Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, recently spoke to BCS Multimedia Editor, Justin Richards, about his work on cybernetics and artificial intelligence.

What I’ve got here, this very small black object, (I don’t know if you can see it), is a brain gate implant, so that’s the size of it. This actually consists of 100 electrodes and this was fired into my nervous system, so literally plugged into my nervous system and via that we could link up to the computer and did a range of projects. During one of them I went to New York, to Columbia University, and we plugged my nervous system into the internet via this device; the implant was in my nervous system.

As I moved, my hand opened and closed in New York, my neural signal was sent across the internet here to England, in Reading, and the robot hand   mimicked my own movements, so as I opened my hand the robot hand also moved and as I closed my hand the robot hand has sensors in the finger tips and we were able to send back signals from England to the United States, dependent on how much force the fingers were applying, and what that did was to simulate my nervous system, literally my brain received pulses of current.

The more the hand gripped on an object the more pulses of current my brain received, so what I was trying to do was to open and close my hand in New York just enough to grip onto an object, so it didn’t squeeze too much and didn’t drop it and that was very successful. Really, what it’s saying now with the technology we have, with networking and the power of the network, is that your brain and your body don’t have to be in the same place.

We’ve evolved that way, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay that way and as long as you can plug your nervous system into the network that’s all it takes; this is so small, I can hardly pick it up here, there we go, a little implant like that.

It’s not some enormous thing like Keanu Reeves had in the Matrix. It doesn’t have to be that big; it’s a little device like that, is sufficient for you to be able to control hands. For a surgeon, for example, a little device like that would mean a surgeon could operate on another person remotely, but also actually feel what they needed to feel and their robot hand might be able to go into somebody’s body and they would feel it so there’s a lot of possibilities.

There’s a lot of military applications too; soldiers don’t not have to be on the battle field, but they might have a few mechanised body parts that are in the battle field. If they get destroyed, no big deal, the soldier is fine. It might be a bit traumatic, but that’s all.  So I think a lot of potential applications can go to different planets. You stay at home nice and safe, but parts of your body, your technological body, get to go on trips to other planets.

So do you have implants in you now?

I don’t have any implants that are functioning. I do have some platinum wires. When the surgeons took out the last implant, some wires were left in there and have been there for quite a few years now and they keep popping up from time-to-time and I push them back in, but they’re not actually doing anything.

Do you just forget to take them out or is there a reason?

When I had the implant the main body of the implant was in my nervous system there and I then had these platinum wires running up my arm and they came out of my body here, onto a little connector pad.

So when they took the implant out and cut the wires, they chucked this connector pad away then pulled out as much as they could, and the implant itself from the other end. But the wires broke off and it was too much of a problem surgically to take them out so I’ve had these bunch wires in my arm for a few years, but it is platinum and platinum is pretty inert and things like titanium and iridium and gold even, and the body doesn’t worry about it at all.

I’ve had no problems at all; occasionally it moves around, but that’s all.

How many months have you had these implants?

Just over three months. The implant, the last implant, was in my nervous system, but considering before I had had these implants, the longest recorded implant was in a rabbit’s sciatic nerve for about 72 hours, so I broke the record, if you like.