Solder wearing NVGs

Above: Night Fighter, 2014. Credit: Corporal Richard Denton, RAF Lossiemouth/MOD.

Daily Mail soldier

Above: The Soldier of the Future as imagined by the Daily Mail newspaper in 2013. Credit: John Lawson.

Argus bionic eye

Above: Second Sight's Argus II retinal implant. Credit: Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., California.

Sascha Schneider

Above: Hypnosis conceptualized and imagined as a weapon of force (with attack emanating from the eyes) by German artist Sascha Schneider (1870-1927). Credit: Sascha Schneider, Hypnose, 1904.


The introduction of medico-tech-prosthetics began with innovations such as the in vivo heart pacemaker (an electronic device regulating the human heart-beat). Such technologies increasingly allow the human form to be altered with permanent insertions, implants, replacements, upgrades, enhancements, improvements, and augmentations. We are entering the epoch of the cyborg--the man-machine, the bionic human (SP: 129) or the "prosthetic man" (VW: 54). Virilio's concern as regards such technologies is not with the technologies per se but rather the insidious manner of their introduction: creeping, incremental and so crucially defeating any chance of a comprehensive public debate around the implications of the tech of the post-human. Virilio's principal anxiety here is that there is no time or space being set aside for any quality debate on the wider psychological-philosophical implications of the implementation of such technologies: scientists are forging ahead--they are so far ahead of public discussion and debate (if such a thing is really possible in the epoch of real time) that they have effectively gained carte blanche. For example, techno-science is rendering absurd any designation of the human body as inviolable and unalterable (as per, say, Christian theology). Medico-tech companies launch new products with an appalling disregard for public opinion--they operate with impunity (exemption from consequences) due to a basic justification which seemingly defeats all counter-arguments: saving human lives. Health benefits has become a master argument that aces all dissent--the fetish of human longevity hands scientific research a de facto permit or license which seemingly cannot be effectively countered. For Virilio, humanity, humanness, should not be laid open to myriad tweaks and augmentation with such blase nonchalance.

The preferred Virilian position is to begin any discussion around a new technology with a "worst-case scenario" and build the debate out from there. The classic mistake that we see so often and which is in fact utterly dominant, is to begin conversely with an iconic and appealing (and long hoped for) benefit arising from a new technology--and it is this wistfulness which immediately introduces a basic distortion. So, for Virilio, the debate must always begin with the question: what is the worst that can happen? And discussions should flow from there. One question which puzzles Virilio, relates to the incremental implementation of such technologies: once the post-human trend has begun (and it has) then where will it end? In other words, what are the parameters of human as opposed cyborg? Could such a post-human human-machine become a separate class or species with its own rights? One future possibility is the emergence of an elite of post-human cyborgs which could in theory use their tech advantage to subjugate and control ordinary humans--it might sound far-fetched for now but these things need to be considered in terms of providing appropriate laws for any future worst-case scenarios. Scientists in this field have been--and remain--involved in a disastrous dereliction of duty in their complete failure to theorize and philosophize the ethics of their innovations and technical breakthroughs. It has never historically been the role of the scientist to make technological advances without an equivalent amount of theorizing and reflection and the systematic failure to take on this very significant responsibility is leading to the brink of catastrophe (ADF: 76-77).

Specifically as regards human eyesight we are moving towards the "mechanization of vision (OS: 94)." Micro-technologies now allow for seamless man-to-machine applications--hard-wired photo-video sensors connected directly into the optic nerve (retinal prostheses); human sight is replaced by machine-human augmented vision. Eyeball functionality can be replaced by a continuous video feed. In terms of artificial sight, one worst-case scenario example emerges from a consideration of a basic Virilian paradigm: military advantage. Of course, the prospect of an army of soldiers with hard-wired enhanced vision beyond the ordinary human range of sight--infrared (night-vision); x-ray, etc.--is appealing from a military point of view in its being a clear fighting advantage. The probability of infantry soldiers volunteering for elective surgery to permanently alter/enhance eyesight or athleticism is very high, but will surely remain clandestine--otherwise any fighting advantage would be lost. (In other words, the emergence of the secret weapon of corps of bionic soldiers). Musing on hard-wired cyborg eye technology Virilio also wonders if it will eventually come to replace the movie-cinema experience: the viewer might well have a film beamed seamlessly and directly onto the retina (of the eyes) and will thus experience a movie as a complete-and-seamless replacement of ordinary bi-ocular sight.