Human fascination for Robots has been evident since a long time. Even before a part human, part robot Arnold Schwarzenegger repeatedly hammed “I’ll be back” in the movie Terminator, scientists all over the world have been trying to develop robots which could work like humans. Kevin Warwick was the one who wanted to merge the two so that humans could control the robot rather than them controlling us.
Kevin Warwick was born on 9thFebruary 1954 in Coventry, UK. He is a British Engineer and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the Coventry University in the United Kingdom. He is the youngest person ever to become a Fellow of the City & Guilds of London Institute (FCGI). He is the author or co-author of more than 600 research papers and has written or edited 27 books.
He is famous for his research on robotics and has the nickname Captain Cyborg for the same reason.
The future is all about robots. Hollywood movies are not far off when they say that one day we will be taken over by robots. In the years ahead we will witness machines with an intelligence more powerful than that of humans. This will mean that robots, not humans, make all the important decisions. Is there an alternative way ahead?
According to Warwick, there are ways we can enhance the human capabilities. Kevin Warwick has taken the first steps on this path, using himself as a guinea pig test subject receiving, by surgical operation, technological implants connected to his central nervous system.
So, what happens when a man is merged with a computer? This question led to the most famous research undertaken by Warwick in a set of experiments known as Project Cyborg which is why he got the nickname. A Cyborg is a Cybernetic Organism, part human part machine. It was on the 24thof August 1998 that he began his first stage of experiments for the Project Cyborg. At 4 PM on that day Kevin Warwick underwent a surgery under local anesthesia to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm. This experiment allowed a computer to monitor Kevin Warwick as he moved through halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip. He could operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger. He says –
“As I walked around the computer knew it was me so it switched the lights on, and when I went towards the laboratory the door opened automatically. There was a telephone in the front door; it said ‘Hello Professor Warwick.’ It was tremendous fun. It was like having a smart card implanted, and it’s the same technology that now a lot of people have in their cats and dogs.”
The implant could carry all sorts of information about a person, from Visa details to National Insurance number, blood type, medical records etc. The data could be updated whenever necessary.
This stage of experimentation was done to test the limits of what the body would accept and how easy it would be to receive meaningful signals from the microprocessor.
After the success of the first stage, Warwick moved onto a more complex second stage. Here a complex implant was inserted on 14thMarch 2002 directly into Warwick’s nervous system. The procedure, which took a little over two hours, involved inserting a guiding tube into a two-inch incision made below the elbow joint, inserting the microelectrode array into this tube and firing it into the median nerve fibres above the wrist.
This experiment was designed to see how a new implant could send signals back and forth between Warwick and a computer. A robot arm was then developed separately by Warwick’s colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd. By the help of the implant, Warwick’s nervous system was connected to the internet in Columbia university, New York. From there he was able to control the robot arm in the University of Reading and even obtain feedback from the sensors in his fingertips.
The third and the most exciting phase for the future was tried when a simpler implant was inserted into the arm of Warwick’s wife, Irena. The aim of this was to create a form of telepathy using internet to communicate signals from far away. Using the technology, Warwick was able to control a robotic hand as well as an electric wheelchair. The goal was to record his and his wife’s sensory experiences, such as pain and pleasure. He wanted to investigate how movement, thought or emotion signals could be transmitted from one person to the other, possibly via the Internet.
It resulted in the first direct communication between the nervous system of two humans using implants and computers.
After these experiments, the effect of the implant on Warwick’s hand function was measured. There were fears that meddling with his nervous system could cause some damage to him. However, no measurable damage was found. In fact, nerve tissue grew around the implant enclosing the sensor.
Studies are still going on in full swing and the day is not far enough when we can have emotional and physical contact with our loved ones living far away. Wouldn’t that be amazing as well as scary?