Kevin Warwick: I want to be a cyborg and I know I am not the only
Kevin Warwick is the world’s first cyborg. The English scientist says that it’s time for us to overcome our human “limitations”. In the future and thanks to chip in our brains we will be able to use more than our 5 senses as the implants will stretch our ways of communicating with people and objects. Without any doubt, Warwick is a brave, charismatic borderline-scientist, but he has also risen a lot of criticism. In an interview he reveals why he thinks that humans will become a subspecies in a cyborg world.
by Doris Obermair (for infonomia)
Kevin, do you wear an implant now?
I don’t have an implant now, I’m just an ordinary guy! The first implant I has was a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) that identified me to the computer in my building, so it opened doors for me and switched on lights. Now there are several thousand people that have this. It has been approved in the US for medical purposes and people suffering from epilepsy or diabetes save their medical information on there
But your second chip implant was more serious already.
The main part of the implant was positioned in the median nerves, so in the main bunch of nerves that run from our brain down to our hand. Surgeons opened up my arm, and fired one hundred electrodes into the nerve fibres, a in the form of a chip, four by four millimetres in total. I then had wires running up my arm coming out at this point here. There was a little connector pad so for the three month of the experiment, I was able to plug my nervous system into the computer and hence on to the Internet and either by moving my hand send neural signals from my brain nervous system into the computer to control things, like switch on lights or I drove a wheel chair around. Or we could send signals down on to my nervous system to stimulate my brain and we investigate things like extra-sensory input.
So you also received signals?
During our experiment we could also send pulses of current on to my nervous system that my brain could recognise. That was an exiting part of the project because we took ultra-sonic signals – I was wearing ultra-sonic sensors on a baseball cap – fed those signals down on to my nervous system to stimulate it. My brain was receiving pulses of current dependent on how far objects were away, so I have experienced an ultra-sonic, a sonar extra-sense, which gave me a pretty accurate indication of how far objects were away.
What was the feeling like?
With a blindfold on, I did not know what it was but I know something was moving either nearer to me or further away and how quickly it was coming at me. I experienced an extra ultra-sonic sense, which is like a bat senses the world.
You say “limitation” but maybe the brain is just capable of coping with the inputs of those 5 senses.
I think as humans we have evolved as we have evolved which is fine for being humans. But we are living in a technological world now and we can see what technology has to offer. There are some advantages how humans do things and how humans think but there are also some disadvantages. Artificial intelligence can think much faster than we can, it has phenomenal mathematical capabilities and can understand the world in many dimensions. But as humans we are limited to three dimensions, we think pretty slowly in comparison with how a computer can operate. Having this advantage of technology why not enhance, why not upgrade what we are and how we do things by liking myself to that technology, why can’t I have extra memory? It might be dangerous but it is also tremendously exciting and it opens up new opportunities.
So we shouldn’t we stick to the human brain as a reference point to improve technology, like other scientists do. Should technology become the reference point for evolution?
I think it is a mixture of both. Some of the work I am doing is involved with Parkinson disease and epilepsy where perhaps the human brain is not functioning as it should. But I think that there are also possibilities to look at technology saying “Let’s not just think of therapy. The human brain is not the ultimate! This is a starting point and we can take it further by linking up with technology! If we look generally at the possibilities of communication, we are on the cusp of a very, very exiting opportunity. Today our communication is a pathetic waste of speech and writing down…
But what about the necessary filter we need to…
… Oh no! It’s limiting in an enormous way. Machines communicate in parallel, for God’s sake! Let us do that! Machines can send images from one machine to another and reproduce them. I want to send images from my brain to your brain. I don’t want to be restricted by this trivial coded message, which has hardly any representation of what I was originally thinking about.
But even we could do so, would we really enrich communication, wouldn’t there always be enough room for interpretation and misunderstandings? Think of cultural backgrounds.
We may have a language of thoughts, which we all need to learn. So perhaps it’s a new problem, we will all face when learning this new language.
You tried that out in an experiment with your wife.
That was for me the most exiting scientific thing I have been involved with. She had electrodes pushed into her nervous system and with my implant electrodes in my nervous system, we electrically linked our nervous systems together. So when she moved her hand three times my brain received three pulses. We communicated telegraphically nervous system to nervous system for the first time in the world and it was tremendously exciting. Communication brain to brain is the next step!
Like P2P but Brain2Brain…?
Yes, it is e-mail to the brain. Why have messages coming up to a screen, get them straight into the brain so you can deal with them.
Therapy is definitely a good reason to continue exploring the man-machine merge but there are a lot of concerns and critics, especially when it comes to your intents to create the super-human. Where are the dangers in what you do?
Even for therapy, there are questions whether we should be using this technology to help somebody in that way. We use chemicals, so why not use electrical technologies in a different form.
When it comes to enhancing though, it does raise all sorts of other questions and there may well be people who criticise and say, “Hold on, we should not be doing that!” As a society we need to think about it now because clearly, the technology is here. So, should we say “No, we don’t want that, we want to stay as we are, we don’t want to go on any more?” That is not something humans have done in the past! Humans have gone along with progress.
I would expect critics because particularly, when we look at human enhancement, it is going to change live completely. Humans could become a subspecies and cyborgs or the enhanced humans will clearly be intellectually superior in many ways. Just the concept of thinking in five or six or ten dimensions will give you a completely different concept of what is going on in the world around you and humans will not be able to understand that. I don’t mind because I don’t want to stay as a human. I want to be a cyborg and I know I am not the only one! But then some people who are human now and want to stay human may not like the fact that there are going to be these cyborgs. We need to discuss that!
But what is the ultimate goal of this development, to be more “intelligent”?
It depends how you define “intelligent” but for me as far as human intelligence is concerned, communication comes into the definition. So just by looking at that it will improve or enhance our intellectual capabilities. It would be difficult if I was a cyborg and you were a cyborg and we are communicating by though and some human comes along making these silly noises that humans make called “speech”. It’s a bit like to two humans communicating now and a cow comes in and makes ”muuuuu”. And so it will be in the future I think, it will be stupid noises that these humans are making.
So what are the commercial possibilities of cyborg technology? Which are the industries that approach you?
A lot of our funding has been obtained from networking and computer companies, like Nortel Network, British Telecom or Fujitsu. And I think in all of these future technologies the network becomes important. Getting information from one point to another in as flexible way, in as accurate way, in as faster way. When we look to communicating brain to brain we are going to need networks with higher band-width, high speed, principally high security and reliability.
Apart from the health or networking sector, who else will profit form cyborg-technology?
The education system will completely change. Perhaps we don’t need universities and schools to be as they are now, if we can simply download information into the brain. I think of Matrix-style holidays. Do you actually need to go to a place when the image of it and the memory of it can be downloaded into your brain? So I think the world is going to change, you can be given a different reality. The medical world will change. The pharma world had a wonderful time in terms of chemical input. But the brain is an electro-chemical nervous system. If you have a headache you can deal with it by taking chemicals but before long, you will be able to deal with it as well be injecting electrical signals. If you have shares in a pharmaceutical company now, think again because you will be loosing money before too long and unless that company actually swings to take on board new treatments, more of an electronic, electrical nature.
Have you had people knocking on your door that want to be transformed into a cyborg?
Each week I get maybe ten to twenty people volunteering. Mainly they are younger, mainly students but to be honest, there are people of all ages, even politicians who would like to experience different senses and a different interaction with people, new forms of communication. So we have no problems getting volunteers.