In the 1984 film The Terminator, an artificial intelligence machine is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to exterminate a woman named Sarah Connor. The Terminator had not only a metal skeleton, but also an external layer of living tissue as well, and was thus deemed a cyborg, a being with both biological and artificial parts. In 1984, no such cyborgs existed in the real world. However, fourteen years later, that would change.
Kevin Warwick is a Professor of Cyberkinetics at the University of Reading in England, and in 1998, he became the world’s first cyborg. Using only local anesthetic, a small silicon chip transponder was implanted into his forearm. The chip had a unique frequency that was able to track him throughout his workplace, and with a clench of his fist, he was able to turn lights on and off, as well as operate doors, heaters, and computers.
To take the experiment to the next level, in 2002 Warwick received another implant. A one hundred electrode array was implanted into the median nerve fibers of Warwick’s left forearm. With this implant, he was able to control electric wheelchairs and a mechanical arm. The neural signals being used to control the arm were detailed enough that the mechanical arm was able to mimic Warwick’s arm perfectly. While traveling to Columbia University in New York, Warwick was even able to control the mechanical arm from overseas and get sensory feedback transmitted from the arm’s fingertips (the electrode array could also be used for stimulation).
Although Warwick’s work could profoundly affect the world of medicine through its potential to aid those who have nervous system damage, his work has been considered quite controversial. After his first implant, Warwick announced that his enhancement made him a cyborg. However, questions are being asked, “when does a cyborg become a robot?” If these types of implants become more common in the future, how would the population feel about these “enhanced” individuals? In the future, it is possible that these implants could be used for anything from carrying a travel Visa to storing our medical records, blood type, and allergies in case of medical emergencies. Warwick is proud of his work because he is pioneering how humans can be integrated with computerized systems, but he has his own concerns as well. In one interview, he claims that it is a realistic possibility that one day, humans will create such intelligent artificial beings that it is possible we won’t be able to turn them off. Will cyberkinetic research ever take us that far? We will just have to wait and see.
For more information of the work of Kevin Warwick, visit his website.