Archive for the ‘Cybernetics’ Category

Some months ago i was a part of an IEEE community development program, organized by the power electronics society. It required us to travel to villages and semi-urban schools and give seminars on wireless communications to school children. Our aim was not only to try give them something new and extra from the school curricula, but also fire up their imagination in thrust areas so as to try and motivate them to take up a career in science and technology.

After the session on mobiles and how they worked and taking all sorts of questions (literally :D) from the students on the same. I (and my other group members) tried to give a picture of how wireless communications might be like in a vector of another 5 decades. In giving so i gave the example of Kevin Warwick, the genius but also highly criticized (by some sections) University of Reading professor of Cybernetics.

Something from his work through the wikipedia entry on him.

Probably the most famous piece of research undertaken by Warwick is the set of experiments known as Project Cyborg, in which he had a chip implanted into his arm, with the aim of “becoming a cyborg”.

The first step, involved a simple RFID transmitter being implanted beneath Warwick’s skin, and used to control doors, lights, heaters, and other computer-controlled devices based on his proximity. The main purpose of this experiment was said to be to test the limits of what the body would accept, and how easy it would be to receive a meaningful signal from the chip.

The second stage involved a far more complex chip, and which interfaced directly into Warwick’s nervous system. The electrode array inserted contained around 100 electrodes, of which 25 could be accessed at any one time, whereas the median nerverobot arm developed by Warwick’s colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd, was able to mimic the actions of Warwick’s own arm.

By means of the implant, Warwick’s nervous system was connected onto the internet in Columbia University, New York. From there he was able to control the robot arm in Reading University and to obtain feedback from sensors in the finger tips. He also successfully connected ultrasonic sensors on a baseball cap and experienced a form of extra sensory input.

Warwick ~ 1

Warwick ~ 2

There have been experiments time and again that have proved the ability to convert the power of thoughts into action, this could not only someday aid in communicating truly “wirelessly” or almost “telepathically” but will also might help paralysed people walk and help forgetful people remember common stuff like where thy kept car or bike keys among other almost countless possibilities. Researchers, scientists etc like the idea of a chip implanted in the body for improvement, but is the general public ok with it and what could be the social implications? It is not clear what the general public think of chip implants for self-improvement i.e for non-medical reasons. In medical cases such as Alzheimer’s chip implants could really help the patient in storing medical information.

I read something on essentially the same theme in the economic times some weeks back. Of which i happily took a clipping! :)

Experiences of those who have experimented with embedded chips give some clues to how useful these could be for the masses. In one instance an American physician tried to study the medical legal, moral and privacy aspects of an embedded device.

The implantation of a RFID chip in his upper right arm was a five minute painless procedure. There were no physical side effects like itching or changes in skin appearance. The implant enabled the physician to carry out routine functions without any hindrance and the chip was not detected by airport scanners or metal detectors, making live easy.

However, when the physician entered a retail store, the device set off anti-theft alarms, as it worked at the same frequency as the retail security systems! Thankfully the stores haven’t forced him to strip naked to ensure that he wasn’t stealing anything. While he didn’t experience any medical changes even after the chip was in the body for over two years, risks are there. These include infection and pain.

However non-medical risks may be more acute. The physician started receiving e-mails that he had lost some of his humanity and was a human-machine hybrid. Also, chips run the risk of being scanned by an unidentified person and can infringe on privacy by giving a third party access to an individual’s information like medical records.

He concluded that perhaps the best non-medical use could be as a source of secure identity and a store of personal records, for people given to forgetting things frequently. Indeed if chips could help reduce identity related financial frauds, the devices could help check over $5 billion a year of such frauds that individual consumers suffer annually, according to the US Federal Trade Commission.

As pointed out in the above excerpt, chip implants could take hacking up one more level in which a clone of the implant could be made and misused! There are many ethical issues raised by various religious organizations. There could be some previously unimagined downsides like divorces with one partner leaving the other for someone with a “better” chip ;)

The medical advantages however, make it look very promising!

In the future as embedding RFID chips or other smart chips in the human body grows the debate in this concern will only hot up!


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