Volume 2, Issue 4 
4th Quarter, 2007

Upgrading Humans - Technical Realities and New Morals

Kevin Warwick, Ph.D.

Page 2 of 5

We are developing an intelligent stimulator that only stimulates when our computer brain predicts that it needs to stimulate.  The overall device is really a computer brain sitting within the human brain predicting what the human brain is going to do, and then stopping it from doing it before it actually does it.

Of course, from an ethical point of view there are all sorts of spillovers here, because the same sort of stimulator can be used to stimulate feelings of happiness, feelings of sadness and, therefore, there is potential for its use with depression or just generally as an electronic drug.

If you're feeling down, this stimulator can predict that you're going to feel down before you feel down, and make you feel happy before you have even thought about it.

Image 3: Articulated Robot Arm

Campbell Aird lost his right arm due to cancer.  He has received this articulated robot arm which he can control by muscular movements.  It is actually connected up to muscles that he can move, and the signals are translated in order to get the robot arm to move and the hand to operate.

We are working on an interface directly from the nervous system to the robot hand, which is bidirectional such that it can pick up sensory signals and send them back the other way.

From a therapeutic point of view, it's great.  We can help people here that have had their hands and arms amputated, so that they can control the hand and arm as though the brain thinks it's theirs.

It is not translating muscular signals as others have done, for example, the University of Chicago, into signals to drive the arm. It is also picking up signals to give an indication directly to the person's brain of how much force the hand is applying, and so on and so forth.

From an ethical point of view, it is great to help people from a therapeutic point of view.  However, once we get signals, we are putting brain signals onto the wires, neural signals that appear on the wires in the arm.  From a technological point of view, once you get signals on wires, you can send them wherever you like.

We are looking here at the possibility, not just of somebody controlling an arm, but somebody, directly from their neural signals, controlling technology that is connected to the internet, wherever, on another continent, possibly even on another planet.

If we are looking at space travel in the future, it may not be necessary for the human to actually travel, but their extremities, if you like, their body parts can travel.  And they can get a feeling and a sense -- maybe even smell and get different sensory input from the distant planet without actually moving from the comfort of their beautiful surroundings.

image 4
Image 4: Implant Operation

Now, we will now move on to my own last implant experiment.  Image 4 shows me having a wonderful time on the operating theater bed at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

The implant took two hours to put in place.  This is actually the implant that John Donoghue later called the BrainGate System [1].  In fact we did this a couple of years before John Donoghue did, and created a bidirectional link.  This for us was vitally important.

Now we are working at taking the advantages of machine intelligence, when you compare it to human intelligence, and trying to upgrade human intelligence by linking it to the machine directly, in a bidirectional way.

There are other advantages; well, memories ultimately.  Can we enhance our memory by linking our brains directly to computer brains, and can we enhance our sensory input?

Humans have a very limited range of senses.  We have five that we know about, can we enhance that, by including infrared, ultrasonic, or ultraviolet, et cetera, et cetera?

Can we increase the dimensionality with which we understand things?  The human brain understands things in three dimensions.  Can we look at understanding things as a computer can, in many, many more dimensions?

If we also look, perhaps most importantly, at communication.  The way we are communicating here in terms of translating signals from our brains, electrochemical signals, into what are these trivial coded messages that we call speech.  Then try to translate them back again with our ears to understand what someone else is thinking, it is a very poor way of communicating. The possibilities of communicating directly, ultimately brain-to-brain, well, that's very much what I want to look at.



1. The BrainGate Neural Interface System - is currently the subject of a pilot clinical trial being conducted under an Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) from the FDA. The system is designed to restore functionality for a limited, immobile group of severely motor-impaired individuals. It is expected that people using the BrainGate System will employ a personal computer as the gateway to a range of self-directed activities.
October 12, 2007 5:19PM EST

John Donoghue, Ph.D., MS – Is a Henry Merritt Wriston Professor with the Department of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain Science Program at Brown University in Providence, RI.
ttp://research.brown.edu/myresearch/John_Donoghue%20  October 12, 2007 5:25PM EST



1 2 3 4 5 Next Page>