Kevin Warwick talks about connecting the human mind to machines, of communicating between ourselves directly brain to brain and expanding our sensory, physical and intellectual capacities through technological implants. These sound like science fiction, but he has already tested them in experiments.
The scientist, engineer and cybernetics professor at Reading University has turned himself into a 'cyborg': a radiofrequency chip is implanted into his hand and he uses it to control the lighting and other devices in his office, and with a more complex group of electrodes in his arm he uses a robotic hand situated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and exchanges brain signals with his wife, who has the same implant .
Warwick recently explained his research and how artificial intelligence can change our lives, at a conference organised by Diario SUR and OpenMind, the scientific information portal of BBVA. The conference, titled 'Artificial intelligence: present and future', was held at the Pompidou Centre in Malaga.
Speaking straightforwardly and with a sense of humour, Warwick explained his research into brain-computer interface, through which the human nervous system communicates with different types of computers. He believes that in the future, the frontier between people and machines will become blurred, and human beings will be "enhanced" with sensors and electrodes which will enable them to overcome their "numerous limitations". For example, one of his students had an implant with ultrasonic sensors which enabled him to detect the proximity of an object without using sight or hearing.
Another limitation which Kevin Warwick is trying to overcome, and the more decisive in his opinion, is communication. He says telepathy, or brain-to-brain communication, is possible and will change everything. He has achieved a first step. His wife has a similar electrode to his own and they established a purely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two human beings. They were only telegraphic signals, but served to demonstrate his theory. Through the same electrode, Warwick's nervous system was connected to internet at the University of Columbia in New York, and from there it was able to control a robotic arm at Reading University and obtain a response from sensors in the fingers. "In the future we'll be able to connect ourselves to cars and buildings," he said. "The mind and body don't have to be in the same place".
Warwick's research also has therapeutic applications. For example, through stimulating the brain with electric currents he has successfully stopped the trembling and other symptoms of a patient with Parkinson's. He now wants to create a device which predicts (through artificial intelligence) when the stimulus is necessary and applies the signals before the shaking occurs.
With regard to the ethical implications, he is aware of people's concern but says "If they are doing something in China, although it doesn't seem ethical to us we really need to research it and maybe use it differently. If facial recognition can be used to detect when one person is going to kill another, that person can be detained before he commits the crime. So the question is, do we want him to be detained, or not use facial recognition?" he says.