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I, Cyborg Paperback – July 19, 2004
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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About the Author
Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, UK.
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For about ten years or more after I, Cyborg was released, I would once or twice per year hear or read a news story which began, "So-and-so has just become the world's first cyborg." Then the story would go on to describe an experimental procedure. These were also the same experiments were performed Professor Warwick way back in the 1990s. To a lesser extent, the trend continues. It wasn't until 2015 that I heard the term "The Internet of Things," a technological development in which Bill Gates is strongly involved. That term basically refers to lights coming on when a person walks in a room and similar programs for devices. Again, Kevin was building those innovations decades ago.
As I mentioned, this is a story about the author's life. His experiments in human augmentation are a large part of the story, but they are not everything. He also writes about his work as a professor, his marriage, his inspirations, and other experiments that were being performed by other people at the same time. He also briefly addresses the long term philosophic implications of work. It would be irresponsible for him to skip writing about that, and he expresses his opinions very clearly as opinions on the long term future of humans. Nonetheless, those opinions are controversial, and I strongly suspect that is the reason why some people hate this book so strongly. Transhumanism is a hot button topic, and a lot of people feel strongly enough about it that seek out fault in anyone who dares to touch the topic.
On Amazon and other sites, I have read criticism that Professor Warwick is not a real scientist. Having read this book twice, I cannot find any basis in this critique. The man performs actual small scale experiments which are clearly in keeping with the actual scientific method. There is more science in this book than many theoretical physicists will perform in their entire careers.
My conclusion is that I, Cyborg is a fascinating look into the life of an engineer who talked about human augmentation and had the guts to put his body where he mouth was. The results of that challenge are interesting, somewhat disappointing in places, and not nearly well enough known.
The experiment isn't much. Big deal, he implanted a small array of electrodes in his lower arm with some wires attached, wore it around for 3 months, connected it to a computer once in a while, and then he ran some simple tests on it, the most important of which, in my estimation, was making the virtual hand work at a distance by moving his own hand - a nice future worth developing for robotics working in dangerous environments, something that didn't seem to have occured to him. The part about sending electrical currents from his hand to his wife's hand was interesting, but he imbued it with semi-mythical power. My question is, does it count as brain-to-brain electrical communication if the nerve stimulation doesn't pass through the brain but only works in the arm and spinal column, or just the arm to the implant? Issues he didn't consider because of his limited knowledge in anatomy, neuroanatomy (he had to open a textbook at every step of his experiment), etc.
I think cyborgs are coming, and I think neural control of objects is a good thing. I want to be able to write and make art from my brain directly, when that is possible, and would even be willing to volunteer to help along the way. But I don't think Warwick counts as the first real cyborg. He wasn't even the first implant - the first and second implants were done in 1996 by a group in Atlanta, headed up by Philip Kennedy (Science News, 1/29/05, p. 73). I think Warwick's effort was an engineer-being-a-science-dilettante publicity-hound's quick-and-dirty effort to grab a lot of ink and a Nobel Prize, which he thought to deny in the book - why bother to mention it if you're not thinking about it?
Read the news stories about his experiments, they get to the point faster. Read his books about robotics, which is where his expertise lies, if you're interested in his real work and significant ideas. Read other people's work on cyborgs. Check out the good work being done with blind people and paraplegics by different groups, work that goes into serious scientific looks at what Warwick just played with. They just don't write self-aggrandizing books about things, they go through peer review first!
The possibiliy of directly linking a computer to a brain as quite an exciting possiblity. I also agreed with the writer that it could be quite a blessing to many people that are incapicitated in some way.
Warwick's obsession with stunts like embedding a chip in his arm so that his every movement can be tracked begs the question : "would I ever want to know where Kevin Warwick is at any moment in time?".