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Getting into the mind of the machine

Called not so long ago a "media tart" and a "crazed scientist", fulfilling his vision of becoming the world's first cyborg was for Kevin Warwick a long tread of all-encompassing scientific quest amid doubts by many a notable scientist, all of which he puts into words in his latest book, `I Cyborg'. SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY takes a look at the man and his work.


ON THE WRIST: Warwick displays the miniature computer.

You cannot make the Duchess of Windsor into Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. The facts of life are very stubborn things.

Cleveland Amory

BUT, IF things take off as the world's first cyborg Kevin Warwick wants, the facts of not just the Duchess and Rebecca's life, but that of all human beings would very well change. Man would be a virtual machine; human consciousness and emotions need not be at the mercy of the five primary organs but at the tip of a computer button!

A hardcore advocate of robotics, the middle-aged Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading in the U.K., who was in New Delhi this past week, has not only been spearheading an age, which would involve a computer-human interface, but also become the first guinea-pig to test if man can become a half-human half-machine, thereby shocking the fellow scientist community across the world. So far, the experiment was done on animals, but Kevin, having a miniature computer implanted into the main nerve canal of his arm after a two-hour operation in 1998, has, without any complaint, been successfully operating doors and lights automatically and is interestingly greeted with a "hello" from the building's computer!

In the Capital to deliver a lecture on his pet subject followed by the launch of his latest book in India — I Cyborg — the "Britain's leading prophet of the Robot Age" justifies his advocacy, "what is it that puts humans in the relatively dominant position we are in on earth? I believe it is our intelligence, coupled with the power to do something about it. So, if something more intelligent and more powerful comes along, the logic is that it will, most likely be in the driving seat". He argues that human beings sense the world in a restricted way, vision being the best of the senses. Human beings understand the world in only three dimensions and communicate in a very slow, serial fashion called speech. But if this can be improved and if technology can be used to upgrade humans, won't life be better and more exciting?

In fact, the chip, which he has surgically put in his hand, sets off sensors, causing them to activate various processes as he walks by. Interestingly, his wife Irene has also undergone a similar operation like Kevin and they now intend to subject themselves to phobias. The scientist is fearful of heights while his wife is petrified of spiders, and so they want to find whether they experience each other's fright.


FUTURE PERFECT: Kevin Warwick

If the physical experiment works, this youngest ever Fellow of City and Guilds of London Institute said some time ago in an interview, that he will try to record the signals relating to emotions and play them back, raising the possibility of reliving sexual arousal or feeling tipsy.

Indeed, listening to Warwick makes one feel like being part of a science fiction. It is really mind boggling to hear him say that some day it will be a reality wherein if you think you are turning left, the car would indeed turn left! By feeding into the chip all your pesky passwords, mobile card pins, ATM codes, etc, won't life be hassle-free?

Warwick, who not so long ago, was dubbed as "a buffoon", "a media tart", "crazed scientist", etc, first received wide recognition when he was chosen to deliver the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas lectures, enough to suggest that he was following in the footsteps of the distinguished physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, who delivered the inaugural lectures in 1825.

Then came fame by forming part of the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 for an Internet robot learning experiment and in 2002 edition for his cyborg research.

But still, what some notable world scientists fall out with Kevin's thoughts is that consciousness contains incomputable ingredients and hence conscious machines will never exist. Counters Warwick: "I don't really believe that incomputable elements do exist. If such a thing does, then we just don't understand enough of what's going on." The author of the In the Mind of the Machine feels that machines can be conscious too, for they are also dependent on their brain as humans.

But, ask him can machines be more intelligent than humans and he would reply: "Read my book"! Well, his latest reel-out to Indian readers - I Cyborg - unveils the story of how he became the world's first cyborg in a ground breaking set of scientific experiments. The tale is that of Kevin's all encompassing scientific pursuit, splitting apart the personal lives of himself and those around him. The pages also take in arguments of some prominent world scientists and seriously question human morals, values and ethics.

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