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Our future bodies: cyborgs, spaceships and the future of tech

Are robot bodies the solution to the gender pay gap, or just a way to live forever? A science fiction symposium at Tel Aviv University looks at humanity’s visions of the future.

Enhancing the human body has always been an obsession of our species. From prosthetic limbs, to laser surgery to correct eyesight, to the latest wearable tech that measures your body temperature while being fashionable, we’ve always sought to alter and better what our bodies can offer.

Nowhere have these fantasies played out more prominently than in the genre of science fiction. Since its inception science fiction has toyed with humanity’s possible futures, in many cases predicting technological developments. An early example of this is Edward Bellamy predicting credit cards in 1888, or Jules Verne predicting the moon landing, but even in our modern times the television show Star Trek introduced “universal translators” and “tablet computers” decades before they became a reality.

Recently, several students and researchers from the Department of English and American Studies at Tel Aviv University decided to organize a convention on the topic of what science fiction has to say about the future of our bodies.  Held for the fourth year in a row, the Science Fiction Symposium was held on December 18th, and was coordinated by Shawn Edrei, Adam Etzion, Anat Karolin and Orin Posner.

During the day-long conference researchers from all over the country analyzed everything from popular culture – such as the character of Batman – to award-winning fiction, such as the books of Philip K. Dick. 

From machine to human

In many visions of the future humanity parts with its physical limitations as technology allows – from enhancing our physical bodies through cyborg limbs to creating new bodies entirely, divorced from our original human consciousness. For example, legendary translator and Tel Aviv University graduate Emmanuel Lotem explored the physicality depicted in Ann Leckie’s award-winning book “Ancillary Justice”.

Leckie presents a future where, in the aftermath of a war, enemy combatants are turned into “ancillaries”, their human mind and personality erased, and their bodies subjugated to the consciousness of a mechanical creature – an armed spaceship designed to fight battles. Where does the boundary between human and machine lie, when machines have human bodies and humans are robbed of their own?

The female cyborg revolution

Similarly, Dana Omer-Schnapp from the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts, spoke about the cyborg body as an opportunity for social and personal resistance, for women in particular. Cyborg bodies would make many gendered divisions obsolete, rearranging the balance of what it means to be a woman. Would women still make less money than men, or face the same social oppression, if their bodies were mechanical?

Science fiction doesn’t always provide us with the answers, but merely asking the questions means rethinking our world today and where we want the future to take us. Technology is something humans create, rather than discover, so perhaps thinking about these issues as a species will let us create our own satisfactory answers in due time.

To find out more about the different lectures you can watch all three sessions of the symposium in full:

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