Thought communication and better humans through implants

Linking human brains with computers opens up possibilities of extra senses, improved memory, multidimensional thought and a whole new way to communicate – mind reading, says Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading. Next to short term therapeutic possibilities in overcoming deafness, blindness or counteract illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, the brain-computer connection will have tremendous economical impact. 

Kevin Warwick, can we be better humans, if you connect our brain to machines or the internet?

I sincerely hope so. I feel that as humans we are extremely limited in what we can do. But by linking our brain with that of a computer it opens up possibilities of extra senses, improved memory, multidimensional thought and especially a whole new way to communicate.

Can you give us some examples, how implants will have a commercial impact? Will the seller be able to read the mind of the costumer?

Clearly there are short term possibilities of a therapeutic nature – to improve blindness or overcome deafness or counteract a mental disorder, e.g. Parkinson’s Disease. But I think the biggest commercial successes will be those which give us new abilities, especially the ability to communicate by thought alone, directly from brain to brain. I think this will enable us to pass on much more accurately what we are thinking about, but I see that as a big positive, not really the negative that the question implies.

As far as we know, you connected your own nerve system to the nerve system of your wife through communicating implants. Where you able to read your wife’s thoughts? What were your experiences? 

Yes, we achieved the first direct electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans – both of us had electrodes connecting our nervous systems to a computer network. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to read some aspects of another person’s thoughts, memory experiences in particular. However what we achieved was radio telegraphic communication. This was a first but vitally important step. When my wife moved her hand, her brain/neural signals which brought about the movement appeared on my nervous system and therefore were sent to my brain. So when my wife opened and closed her hand 3 times say, my brain received 3 corresponding pulses. It was tremendously exciting!

You will be keynote speaker at the 2nd European Futurists Conference Lucerne. What will we learn from you?

I will take a look at what is possible with brain implants of today. I will give a clear indication of what drives my own research and why I have had implants in my own nervous system. I will then give an idea of what we are working on now. But most importantly I will look into the future – will the use of implants create a new form of technological evolution?

Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics and carries out research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics and biomedical engineering. He is also Director of the University Knowledge Transfer Centre, which links the University with Small to Medium Enterprises. The Centre which Kevin formed in 1994 is now (in size) the most successful in the UK. Kevin carried out a series of pioneering experiments involving the neuro-surgical implantation of a device into the median nerves of his left arm in order to link his nervous system directly to a computer to assess the latest technology for use with the disabled. He was successful with the first extra-sensory (ultrasonic) input for a human and with the first purely electronic communication experiment between the nervous systems of two humans. His research has been discussed by the US Presidential Council on BioEthics, The European Commission Group on Ethics in Science & Technology and has led to him being widely referenced and featured in academic circles as well as appearing as cover stories in several. Kevin’s research involves robotics and he is responsible for Cybot, a robot exported around the world as part of a magazine “Real Robots”. Robots designed and constructed by Kevin’s group are on permanent interactive display in the Science Museums in London, Birmingham and Linz.

His keynote at the 2nd European Futurists Conference, Nov. 23, 2006:
Upgrading Humans through Implants