Professor Cyborg

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Professor Cyborg

January 25, 2000


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Lately, I've been reading about Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading in England, not to mention a possible candidate for Creepy Scientist of the Year. Next year, Warwick plans to implant a computer chip in his arm that will record all his nerve impulses. Once these electrical signals are recorded, Warwick then plans to use a computer to send the signals back into his body. In this way, he can record what happens when he moves his arm; later, by sending the identical signals back to his body, a computer could possibly make his arm move in the same way.

Incidentally, that loud clicking noise you're hearing right now is the sound of hundreds of screenwriters in Los Angeles typing up their proposals for a script about this.

"It was supposed to be a harmless computer chip. It turned out to be anything but. Dolph Lundgren in Help! It's Got Control of My Arm!"

Warwick first attracted attention in 1997 when for nine days he walked around with a chip and transponder in his arm that would automatically open the doors in his office as he approached. "Good morning, Professor Warwick," the special doors would greet him each morning. Already, prison wardens have contacted him about using the chip as an electronic tag on prisoners. One computer company even asked about using the chips in its employees to monitor job performance.

Jeez, pagers and cell phones are bad enough. I can't wait for this technology: "Good morning, Mr. Lavin. You're seven minutes late."

Kevin Warwick isn't just turning himself into a cyborg. He plans to do the same to his wife Irena who will have an identical chip placed in her arm. The two will then become the first wired couple, and with computers they will occasionally try to take temporary control of each other's bodies. Hmmn, sounds kinky, doesn't it?

For example, Warwick might move his finger in a certain way. That movement will be recorded by a computer and then sent to the chip in his wife's arm. If all goes according to plan, his wife's finger will then move in the same way as his did. Next, they will see if it's possible to trigger emotions in each other through the chips. Because, after all, that's just what every married couple needs -- the ability to trigger emotions in each other.

"All right, I'll take out the trash. Stop triggering emotions in me!"

Warwick has even greater hopes. "What I would really like to achieve is being able to communicate from person to person by means of thought signals alone," he recently told Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe. Warwick envisions that in a hundred years there may be no more telephones or e-mail. Instead, we will just be able to think to each other.

It all sounds a bit ominous to me. Let's just hope we'll be able to screen some of the thoughts that are sent our way. "Hi, you've reached Joe's brain. Joe is currently away from his brain right now, but please leave a message, and his brain will return your thought as soon as possible."

Most scientists are rightly skeptical. Some insist that the technology for this is centuries away, but Warwick is going ahead with the experiments anyway. And he claims that it could lead to several helpful breakthroughs. The technology could help people learn to walk again after a stroke. Depression could be treated by sending previously recorded "happy" signals to the brain. (Much like beer, but without all the calories.) Warwick even suggested that one day we could drive a car without having to use a steering wheel.

And of course there's also cybersex. Warwick speculates that it might be possible to record your feelings during sexual intercourse and play them back later (which could come in handy for him when his wife realizes he's a complete loon and leaves.) It might also be possible to buy a disc and have cybersex with a celebrity. "Maybe you could go and get Tom Cruise's signals or Meg Ryan's signals, if those people were willing to have their feelings recorded," he said in the same Globe article.

Well, good luck. "Hi, Ms. Ryan, this is Professor Warwick from the University of Reading. I was wondering if we could insert a computer chip into your brain and record your feelings during sex for this CD-ROM we're putting toget --" CLICK

"Hello, Ms. Ryan? Are you there?"

If it does turn out that Professor Warwick isn't completely crazy, all this could certainly be groundbreaking -- and scary. If in the future we are able to communicate by thought, how will we turn our thoughts off? And will others be able to hear all our thoughts? Nobody really knows. Of course, if these experiments do work, and the Warwicks are able to read each other's emotions, we will at least find out one thing -- whether or not complete and entire openness is really good for a marriage. I have a hunch that it might not be.


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