Roots of Cybernetics

Seeding the Psymbiote

The Psymbiote: Hybrid Apparatus For Social Interface is an ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration focusing on the merger of technology with the human body, approaching the issue both in practice and in concept. Supported in part by a fellowship with Arizona State University's Institute For Studies In The Arts, we are in the process of creating an interactive performance suit and developing functional cybernetic units that will be worn with it. Ultimately we seek to fully transform a human body into a new and unexpected hybrid organism with fully integrated control systems.

This is a concept sketch of what the psymbiote might look like. As development progresses, the Psymbiote will appear in public spaces, sometimes announced, sometimes unannounced, in an attempt to engender dialogue regarding the future of human technological enhancements. In the spirit of interactivity, I hope you'll let me engage you all directly in this preliminary dialogue tonight. The Psymbiote is an attempt to bring the issues raised by the ongoing redefinition of the human body and its boundaries into a public forum, highlighting some of the contemporary critical discourse surrounding cybernetics, cyborgs and other human technological hybrids.

The Psymbiote was conceived January 19th, 2000. Jesse provided the seed, and I fertilized it. Over the last year and a half, we've put our energies into research, grant writing, experimentation, and construction. We've explored the nature of our psymbiote: who she is, where she comes from, and how we can build her into existence. We've surveyed:

cyborg practice, such as Steve Mann's Wearcomps,
the image of the cyborg

in literature, such as this early 1970's anthology,
in film,

popular media, like Wired and Popular Mechanics,

fashion, such as Thierry Mugler's designs,

cultural theory,

and art.

This last image shows a piece by Ira Sherman, called the Arbitrator. Participants are locked into a confrontation in a structure that forces proximity and eye contact, and over the course of the event the joints of the apparatus stiffen, limiting their ability to break away. I'll be sharing many other bits of our research over the course of this lecture.

Our Cyborg zygote grew from this dialog. Today, this strange creature is still premature. Like any new born, the Psymbiote must first discover herself in her environment. She will take time to learn control of her functions, and to speak for herself. She still speaks only through my voice.

I feel her developing energy swelling inside me. We have built so many of the components directly on my body, creating a personal and intimate link between my self and this embryonic apparatus.

When the Psymbiote reaches adolescence, there will be a typical period of awkward adjustment to the reconfiguration of the body. It will take time for this body to learn how to use it's new extensions, and practice to make their use automatic.

Humans have many "built in" automatic functions. We don't have to think about the processes necessary to breathe. We were born with a highly refined, unconscious knowledge of this complex physiological process. But learned behaviors can become automatic too. When I first learned to drive a car, I was completely aware of each action. I had to think consciously about what pedal had to go down when to do what. Now, I no longer need to think "I have to push down on the right pedal in order to go faster" I just think "go faster." The transportation tool around me has become an extension of myself, and the clumsy interface somehow becomes invisible as I integrate my body and function into it. This, by definition, is cybernetics.

Roots of Cybernetics