixture of organic and inorganic stuff, quite unpleasant to look at and even more unpleasant if you encounter one. And here we have a cognitive scientist and philosopher who writes a book with an incredibly odd-sounding title: natural-born cyborg - isn't that a contradiction in terms?

No, it isn't. Read Andy Clark's book and be amazed. When I read it, I was completely converted. What Clark does is not simply write a book describing how modern cognitive science (especially the science of embodied and distributed cognition) is dealing with human action (that too!), but what Clark does here is rewrite a lot of Western anthropology: the way we think about human nature.

Clark's idea of humans as natural-born cyborgs is not that we are all in some sense Borg, but simply that humans have remarkable capabilities of dealing with the things that surround them. Especially, in using things that are around us as tools (in the widest sense of the word; hammers, computers, libraries are all tools), we are able to blur the boundaries between our bodies and technology - as in the practice of hammering the difference between the hand and the hammer disappears, as both are now one in the activity of hammering - but with informational tools such as computers, encyclopedias or simply pen and paper, we are also able to blur the distinction between our mind and the world. We are cyborgs because we are able to relate to and interact with our surroundings in a myriad of different ways. And we're doing that quite naturally. Clark brilliantly describes what philosophers and cognitive scientists are nowadays discovering about our ancient technological skills.

For me, this book was an eye-opener in the best possible way. That may seem strange, given the fact that I am a philosopher of religion and theologian. But for me Clark's approach makes sense. I will not go into details, but if you're interested, read Clark's book first and afterwards Philip Hefner's "The Human Factor" and his "Technology and Human Becoming" (both available through and hopefully you'll know what I'm getting at...

I can't wait for Andy Clark to write a follow-up on this one!
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