Re: Humans, Cyborgs, and Legacy systems

Sue Denim (
9 Sep 1995 04:58:37 GMT

"\"Alexander \\\"Sasha\\\" Chislenko\"" <> wrote:
> The following is a draft of my new essay suggesting
> parallels between technological enhancements of humans and
> current work on "legacy" information systems. The essay is
> aimed at a [relatively] wide audience. When I have more time,
> I will turn it into a more serious work on general evolution of
> functional structures, exosomatic personality architectures and
> other such things.
> I would be happy to get any feedback that may help me improve
> the text and develop these ideas.
> If you want to share this text with somebody, please ask me
> for the latest version.
> ---------------------------------------------------------------
> Legacy Systems and Functional Cyborgization.
> [ draft 0.82 -- 10 August 1995 ]
> The proverbial problem of teaching an old dog new tricks
> recently became the focus of a new discipline in computer
> systems design -- the theory of upgrading old, or "legacy"
> systems. The problems of enhancing outdated systems of all
> kinds have faced the evolutionary process for a long time. Many
> techniques used now for improving computer systems have been
> employed to improve various technological and biological
> structures, including our own bodies. We do not have to wait
> for some future society to generate "cyborgs", for instance.
> In a sense, they are already among us.
> And you might be one of them.
> ___________________________________
> Many of today's computer systems, used in applications
> ranging from corporate accounting to air traffic control, were
> created long ago, and over the years were patched and fine-
> tuned to perform their jobs. Now they seem too slow,
> unreliable and inflexible for handling new, more diverse and
> demanding tasks. Unfortunately, the functions of these systems
> are very difficult to understand, and their replacement with
> new and efficient designs seems virtually impossible.
> In such cases, systems architects may use new elements to
> enhance the old "legacy" systems, using the following
> techniques:
> Parallelism and Specialization:
> - Dividing the increased responsibilities among a number of
> old systems. The work is substantially improved as individual
> systems are optimized for performing particular tasks and
> relieved from other duties. For example, a faster machine may
> sort records, and the one with a working printer may print
> them.
> Redundancy:
> Let several systems work in parallel and compare the results,
> to make the output more reliable.
> Wrapping:
> - Leave the layers of the system that you cannot understand
> alone, and replace the others. For example, database wrapping
> would leave the old database intact and replace the processing
> code; code wrapping would leave the old decision-making
> algorithms, but replace the database engine; application
> wrapping would preserve the entire application, but would
> replace its environment - e.g., emulate an operator's input
> with a programming interface.
> External aids:
> The novel parts of the system can assist the old core in
> performing its functions.
> This may include providing the legacy system with necessary
> resources, pre-processing them for the input, performing some
> tasks the old system is not good at, storing some intermediate
> products, troubleshooting and repair, etc.
> Replacement of parts:
> In those cases when the structure and function of some part
> of the system is well understood, the part can be directly
> replaced with its improved equivalent. If the original
> mechanism is convoluted, intertwined, and undocumented, this
> method should be applied with caution, and only to simple
> isolatable parts of the system.
> __________________________________
> The above approaches proved useful in updating many
> computer systems.
> This experience should be taken into account by the Science
> Fiction writers and futurists envisioning future
> technologically enhanced humans as "cyborgs" -- creatures that
> will have human biological bodies as their legacy core, but
> will hopefully have many important [and complex] biological
> parts directly replaced with improved technological equivalents
> (and a variety of new ones added).
> Of course, images of mechanical parts sticking in and out of
> our bodies seem impressive enough to be worth putting into
> SciFi plots.
> However, the cyborgization of the humankind -- the merger of
> biological and technological elements -- has been, and most
> likely will be, proceeding according to the usual scenario of
> the evolution of legacy systems.
> Parallelism and integration of efforts were implemented
> before we became humans -- and actually were an important
> prerequisite for our existence.
> As humans developed sufficient intelligence to embark on the
> long journey of supplementing their convoluted, undocumented
> and structurally inflexible biological bodies with
> intentionally designed extensions, they started with simple
> methods and simple physical parts. At this stage of
> development, wrapping and external aids were used, from
> wrapping the body with clothing to providing it with external
> implements serving both as extensions to biological organs and
> as parts of increasingly friendly environments -- this includes
> tools, houses, transportation, heating, cooking, etc.
> Also, at this stage new systems began to be used not only
> for supporting, but for "troubleshooting" the body (medicine) -
> still without interference in the original design.
> As things get more sophisticated, the technological
> supplementation of the biological body repeats the same steps
> with the information processing. It is the human functional
> body that is now being wrapped and augmented, as the new
> systems consequently accept important tasks of information
> acquisition, storage, transmission and processing.
> Even at this stage, the direct replacement of biological
> organs, in accordance with the legacy systems theory, is rare
> and confined to simple physical parts.
> However, there are ways of introducing implants and
> shortcuts without violating the structural integrity of the old
> kludge. For example, if your brain does not have sufficient
> memory for carrying some operations, it may use external
> memory (e.g., a scratch pad) for storing intermediate data,
> and then read the results back into the brain's "wetware". This
> neat trick allows the new elements to play the role of
> functional implants, representing at the same time an internal
> structural part of your extended intelligence and an external
> part of the body.
> So while people have been playing with the images of cyborg
> future of their bodies, they have overlooked the ongoing
> process of functional cyborgization they were already taking
> part in.
> In the scenario of physical integration of biological and
> technological structures, a cyborg can (and has been) defined
> as a physically mixed system -- an organism with a sufficiently
> large infusion of technological parts.
> A functional cyborg ( should we call it a fyborg? fuborg? )
> may be defined as a biological organism functionally
> supplemented with technological extensions.
> If you do not pay attention, the stream of technological
> supplements may turn you into a functional cyborg before you
> notice it. To prevent this, I would recommend that you
> periodically submit yourself to the cyborgization check-up by
> answering the questions of the following
> * Are you dependent on technology to the extent that you could
> not survive without it?
> * Would you reject a lifestyle free of any technology even if
> you could endure it?
> * Would you feel embarrassed and "dehumanized" if somebody
> removed your artificial covers (clothing) and exposed your
> natural biological body in public?
> * Do you consider your bank deposits a more important
> personal resource storage system than your fat deposits?
> * Do you identify yourself and judge other people more by
> possessions, ability to manipulate tools and positions in the
> technological and social systems than primary biological
> features?
> * Do you spend more time thinking about -- and discussing --
> your external "possessions" and "accessories" than your
> internal "parts" ?
> If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, please
> accept my congratulations (and/or condolences): you are
> already a cyborg!
> ___ ___ ___
> This may be a good point to end the essay. However,
> whether your current degree of integration with technology
> already qualifies you as a balanced cyborg, or not -- and
> especially if you are already over-qualified, you may be
> interested in knowing the ultimate fate of any legacy system.
> Regardless of the intelligence of the developing process,
> there are only a few basic options here. Endless patching of
> aging systems is not the ultimate engineering method. The
> evolutionary role of a legacy system is to perform some
> necessary functions and test novel design ideas while better
> systems are being built from scratch elsewhere. After the new
> designs become fully operational, the legacy system is
> invariably placed into a trashbin. Or, if it is particularly
> good, healthy and lucky -- into a historical museum.
> Surprisingly, this last journey may not be easy to notice.
> You may observe it by the following signs: you feel overwhelmed
> by the complexity and fluidity of the environment and lose both
> understanding and interest in what is really going on. Instead,
> you concentrate on your local old-fashioned interests and keep
> playing with the old toys as if they still mattered. The
> advantage of a museum over a trashbin here is that the museum
> feels better, your needs are met there, and ailments treated.
> You may be offered simple, convenient and wrong token
> "explanations" on how this is done, yet have no capacity or
> desire to really understand it. You are even provided with some
> entertainment and support for your atavistic and resource-
> wasting activities, together with assurances that they are
> still quite valuable. In a trashbin, without all these
> luxuries, you feel lost, sick and useless; new things look
> weird and alien, old are gone or broken; whatever remains "of
> value" seems rotting around you... The only advantage of a
> trashbin is that it doesn't attempt to disguise itself as
> normal life, so you are at least granted a chance to understand
> where you really are. But is it worth it?
> Believe it or not, this is an optimistic scenario. The
> world moves ahead. It just gets too good for *you* after a
> while.
> _______________________________________
> If you are interested in my more general views on
> functional evolution of the world, I will be happy to e-mail
> you my essays on Mind Age, Enhanced Reality, identity, Living
> Systems and other topics. You can also access them via my Web
> home page: Please send
> your comments to
> - Alexander Chislenko
> Real cyborgs don't need all of those things. The Cyborg Commission.