We’ll All be Cyborgs Someday (This link acts weird in Firefox. the second time you visit it, it wil bother you with subscription information. Just use IE to view this, or clean your cookies in Firefox and then revisit the site)
Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, has firsthand knowledge. In 1998, he had a chip surgically inserted into his left arm, becoming, he thinks, the first human ever implanted with a computer chip.
Since then, he’s had a more sophisticated chip connected directly to his nervous system. He is still working toward his grandest experiment: having a chip implanted in his brain.
“I want to become a cyborg,” he said with an infectious grin. “I can see the advantages.”
In 2002, doctors sliced open Warwick’s left wrist and implanted a much smaller and more sophisticated device. For three months, its 100 electrodes were connected to his median nerves, linking his nervous system to a computer.
“I moved my hand, and my neural signals were sent over the Internet to open and close a robot hand,” he said.
Not only that: The robotic hand had sensors. As it grasped a sponge or a glasses case, it sent information back to Warwick.
“It was tremendously exciting,” Warwick said. “I experienced it as signals in my brain, which my brain was quite happy to recognize as feedback from the robot hand fingertips.”
…I can envision a future in which robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day-to-day lives. I believe that technologies such as distributed computing, voice and visual recognition, and wireless broadband connectivity will open the door to a new generation of autonomous devices that enable computers to perform tasks in the physical world on our behalf. We may be on the verge of a new era, when the PC will get up off the desktop and allow us to see, hear, touch and manipulate objects in places where we are not physically present.
“If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans’ rights to be extended to them.
“There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner so we do not move our boundaries of what is acceptable.”
First there was the DARPA Grand Challenge, a robotic contest for building a driverless car capable of successfully completing a 132-mile off-road course. In November 2007, DARPA will throw down the gauntlet once again in the form of the Urban Challenge. This contest raises the bar by requiring its autonomous contestants to negotiate a 60-mile course through simulated urban traffic in less than six hours. Bookies’ favorite is likely to be Sebastian Thrun and his team of roboticists from Stanford University, CA, who won the last challenge, in 2005.
The question of whether machines will be capable of human intelligence is ultimately a matter for philosophers to take up and not something scientists can answer, an inventor and a computer scientist agreed during a debate late last month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Faces reveal emotions, and researchers in fields as disparate as psychology, computer science, and engineering are joining forces under the umbrella of “affective computing” to teach machines to read expressions. If they succeed, your computer may one day “read” your mood and play along. Machines equipped with emotional skills could also be used in teaching, robotics, gaming, sales, security, law enforcement, and psychological diagnosis.