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Book Recommendation: "Rebuilt"

Posted by: Michael Mandel on June 21

I just finished reading a fascinating new book titled Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human by Michael Chorost. After going fully deaf in 2001, he had a cochlear implant installed in his ear—basically a computer that would translate sound into electric impulses which his brain could interpret.

The book is a wonderful description of what it’s like to become what Chorost calls a cyborg:

If deafness is a kind of death, hearing again is a kind of rebirth. But I would be reborn into a different body. Becky carefully explains to me that the implant can't restore the living organ in all its subtlety and complexity. The world mediated by the computer in my skull would sound synthetic, the product of approximations, interpolations, and compromises. My body would have bewildering nwe properties and new rules, and it would take me weeks, months, even years to understand them fully.
And those properties would keep changing. This new ear would have thousands of lines of code telling it what to do with incoming sound and how to trigger my nerve endings. That code could be changed in two ways. Its settings could be tweaked in a process called mapping, which would be a bit like changing Word's font sizes and colors for better readability. Or scientists could change the underlying algorithms themselves as they learned more about how normal ears encode sound for the brain. That would require wiping out the processor's software and replacing it with an entirely new version. It would be the equivalent of changing a computer's operating system from DOS to Windows, or Windows to Linux. My perception of the world would always be provisional: the latest but never the final version.
Who has not wondered what it would be like to live in someone else's body? If I got the implant, I would find out. An artificial sense organ makes your body literally someone else's, perceiving the world by a programmer's logic and rules instead of the ones biology and evolution gave you. "You will be assimilated," the gaunt, riven "Borg" villains of Star Trek told their victims. While the implant would not of course control my mind, in a very real sense I would be assimilated. A cochlear implant has a corporate mind, created by squadrons of scientists, audiologists, programmers, and clincial-trial patients. I would be in-corporated, bound for life to a particular company's changing beliefs in the nature of reality. Resistance would be futile. Unless, of course, I wanted to be deaf.

He tells of the trials of meeting women as a cyborg, and what it's like being upgradeable. It's a good book--well worth reading.

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Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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