The borg are a fictional race of cybernetic beings from the Star Trek television and film franchise. Each borg is made up of both organic and cybernetic components that act together to create, what the borg believe, to be a superior life form. The borg assimilate new species and cultures into their, turning individuals into drones, losing their individual consciousness and becoming part of a collective, hive mind. The borg are relentless in their pursuit of perfection and, in the fictional universe of Star trek, are nearly impossible to defeat. Any victories over the Borg have typically come at great cost. But why do we fear the borg? I will attempt to explain 3 reasons for why i think the borg present such a terrifying example of technophobia.
1) Fear of losing our autonomy:
Autonomy is an individual’s capacity for self-determination or self-governance and as humans we are hard-wired to desire the freedom of autonomy.1 Restrictions on our autonomy may lie at the heart of a great deal of our unhappiness2, and we feel that restriction in many different ways from a boss at work who micromanages every aspect of our day to family and friends who use guilt and manipulation to control our behaviour. This even manifests itself physically in the form of claustrophobia where we experience great discomfort at having our movements so intensely restricted. We like deciding for ourselves the direction our lives will take and the Borg are the antithesis of that. Not only do the borg seek to assimilate all inferior species into their collective, but they do so relentlessly and with a mechanical indifference that creates a sub-conscious fear of technology. Being assimilated into the Borg collective is like being forced into slavery, where all your decisions are made for you: from what you eat to where you sleep to what you spend all day doing, a borg drone has no control over their own destiny. This loss of autonomy to technological superiority is a terrifying thought, which makes for an excellent science fiction villain, but an absolutely dreadful thought for our own real-world existence.
2) Fear of losing our mind and body:
Following on the fear of loss of autonomy is the fear of losing our sense of self through the loss of either our mind, our body or both. From the moment we are born our brains develop a sense of self and a sense of body. In psychology a common cause of anxiety is from the fear of losing our self identity. Typically, this presents itself in those who have a fear of relationship commitment. These individuals are concerned that by surrendering a part of their identity to the relationship will reduce or even destroy our sense of self, who we are as individuals. In English we are taught to use the pronoun I to refer to ourselves and we have a completely different concept for the group, that we call we or us. I and us are 2 very distinct states of mind, but for the borg, there is only the group, the us. Borg cease to have original thoughts, they stop existing as individuals and instead belong to a collective mind where all traces of individuality are erased. A further assault on our sense of self is the loss of control over our body and the fear of body violation and mutilation. From birth our brains also grow accustomed to the configuration of our bodies. This means that, once we are fully developed, our mind has an expectation of the shape and function of our bodies. When we start to alter that expectation by modifying our bodies we can sometimes experience anxiety and confusion. In the case of phantom pain the brain of an individual who has lost a limb, for example and arm or a foot, the patient reports the feeling of pain in that limb, despite the fact that the limb is no longer connected to the body. Although we don’t know exactly what causes this, we know that it is the result of signals from the brain, down the spinal cord to and from the limb that no longer exists. The brain EXPECTS the limb to be there, and yet it is not, and the brain can become confused by this. Even in the case of people with spinal cord injury, where lower limb paralysis is irreversible, some war amputee patients have gone to extreme lengths to keep their legs, facing infection and disease, in order to maintain the sense of whole. The borg infect their assimilated victims and remove their individuality. The borg further mutilate their victims by implanting invasive technology to enhance the functioning of their drones. This is done without regard for the preservation of any aspect of what makes us human. There is a trend in current technology of devices becoming smaller and smaller, to the point where more and more technology can be implanted, permanently in our bodies. The borg are the personification of trans-humanism, a “what if” scenario of what might happen to us should we let our desire for self-enhancement go to far. Although the borg are entirely fictional, the concept of technological enhancement exists today and the possibility of a future with borg-like enhancements is not impossible.
3) Fear of losing control:
In these modern times it is easy to find examples of unbelievable artificial intelligence and robotics that, until recently, would have merely been science fiction. With our current state of technological advancement we are able to design and build almost anything that is physically possible. Computers, 3D printing and robotics have created the set of tools necessary to move humanity into a technologically dominated future. In the popular film franchise Termintor a global Apocalypse is caused by a run-away artificial intelligence. In a similar way, the Borg represents a loss of control over our technology. The borg are relentless, tireless, motivated and unwavering in their systematic goals of assimilation. The Borg have a famous moto: resistance is futile. Indeed, the borg have a cold machine-like indifference towards your individual objections. They don’t care about your desperate pleas for exemption. There is no way to reason with them, they are a machine completely beyond our control. We fear this future as it directly affects our survival. Humanity exists on this planet without any natural threats to our survival. However, we know now that we are capable of creating machines and weapons that are so destructive we could cause our own extinction. What would happen if we let computers and machines have access to these weapons? Will they turn on us? The borg are one possible future where artificial intelligence and cybernetic Technology have run out of control, to the point where it is nearly impossible to stop them.
Is any of this a reason to be afraid of technology? I personally believe that, for the time being, we shouldn’t be afraid of our technological creations. The human capacity for self preservation and survival is a powerful tool against run away technology. In my lifetime I’ve gone from never calling relative who lived outside local call range to being able to speak to anyone on the planet, anywhere at any time. My life has been enriched by such innovations and I eagerly anticipate more to come. The borg exist in a science fiction future universe, but a future where there is also no poverty, no war, and humans travel the stars. I’ll take a future like that, even if there is a small possibility that our creations will run out of our control.