Biochip Implants

Nutty Professor Wants Second Biochip Transplant


Letting Silicon-Chip Implants Do the Talking
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer

Source: The Washington Post .html

February 1, 2000

Over in England, a nutty professor is planning to hook his central nervous system to his computer. He thinks it might improve his sex life and maybe even save mankind from becoming slaves to machines. He's touting his scheme in an essay called "I, Robot"--the cover story in this month's Wired, a magazine that can be trusted to go gaga over any cockamamie utopian idea, as long as it involves computers.

The mad scientist is Kevin Warwick, a professor in the Department of Cybernetics at the University of Reading. In 1998, he had a silicon chip surgically implanted above his left elbow. The chip communicated via radio waves with computers that, in turn, signaled to machines that would open doors and turn on lights as Warwick approached, and greet him with a cheery "Hello."

He loved it. He and his computer were, he writes, like "a pair of Siamese twins." When the chip was removed after nine days, he felt bereaved--"as though a friend had just died."

So he decided to get a second implant. This one, scheduled for sometime next year, will attempt to tap directly into his nervous system and relay its messages to a computer. That way, he figures, he can store the neural messages of pain or pleasure or drunkenness, and play them back to his brain later.

"When I'm happy, we'll record that signal," he writes. "Then, if my mood changes the next day, we'll play the happy signal back and see what happens."

And that's just phase one of his plan. In phase two, his wife, Irena, will get a similar implant, and then the happy couple can link their nervous systems together via the Internet. "If I sprained my ankle," he wonders, "could I send the signal to Irena to make her feel as though she has injured herself?"

And, of course, there's sex. "What if the other person became sexually aroused? Could we record signals at the height of our arousal, then play these back and relive the experience?"

This experiment could backfire, resulting in permanent nerve damage, Warwick says, but he's eager to try it anyway. He figures he's pioneering a form of computer-aided brain-to-brain communication that will ultimately replace language. Who needs to talk when your every thought and feeling can be broadcast directly to your friend's brain? But Warwick doesn't speculate about what might happen if these intimate messages were intercepted by less friendly folks.

It all sounds pretty wacky, but Warwick gets even wackier. He figures humans and machines will ultimately merge into a superhuman cyborg species. In fact, he writes, if we don't become cyborgs, we will soon become slaves to our computers, which are already more intelligent than we are.

"Otherwise," he writes, "we're doomed to a future in which intelligent machines rule and humans become second-class citizens. My project explores a middle ground that gives humans a chance to hang in there a bit longer."

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