The University of Reading
Professor Kevin Warwick

Frequently Asked Questions

What is this implant everyone is talking about?

We are building special chip implants, however the actual chips involved are fairly standard technology. My wife and I are having the chips implanted for an experiment. This is not the first time I've had a chip implanted.

What did your first chip implant do? When did it take place?

For the first experimental chip implant, back in August 1998, the implant merely sent a signal to the computer in the department here in Reading, which identified me. So the computer was programmed to open doors, switch on lights etc. depending where I was. For the next experiment we will be sending signals from the nervous system - which is a lot more complex.

When do you intend to start the new experiment?

We intend to start the experiment towards the end of this year. Around September time, as long as we are ready to go for it then.

Can you describe the device that is going to be implanted in your arm?

The connection to the nervous fibres in my left arm will most likely be through a matrix of pins, injected through the membrane that surround he fibres. From here, there will be a connection to the main part of the implant. The main implant contains a battery, a radio transmitter and receiver, and a processing unit. It's all fairly standard technology really.

Will the device be able to interact with your movements?

We hope so. Arm movements at least.

What is the purpose of this experiment? Can you describe it?

Linking the nervous system in my left arm to a radio transmitter receiver to send signals from my nervous system to a computer and vice versa.

Was it easy to convince your wife to take part in the experiment? Why did you choose your wife to do this experiment with you?

At first she had to think about it because she was a little worried about the dangers but like me she is excited about the implications. I chose her because there is no one else I would like to reveal my feelings to!

What kind of communication do you think will happen between you and your wife?

We plan to experiment exchanging emotional signals. E.g. is the pain my wife feels the same pain when I feel it?

What is the interest to use a computer to communicate with your wife?

Communication is the main driving force. In the immediate experiment it will be movements and hopefully some feelings such as pain. In the long term I would lie to witness thought communication.

"Thought Communication"? Telepathy: Do you think "transparency" is a goal for humanity? Do you think it is better to be able to lie or to adapt what you think, for better communication?

I think what we are doing is shifting the boundary, not making things transparent. Instead of lying by speech, you will lie by thought.

Do you think telepathy will destroy the arts: poetry, literature, music and painting? Or even humanity itself?

No. It will dramatically change it, but not destroy it. Unless we think it is humanity itself that changes by becoming a Cyborg.

Will this technology change the way we communicate?

I feel so. At present our method of communication, speech, is very slow, serial and error prone. The potential to communicate by means of thought signals alone is a very exciting one. We will probably have to learn how to communicate well in this way though, in particular how to send ideas to one another. It is not clear if I think about an ice cream are my thoughts roughly the same as yours - we will have to learn about each other's thoughts. Maybe it will be easier than we think, maybe not. Certainly speech is an old fashioned, out dated means of communication - it's on its way out!

Aren't you playing the Sorcerer's Apprentice?


What are the moral and ethical issues surrounding your up-coming experiment?

As this is the first experiment we have conducted of this nature, we cannot prejudge ethics. When people become aware of what we have done and the result obtained, hopefully they will discuss the issues and ethical conclusions will result. These maybe different, in different countries and cultures.

I've heard that you will be recording and storing information, on a computer, downloaded off your nervous system. Is this true? Is there not a danger this information could be misinterpreted when received by another person with the chip?

This certainly is a potential danger that we must be aware of. It is most likely that emotion of one kind or another can be recorded. When played down onto the nervous system the signals could recreate feelings. With signals such as pain this is particularly relevant. We want merely to investigate what is possible. Whilst there exist potential negatives there also potential positives, such as removing the effects of pain - this could revolutionise medicine.

In an article I read about you, you said that the downloaded message could be misinterpreted when passed to another person's nervous system. What do you think about the risk?

It is quite possible and obviously is dangerous. One big problem we have at present is keeping stray noise out of the system. Signals on the nervous system are very low magnitude and thus easily affected by stray signals.

What will the computer recognise? I will take pain for example. Its definition (psychological or neurobiological) is still vague and it is difficult to make a difference between pain and suffering. How will you computer manage to make the difference?

The computer is merely storing data, nothing more. Pain appears, as electronic signals on the nervous system; it is this signal that will be stored.

A movement is less complex than an emotion. How do you think you will be able to understand what an emotion is?

Emotions such as anger, shock and excitement can be investigated because distinct signals are apparent. For more obtuse emotions such as "Love" we will not be tackling directly.

What could the practical applications (in medicine, computing…) of your experience be?

Contribution to movement in limbs for those with a break in the nervous system or MS. Potential alternate sense (ultrasonic) for blind people giving them a sense of distance. Possible electronic medicine - electronic signals to remove headache, as a tranquilliser, to bring about pleasure etc. Possible pain equaliser - direct immediate painkiller.

Have you conducted any of your experiments on animals past or present?

I have never conducted experiments on animals.

In the future could this technology change humans into "Super humans"? Will we have new senses and abilities?

I think, most definitely. In particular extra memory and processing capabilities could be a possibility. A person's brain could be directly linked to a computer network.

Do you think that Cyborgs will be the next step in human evolution?

Genetic changes offer short term, slight modifications. However the step to Cyborgs offers humans a natural, technological upgrade in the technological world we have instigated. Yes I feel it will be the next evolutionary step. Indeed we will need to do it if we are to compete with intelligent machines.

How hard will it be to have success with this experiment and what might it mean if it works?

With the implant the measure of success is very low. If we can just get fingers moving, and nothing more, by remote signals from the computer, this will contribute to research and may well help people to walk again, who could not do so. It may also give people an extra, or different sense, e.g. it could help blind people "feel" objects are close by.

What are your next moves after this experiment?

In the future we will be looking to link up more closely with the brain. I really want to look at the possibility of people communicating between each other from one nervous system to another. This could mean (electronic) thoughts to one person's brain to another, possibly across the Internet. This is very exciting and would completely change the way we communicate both between humans and humans and technology.

Do you think, via technology, we could sense things around us that we can not presently?

Yes. I believe we will, via technology, be able, in the future, to detect all sorts of signals that presently we cannot. This will, I feel, change the way we not only sense but also understand the world around us. It will make things possible that we presently feel is impossible!

What gave you the ideas and will to become one of the most innovative scientists in the domain of bionics?

I've always wanted to help others if it was at all possible. All of the work here in the Cybernetics Department, the research, had been able to help people less fortunate than ourselves, those with disabilities. This always needs a large amount of innovation.

In your article for "Wired", you said "I was born human, but it was an accident of fate". Do you think humanity must change itself because it has the power to?

Humanity can change itself but hopefully it will be an individual choice. Those who want to stay human can and those who want to evolve into something much more powerful with greater capabilities can. There is no way I want to stay a mere human.

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Last Updated: 22/09/2005 10:34 +0100