Volume 2, Issue 4 
4th Quarter, 2007

Upgrading Humans - Technical Realities and New Morals

Kevin Warwick, Ph.D.

Page 5 of 5

Follow-up Issues from the Workshop

On interference from other wireless electronic devices

Interference is perhaps a funny way of looking at it.  When we were monitoring my own nervous system, we were able to pick up signals that everybody's nervous system gets, such as particularly text messages on mobile phones. Once, when I was trying to move my hand, we were looking at the motor neural signals directly in real-time and suddenly they started shooting around all over the place.  For a moment I was worried, I thought there was some major problem with my nervous system.

It turned out that one of the researchers had a text message coming through directly close by.  It was just giving an indication of what my nervous system was doing.  The signals were appearing on my nervous system, but essentially my brain was not doing anything with the signals.

After all the nervous system is – it is not a wonderful aerial, but it is quite a good antenna itself, a resistor/capacitor network. We were able to pick up a local radio station that has a big mast about ten miles away. We had a sound card attached to my nervous system and were listening.  It was not good reception in the sense, it was very poor, but it was in fact Barry Manilow.   

On bandwidth limitations

We have been trying to make everything as simple as possible.  The communication has just been telegraphic, a bit like a Morse Code communication, because we wanted to see if this implant be used for very simple control devices, such as the work of John Donoghue.

The signals are very simple:  yes, no, left, right, and using a cursor and selecting from things on the menu, so that a very simple implant could be more widely used for people who are paralyzed.  Potentially, in this simple form, a person could use it to drive a wheelchair; a person could drive a car around with a very simple implant of this version.

When we looked to richer forms of communication it would need much greater bandwidth. When we communicate, we are not using all of our neurons, we are using some select neurons.  If we were looking at transmitting signals, maybe it would need a lot more electrodes, but not a lot, lot more. Maybe a thousand would be sufficient for quite a rich form of communication.

On misuse

Rather than a chemical form of drug, an electrical, electronic form of drug could ultimately be quite dangerous.  But it could also be very, very positive from a medical point of view, overcoming pain with electronic signals, you could be very specific and overcome particular pain signals without the need to affect the whole of the body, as with chemicals.
There are also some potential misuses where one group would like to control another group and this technology, whether we like it or not, is opening up that possibility.  
It is coming up with very much of a Matrix sort of scenario.  There are good points and bad points for that, therapy and maybe enhancing electronic signals, but also potential negatives of individual control. I am really a technological person when I look at what is possible and what is not. Society, though, must contend with these enormous questions.

About the Author

Prof Kevin WarwickKevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, where he carries out research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics and biomedical engineering. He is also Director of the University KTP Centre, which links the University with Small to Medium Enterprises. At 22 he took his first degree at Aston University, followed by a PhD and a research post at Imperial College, London. He subsequently held positions at Oxford, Newcastle and Warwick universities before being offered the Chair at Reading, at the age of 33.  



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