The Cyborg, short for cybernetic organism has always captured the minds of futurists and Trekkies, , and are portrayed as a combination of fictional character/ being of tomorrow. But are we about to stumble into tomorrow; are cyborgs all that fantastical? Kevin Warwick, hailed as “Captain Cyborg” argues that we have already stepped into the age of the cyborg using himself as an example. In 2002, Warwick had a small chip surgically inserted into the median nerve fibers in his left wrist. Post-surgery, Warwick could control an artificial mechanical hand and electric wheelchair. However, Warwick could not only produce signals, but receive signals from the small micro array in his arm creating an artificial sensation. A similar microarray was inserted into his wife’s hand, so he would sense when her hand was gripped, or being shaken.
Warwick wants to redesign communication so that we are not relying on sound waves (talking on the phone, or conversing with someone) to communicate with someone, instead he believes the next stage of human communication evolution will be a sort of telepathy through microarrays such as the one implanted in his arm.
In another of Warwick’s quirky experiments, he integrated Rat neurons onto a circuit board that was attached to a small robot, roughly the size of a toycar. The rat-bot navigated a space with obstacles in it, avoiding and turning when it came across anything obstructing its path. Electrical signals relayed to the neurons are then interpreted and commands are sent out to the device. The neurons can reorganize so the rat-bot improves its ability to avoid walls; effectively the rat-bot is learning about its environment and how to use its “body’ more efficiently.
Warwick’s work and research could has biomedical benefits and work regulating Parkinson’s syndrome is currently underway. However, ethical questions arise as the neuron cultures get larger and the mechanical systems more complicated. Not to fall back on science fiction, but what about the bi-directional really of information that Warwick mentioned concerning his arm implant. If a circuit board complex enough, and “intelligent” to a certain point, integrated into the human nervous system, could it possibly overpower the brain? Additionally, out of curiosity what would it feel like to have a novel sensation that was not produced by your boday, but a piece of computer hardware. Warwick’s work is promising and exciting, and we look forward to seeing what he decides to implant next into his body.