Fomenting Evolution: Kevin Warwick and "I, Cyborg'

Fomenting Evolution: Kevin Warwick and I, Cyborg'

I, Cyborg isn't just a book, it's a manifesto. Computer scientist and professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading in England, Kevin Warwick is impatient with the snail pace of human evolution. He wants to speed things up a bit by hooking people up to computers in order to enhance their intelligence and empower them as individuals. Machines are faster and smarter than we are anyway, so the argument goes, so why not just jump on the bandwagon with these superintelligent machines and be cyborgs?

Warwick is nervy enough to practice what he preaches. I, Cyborg details the process of two experiments, in 1998 and 2002, during which Warwick had microelectrodes surgically implanted in his left forearm (he chose the left because he didn't want to risk damaging the use of his right arm). The first experiment utilized a radio frequency that communicated with the "smart building" in which Warwick worked. Wherever Warwick went, doors opened, lights turned on, and computers would even surf into his Web site. Warwick was cautious enough to have the implant removed 10 days later. But he pressed on with a more ambitious project. In March 2002, he had a more advanced microelectrode inserted directly into his nervous system that enabled him to communicate directly with his computer. Taking the experiment one step further, Warwick's wife Irena had the same chip implanted in the same way. And so the Warwick's became the first brain-linked cyborg couple, performing a number of startling experiments, including Warwick changing the color of Irena's jewelry, moving an avatar of himself in a virtual world, and sending signals on the Internet -- all through direct neural transmission. As in the first experiment, the microelectrodes were removed 10 days later with the Warwicks suffering no side effects. These implants, combined with the media frenzy that seems to follow Warwick everywhere he goes, have made him an extremely controversial character in his native England, where he is often referred to as "Captain Cyborg." Undeterred by his detractors, Warwick marches on to the bugle call of Big Science. He envisions a race of human cyborgs hooked up to a centralized computer (akin to the scenario of the sci-fi movie Zardoz) that would allow them to live as exalted beings. If Warwick is right, and becoming a machine-head is the next stage of human evolution, then mere humans may go the way of the dodos. Whatever the case may be, I, Cyborg is a good place to take a sneak peek at a very probable future.

Kevin Warwick will appear on the panel "I, Cyborg" on Saturday, March 8, 5-6pm.

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