Project Cyborg 2.0 to investigate brain-computer interaction for motion and pain

Reading 07 December 2000Professor Kevin Warwick, who heads the Cybernetics Department at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, is planning to submit his body to a revolutionary experiment in the summer of 2001. This futurist has decided to have a silicon chip implanted into his left arm where it will be connected to the nervous system, in order to communicate with his brain. The underlying idea of the whole initiative is to analyse brain signals that are associated with motion and pain.

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A team of surgeons will connect the chip to Professor Warwick's nervous system through nerve fibres in his left arm. The chip is expected to exchange signals between the brain and a computer. "We simply don't know what my brain will do", Professor Warwick commented. What he hopes is that the brain will respond in a similar way as robots do which have been programmed to utilise sonar instead of sight react when detecting objects.

The experiment will determine whether the computer can send those same sonar abilities to a human brain. "As robots become free thinkers, the only way humans are able to compete is to use computers to enhance the human brain", explained the professor, who already is being compared to a cyborg by people referring to the earlier Project Cyborg which took place in August 1998, when a group of surgeons implanted a 23-by-3 mm silicon chip transponder into Dr. Warwick's arm for nine days.

At the time of the original project, the chip was sending signals to receivers throughout a building and then to a computer. The computer was able to track the professor's movements and respond by calling "hello" and opening doors. However, the chip was not connected to Dr. Warwick's nervous system yet during this first experiment, as it will be the case in the second one. Does the danger exist that Professor Warwick's brain will freak out during Project Cyborg 2.0?

Dr. Philip Kennedy, founder of Neural Systems Inc. which is a partner in the new project, anticipated that it is not very likely that the computer will take over, given the long-standing experience his company has built up with chip implants to help communicate disabled people. "Professor Warwick's brain should be able to adapt to the incoming stimuli, recognise the signals, and respond appropriately", Dr. Kennedy explained. "Computers have huge memory banks whereas human beings can use their intuition and insight instead, allowing their brains to respond or not."

The principal part of the silicon chip consists of a battery, radio transmitter, receiver, and processing unit. The pins connected to the chip will pierce the membrane surrounding Professor Warwick's nerve fibres. Once the chip has been activated, scientists will experiment with a broad range of signals which are associated with motion and pain. When Professor Warwick moves a body part, the signal will be transmitted to the computer. The researchers expect that the computer will record and successfully will replicate the movement by sending a signal back to Professor Warwick.

Some scientists are slightly opposed to the project given the fact that results will be rather difficult to analyse since Professor Warwick is experimenting on himself. Others though regard Cyborg 2.0 as a benefit to science. If the experiment yields positive outcomes, Professor Warwick's wife Irena will also receive a silicon chip implant, in order to explore how movements, thoughts and emotion can be transmitted from one person to another. Questions are raised as to how the link by chip will affect the couple. Will they literally live through each other's experiences of motion and pain?


Leslie Versweyveld

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