April 11, 05
Vol. 20 , No. 11
View Entire Issue (Vol. 20 , No. 11)
Practical Experiments Using Implant Technology
TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2005
Cyborgs– organisms that are part human and part machine– have long provided fodder for science fiction literature. Who can forget our current governor in the role of the Terminator telling audiences, "I'll be back"? But cyborgs are no longer mere creatures of fantasy and imagination. In 1998, Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, underwent an operation that implanted a silicon-chip transponder into his arm, turning him into the world's first cyborg. Through the use of this transponder, a computer monitored Warwick as he moved through his office building, allowing him to operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger. More recently, in 2002, an electrode array was surgically implanted into the median nerve fibers of Warwick's left arm, linking his nervous system directly to a computer. As a result of this operation, not only was Warwick able to receive artificial stimulations from the implant, but he was able to control an electric wheelchair and an intelligent artificial hand simply through the use of the neural interface.
Implant technology has much to offer in terms of assisting those affected by a spinal injury, MND, MS or other related issues. By directly sending neural signals to a computer this opens the possibility of either bringing about much improved body coordination or alternatively allowing an individual to control their (networked) environment. However the available technology needs to be tested in real world (human) applications to assess problems of compatibility and effectiveness.
Warwick was born in Coventry, UK and left school at the age of 16 to join British Telecom. At 22, he received his first degree at Aston University, followed by a Ph.D. and a research post at Imperial College, London. He subsequently held positions at Oxford, Newcastle and Warwick universities before taking his current post at Reading, at the age of 33.
At the University of Reading, Warwick conducts research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics, and cyborgs. He has produced over 400 publications on his research, including more than 90 refereed journal articles and 25 books. His work has been discussed by the United States Presidential Council on Bioethics, the European Commission FTP, and has led to him being widely referenced and featured in academic circles as well as in magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and Wired. He has also been called "Britain's leading prophet of the Robot Age" by Gillian Anderson of television's The X-Files.
His talk, sponsored by the Gould Center, is the final talk in the series Philosophy Through Science Fiction.