Back in 1839 the US author and poet Edgar Allan Poe wrote his short story “The Man That Was Used Up”. Better known for his tales of horror, he took this time the focus on another topic, as he wrote about a fictive meeting with the war hero “John A.B.C. Smith”. First he had been impressed by his outer appearance, then later he witnessed that these looks had been mainly based on technological spare-parts. Smith literally had been used up by the different battles, so that legs, hair, eye and even his palate had been artificial.[1]

1900: Bancroft Tower, Worcester, MI
1900: Bancroft Tower, Worcester, MI

The term “cyborg” had been formulated a first time in 1960 by the scientists Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline. It describes a human individual with artificial parts. This to replace missing ones or to achieve enhanced abilities.

If we take a fresh approach, we understand that already much more cyborgs exists today than we thought of. In a study from 2016 researchers from the universities of California, Santa Cruz and Illinois found out that more and more people depend on the internet as resource of information. Today’s schools and kindergarten bring children early in contact with computers and the internet. Instead of pure fact learning, today’s students learn where to find information and how to access these databases.[2] With this, today’s students have access to more information than any other generation before them. Due to the pure number of information it is clear that pure fact learning cannot work anymore, and other factors as accessing the information and an adequate processing process become more relevant. The internet became an external extension of our brain. Even if individuals do not have any physical updates on their body, information storage became outsourced, as we perceive to be in a continuous connection to “our knowledge” on the net.

Due to the lead investor of the study, Dr. Benjamin Storm, memory is changing. If we need to answer a question, we use less time to remember the required learnt information, but easily access the internet to let Google or Wikipedia find “our” information.[3]

This requirement of the modern age is on the other hand a risk factor. The individual perceives the internet, especially his or her preferred pages, as source for objective information, but in reality they may be flawed based on the author’s opinion. Even worse, employees may be let to pages, including Twitter and Social Media, which communicate fake news and information. Less than information inside a book, articles on the internet, included encyclopedias as Wikipedia, can be changed from one moment to another, including that such changes is not easily detectable for the reader.

For most of the topics, individuals only feel a low involvement. This makes perfect sense, as the regular visit at the supermarket cannot lead for each buy-or-not-buy  to an extended decision making process. This opens a risk that information for low level-decisions get not questioned and used. If slowly step by step such information gets altered, the individual would not recognize the changes and this may lead at a later time to decisions, which are not compatible anymore with the person’s original values. As consequence, the individual changes his / her decisions or even values & attitudes.

The individual uses information from the open internet, but maybe also from a protected Cloud. In opposite to its name, the information does not flow through the air, but is stored on one or several physical servers. With this, it is target of the known cyber-attack and data privacy risks. Mostly discussed are the risks that non-authorized (or even authorized) users steal the stored information. But hackers may work less obvious. Similar to a Trojan virus, what stays non-active for a period of time inside the system, a hacker can unrecognized alternate information and databases, so that the company uses this wrong information for their decision making process. With this, virtual information can lead to physical consequences, including damages.

Sources

Henz, Patrick (2017): “Access Granted – Tomorrow’s Business Ethics”

[1] Poe, Edgar Allan (1839): “The Man That Was Used Up”

[2] Taylor & Francis (2016): “Cognitive Offloading: How Internet is Increasingly Taking Over Human Memory”

[3] Taylor & Francis (2016): “Cognitive Offloading: How Internet is Increasingly Taking Over Human Memory”

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