Thursday, August 1, 2013

Going cybernetic, one part at a time

It happened over pizza.

I was meeting my old friend Dr. Rich.  He posited that the transhuman future really lies in wearable computing, not cybernetic implants.  "That's an invasive surgery," he argued.  "Few people are going to be down for that."  I can see that logic.  At least it's better thought out than the typically dismissive, "That is just science fiction."

The above is a familiar refrain I hear when I discuss concepts in cybernetics and transhumanism.  However, I have come across news stories both general and specific that I can point to as evidence that the transhuman age gets closer every day.

Kevin Warwick appeared on Coast to Coast AM recently.   Warwick is an academic known as the "Cyborg."  He has cybernetic implants wired into his nervous system.  He partly answered the question of what might motivate someone to undergo surgery for cybernetic implants.  The motivation would be what was to gain.

Would you have implants on your eyes if it granted you x-ray vision?  What about brain implants that allowed you to communicate telepathically with another person with similar implants?  What if these would all be possible through procedures that are as safe and non-invasive as Lasek surgery?  It's already happening.  Three of Warwick's students have magnets implanted in their fingers that all them to operate other devices by remote, such as turning on lights and opening doors.  Granted those aren't stellar feats exactly, but it's a work in progress.  Efforts are underway to add sonar to the interface which would expand capability considerably. This would theoretically open up the door for possibly radar and ultrasonic implants.

Far more extensive of a replacement would be that of an entire limb.  Currently, most people seem reluctant to take it that far unless happenstance forces them to do so. 

Such is the case of Nigel Ackland.  Ackland was recently on Singularity 1-on-1 with Socrates on the Singularity Weblog.  He discussed the tragic accident that took his right arm, the crude prosthesis he had to suffer with afterward, and the fortunate connection with RSL Steeper that allowed him to get his bionic arm.  Here is a quote from Nigel regarding his arm as posted on Singularity Weblog:

"Having a bionic arm is like being human again. Psychologically I wouldn’t be without it. I can hold the phone, shake hands and wash my left hand normally. I’m back to being a two finger typist and can even do hand signals. Not particularly functional, but the psychological benefit is immense! It has a great impact on my life: not only does it look more like a human hand but it also functions more like a human hand."

This is the future, folks.  I for one am eager to see it.  This aspect of it, anyway. 
There is however, one point that Warwick brought up that seemed a bit torn from the pages of comic books.  That is a robot with a human brain.   Or "a" brain at any rate.  The current brain is being developed from rat neurons.  Would this mean a fully-thinking, fully-feeling machine one day? 

Dr. Rich was bemused by thoughts such as these.  I didn't tell him just how willing I would be to become the Jondroid.

That was some pizza.

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