Those of you who don’t know me very well or even some of you who do may be wondering why this website is called “cyborg5.com”. That’s a two-part question: Why is it called “cyborg”? And why the number 5?
Let’s talk about cyborg first… The word cyborg is short for “cybernetic organism”. A cybernetic system is one which contains some sort of feedback loop. What do I mean by a feedback loop? Suppose you are a nuclear engineer at a power plant named “Three Mile Island” and the alarm goes off indicating that some sort of pressure or temperature reading is beyond where it’s supposed to be. You walk over to the part of the control room to turn the dial to fix the problem but you can’t tell whether turning the dial to the right or the left or how much you turn it is actually having any effect on the situation. The little meter that shows you what is your trying to adjust is clear across the room on a different panel. This was not a cybernetic system because the device you were trying to operate was not giving you feedback on what you were doing. Incidentally that’s a true story of one of the mistakes that caused the near meltdown at that famous nuclear power plant. A cybernetic system gives you feedback on what it is you’re trying to do. Suppose you have a robotic arm and you are trying to pick up a Styrofoam coffee cup. You would use a different amount of grip to hold that cup then if you were trying to pick up a 10 pound barbell. A cybernetic robot arm would have some sort of tactile feedback system that would let you know how tightly you are gripping what it was you were holding in the robot arm.
So a cybernetic organism typically refers to some sort of robotic organism in which the living part of the system gets tactile feedback from the mechanical part. The contracted version of “cybernetic organism” a.k.a. cyborg has come to mean any combination of living flesh and mechanical parts. I’m not sure who officially coined the word “cyborg” but one of the earliest references to the word was a novel titled “Cyborg” by sci-fi author Martin Caiden. It was the story of an Air Force test pilot who was severely injured in the crash and had various parts of his body replaced with robot parts. What was the name of the main character? You guessed it! Col. Steve Austin! However in 1974 when executive producer Kenneth Johnson adapted the novel into his television series “The Six Million Dollar Man” he thought the word “cyborg” sounded ominous or evil and instead referred to his human/machine hybrid character as “bionic”. Apparently a contraction of “bios” meaning of life and “onic” as a contraction of “electronic”.
Fast forward to 1981. A guy named Chris Young who had just two years prior earned a BS degree in computer sciences from IUPUI had to quit work because his disability had grown worse. He wanted to start a work-at-home computer consulting business and he came up with the name “Cyborg Software Systems Inc.” as the title for his one-man venture. I decided to call it “cyborg” for a number of reasons. First of all my initials are “CY”. In my somewhat twisted logic I decided that the word “cyborg” actually was short for “Chris Young, bionic organism”. All humor aside, in many respects I am a kind of cyborg. I started driving a motorized wheelchair when I was 10 years old. When I drive the wheelchair I push a joystick on the control box. But just like a pilot flying a small plane using stick and rudder controls, I feel in the seat of my pants how the chair is moving. As the chair rolls over uneven ground I can feel each and every little bump. I can feel the chair strain as it tries to roll over an obstacle and I know that I need to push the stick further. If I brush into a wall or piece of furniture I can feel it almost as though the chair is part of me. I feel like a cyborg. I also hoped that the software that I wrote was intuitively easy to use. In the novel and TV show Col. Steve Austin didn’t have to think about how to move his bionic arms or legs. He just did it and it happened. My hope was that my software would be as intuitive as the bionic limb. At least that was the theory 🙂
According to the state of Indiana, “Cyborg Software Systems Inc.” still exists even though it hasn’t filed any corporate reports or income taxes in over 20 years. The bank accounts have been closed for a long time and I haven’t done business under that name in a very very long time. I never did really make any money at the business. It turned out to be sort of a hobby than paid for itself. By the time I bought a new computer every three or four years that would eat up the profits. I actually end up putting more of my Social Security disability money into the company than I did take any income out of it. By the way this website was not a website for that company. The company died before the Internet came along. The only remnants of it are a sign that hangs in my office.
Now we get to part two of the question… Why number 5? That’s a much longer story for another article. For now let’s just say it’s my favorite number and will tell that story some other time.