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Will our cyborg future be cute and furry?

13 May, 2011

Jaap just posted a fascinating link on Facebook that I thought was worth sharing. This is a promo for a new product called Necomimi (meaning what, I wonder?) by a company called Neurowear. These devices use similar technology that is being developed for building better prosthetic devices but give it a cute and furry twist.

The manifesto posted on their homepage point to the possibilities of enhancing the body with neurologically-steered devices, describing it as a “new communication tool”. It also speculates on the consequences of having one’s emotional states made manifest. There’s the sense here of new possibilities but also new, disturbing intimacies that might be produced by these devices.

People think that our bodies have limitations,
but just imagine if we had organs that don’t exist,
and could control that new body?

We created new human organs that use a brainwave sensor.

Necomimi is the new communication tool
that augments the human bodies and abilities.

[…]

What will happen when people show their feelings
even when they don’t express them?
Interesting? Ashamed? Scared?

In the beginning, people may feel strange,
however people quickly become accustomed to controlling their new ears
with their brainwaves. Right now, Necomimi can become a part of your body.

It’s also interesting to watch the reactions of people trying the ears for the first time.

I think it must be exceedingly strange have your thought processes objectified in this novel way, to find yourself suddenly having to reflect on what’s going on in your mind in order to get the ears to wiggle, or to be confronted with a movement that you didn’t intend and then consider what happened in your mind to cause the reaction. Do the moving ears sensitise users to mental states in a novel way? Do they promote news forms of mindfulness?

Another thing I that find extremely interesting about this development is that while medical prosthetic devices essentially try to repair a missing human function — say, making an artificial hand open and close by concentrating — these ears present something completely new for human beings: an animal-like way of communicating. It’s a development that Donna Haraway might find interesting — a new “fruitful coupling” of the robotic, the animal, and the human.

And I wonder what else this trend will produce. Will we take more cues from animals — not only from mammals but also fish, birds, reptiles and insects — to create new modes of communicating? Instead of moving ears, what about robotic tails that wag when we’re happy? Or maybe jewellery or clothes that change colour depending on mood states? Or sound devices that rattle and hum and warn others when we’re agitated? In the future could we literally buzz with excitement or go green with envy? Would people be interested in having their moods made manifest in these ways? Would this technology affect peoples’ senses of privacy, of the very notions of internal moods and external states? And what does it mean that this technology is being developed in Japan, a society in which people are generally expected to be circumspect about showing emotional states?

This technology also has a certain mythological quality; it is suggestive of mythical part human, part animal creatures, of centaurs, sphinxes or satyrs. But instead of these being “impossible” combinations that mark the boundaries of the human and non-human, society and nature, these sorts of hybridities could become an integral part of being human.

I wonder. Maybe I’m getting way too fanciful. At the moment I’d just really like to try out those ears!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. kevin permalink
    14 May, 2011 1:14 am

    Necomimi (or “Nekomimi” as it’s more commonly spelled) literally means “cat ears” in Japanese, and is a very popular trope in anime and manga. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catgirl

  2. 14 May, 2011 2:55 am

    Thanks very much Kevin for clarifying that and for pointing out the prevalence of the catgirl trope! That provides some much-needed cultural contextualisation that was completely missing from my post.

  3. 14 May, 2011 4:26 pm

    This only further shows that culture is the dominant aspect in this “evolution”. Imagine the movie Gattaca, and then think that that’s been the norm for hundreds of years, if not thousands.

  4. 14 May, 2011 6:40 pm

    I agree that cultural context is important for getting a fuller insight into these developments. Kevin’s comment was helpful because it showed very clearly why this is the case. Clearly there are very specific reasons why cat ears of all things have emerged in a Japanese context, and also why they seems to be largely feminised, which is something I didn’t mention in the original post. However, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “culture is the dominant aspect”. Could you clarify what you mean? You seem to be trying to quantify “culture” as an abstract thing that can be weighed up against other factors as more or less important. While I agree that culture always matters, I’m not sure if it can be objectified in this way. But maybe I misunderstand what you’re getting at.

    Also, I’m sure sure what you’re getting at with the reference to Gattaca. Maybe you could say a little more about precisely what aspect of the movie you see as relevant.

  5. nathan spanbauer permalink
    31 January, 2012 1:14 pm

    kinda neat. Japan usually kinda good at these things.

    sooner or later down the road, people will be able to change somewhat into there fav anthro. with technology growing. (especially Japan’s) we will be able to it. or least they anyway.

    20 or 30 years or so. just a guesstimate.

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