SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS
Reading, ENGLAND — This summer, a professor plans to take a step closer to becoming a cyborg – part human, part computer – by implanting a silicon chip that communicates with his brain.
Kevin Warwick heads the Cybernetics Department at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and views himself as a futurist. As robots become free thinkers, the only way humans can compete is to use computers to enhance the human brain, Warwick said.
Surgeons will connect the chip to his nervous system through nerve fibers in his left arm, and the chip will exchange signals between his brain and a computer. “We simply don’t know what my brain will do,” Warwick said.
What he hopes is that it will respond the same way robots that are programmed to use sonar instead of sight react when detecting objects. The experiment will determine whether the computer can send those same sonar abilities to a human brain.
The main part of the silicon chip consists of a battery, radio transmitter, receiver and processing unit. Pins connected to the chip will pierce the membrane surrounding Warwick’s nerve fibers.
Once the chip is activated, scientists will experiment with signals associated with motion and pain. When Warwick moves a body part, the signal will be sent to the computer. It is hoped that the computer will record and successfully replicate the movement by sending a signal back to Warwick.
Some scientists feel that because Warwick is experimenting on himself, the results will be difficult to analyze. But others view it as a benefit to science.
These small robots use sonar to find their way around, and Warwick hopes to send similar signals to his brain via the chip †
“What he’s done has not been attempted before,” said Dr. Philip Kennedy, founder of Neural Systems Inc. “I’m sure if it’s successful and safe on himself, he will expand out to other subjects. I’m sure he’ll do that.”
Warwick made headlines in August 1998 when surgeons implanted a 23-by-3 mm silicon chip transponder into his arm for nine days. The chip sent and received signals, but was not connected to his nervous system.
During the original Project Cyborg, the chip sent signals to receivers throughout a building and then to a computer. The computer could then track his movement and respond by saying “hello” and opening doors.
So will Warwick’s brain freak out during Project Cyborg 2.0? Will the computer take over?
Not likely, said Kennedy, who has experience with chip implants to help the disabled communicate.
“His brain should be able to adapt to the incoming stimuli, recognize them and respond appropriately,” Kennedy said.
“(Computers) have huge memory banks,” he continued. “We have intuition and insight the computers don’t have. And we have the ability to respond or not to respond.
If the experiment is successful, Warwick’s wife Irena will also receive a silicon chip implant to explore how movement, thought and emotion can be transmitted from one person to another. Questions abound as to how this will affect the couple.
“In linking two people together thus, will it be possible for Irena to literally get into her husband’s mind?” queries Warwick’s Web site.
“With Kevin in New York and Irena in the U.K., if he sprained an ankle, could he send the signal to Irena to make her feel as though she had injured herself? Could she feel the same pain as Kevin?” Perhaps only a cyborg has the answers.