Professor Kevin Warwick, Reading, England
Interview conducted by MG Michael.
Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, where he carries out research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics and cyborgs.
Kevin was born in Coventry, UK and left school to join British Telecom, at the age of 16. At 22 he took his first degree at Aston University, followed by a PhD and research post at Imperial College, London. He subsequently held positions at Oxford, Newcastle and Warwick Universities before being offered the Chair at Reading, at the age of 33.
As well as publishing over 500 research papers, Kevin’s experiments into implant technology led to him being featured as the cover story on the US magazine, ‘Wired’.
Kevin has been awarded higher doctorates both by Imperial College and the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague. He was presented with The Future of Health Technology Award in MIT, was made an Honorary Member of the Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg and in 2004 received The IEE Achievement Medal. In 2000 Kevin presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, entitled “The Rise of the Robots”.
Kevin’s most recent research involves the invention of an intelligent deep brain stimulator to counteract the effects of Parkinson Disease tremors. The tremors are predicted and a current signal is applied to stop the tremors before they start – this is shortly to be trialed in human subjects. Another project involves the use of cultured/biological neural networks to drive robots around – the brain of each robot is made of neural tissue.
Perhaps Kevin is though best known for his pioneering experiments involving a neuro-surgical implantation into the median nerves of his left arm 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 telegraphic communication experiment between the nervous systems of two humans.
Kevin Warwick: Hello.
M.G. Michael: Good morning Professor Warwick.
Kevin Warwick: Greetings.
M.G. Michael: How are you? It's Doctor Michael from Australia. I’m calling from Sydney.
Kevin Warwick: Good morning or afternoon; whatever it may be. I'm fine thanks very much.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, thanks a lot for your time. Katina and I are most appreciative.
Kevin Warwick: It's a shame you couldn't meet us when you were over in the U.K.
M.G. Michael: Yes, I was hoping that we could but that didn't work out, unfortunately. But nevertheless here we are now. Kevin, so we don't repeat the preamble we'll just go through and I'll ask you the questions and you can elaborate. How does that sound?
Kevin Warwick: That's fine.
M.G. Michael: Professor Warwick, can you tell us something about your research group at the University of Reading? Particularly about the type of research you are engaging in right now?
Kevin Warwick: We have a range of research that deals with robotics, artificial intelligence, medical world. Particularly implants. One project involves, growing neural tissue which is originally from rat neural tissue. That study is used to control robots, we have little robots on wheels, instead of the brain of the robot being a computer or an actual processor, the brain is in fact biological tissue so it's a biological brain for the metallical machine object. Other projects we have going on at the moment are furthering the implant research that I have been doing. Partly for therapeutic purposes potentially to help people with spinal injuries but also for enhancement in extending the range of human senses and the way we communicate. And I think there is a third area that is slightly important to me at the moment, and that is the next generation of implants for Parkinson’s disease. Looking at taking the present stimulators used to overcome the tremor effect associated with Parkinson’s disease and make it into a more intelligent stimulation in which we can predict tremors before they occur, and to stop them occurring before they do.
M.G. Michael: This later research does it go back 2 or 3 years? When did you begin to work in this area?
Kevin Warwick: I think I have always been interested and, if you like, informed about Parkinson’s disease type stimulator and the problems there with surgeons discussing it for 6 or 7 years and what we could potentially do to improve. But it is only in the last 3 years that we have been studying the signals in the human brain which are prevalent when Parkinson’s disease tremors occur and trying to distinguish them from other signals. So only actually about 3 years getting to the gist of the problem.
M.G. Michael: That's fascinating. That reminds me of the sort of work that your friend Professor Toumazou is engaged in with whom I have recently had the pleasure of talking to, who is also concerned with diagnostic work as well.
Kevin Warwick: I think there is an enormous amount that we can do and it frustrates me on many occasions when meeting patients and seeing situations which people are in and knowing technically that we can not now do an awful lot more.
M.G. Michael: We will get to some of the controversial aspects of that in a moment. Many of your papers are being published in medical journals and a lot of your robots are being sold commercially. How do you feel about these two areas converging?
Kevin Warwick: Well for me it’s not the areas converging; I am in the middle of it. With things like intelligence and what intelligence is all about and how human brains and machine brains work, it's really one area for me and I think I am sort of in the middle there. One application is in the field of robotics technology and hence our robots are sold and if we can make some money for the University, if we can get it out there in a big way and help kids learn about robots, then great. The Cybot robot is being produced and we have sold something like 3 million robots around the world which is a phenomenal number and means an awful lot of kids around the world learn how to build robots and have some idea. But at the same time we can use the robots for medical purposes. It's just another application but a very exciting one.
M.G. Michael: Professor Warwick, what were the primary drivers that led to your research for chip implants in humans?
Kevin Warwick: I think in terms of primary drivers literally we now have the technology to have a look at the possibilities. I think in terms of fundamental pushes when I was a teenager I was excited by various science fiction writers such as Michael Crichton who wrote a book about the Terminal Man. About a guy who had an electrode pushed into his brain. I read it very much as a vast possibility and to bring about something like that in later life is pretty fantastic. So, partly science fiction, and partly that the technology is there, partly a drive to very much taking a look at having extra senses and communicating in new ways. Well let’s find out, let’s see what’s there… a scientific curiosity.
M.G. Michael: So, you are also interested in not only repairing but also developing the potential of humans?
Kevin Warwick: Yes. I think in that way I am quite different to other people in the field. I know there are some other people researching in this area but they tend to look more at the therapeutic or repairing. But it's clear the technology opens up a number of possibilities for upgrading and taking ourselves to the next level. We got the technology, so let's have a look, let’s see what’s possible, whether we want to do it or not is a sociological question or a commercial question. But at least to find out "can we have extra senses?"… not from a science fiction point of view but from a scientific point of view. To me this is exciting research but it is important if we can have, say, infrared senses as an extra sense. What does it mean? How does our brain deal with it? Do we want it or not is another thing. We can know if we want it or not when we know what it can do and what it can offer us.
M.G. Michael: So the question of artificial enhancement is something natural to consider?
Kevin Warwick: I see it as a natural thing, it is a technological development. Like technological evolution it is a very much a natural thing. It is something with positives and something with negatives so we definitely need to technically look at what's possible. And also, from an ethical and moral point of view, and how we deal with that. I think realistically it needs to be looked at seriously. Some committees consider the ethics and say while therapy is usually okay, enhancement we are really not sure about. I think it is quite a naive view to separate them like that.
M.G. Michael: Why did you decide to name your first experiment "Cyborg 1.0"? And why did that experiment only last about 10 days? Would you consider embedding an implant in your body for life, even multiple implantable devices?
Kevin Warwick: To answer the last part of that, definitely yes. Looking at the brain as the computer which is the next step, like for me that is 4.0. I think not only consider it, it possibly will be a necessity. For the brain implant, in the way we are looking at it, if it were to come out again possibly would cause far more trauma than it would be to go in the first place. So definitely the latter one. So Cyborg 1.0 was a radio frequency identification device which I think in 1998 I became the first human to have one of those implanted (figure 1). Now there are quite a few people who do for different reasons but technically we did what we could in that 9 days and we sorted out what we could achieve technically. That is as far as we were looking at and we did it, took it out and it didn't need to stay in any longer. But, that one if it had stayed in could have been a problem because of the nature of that implant, it could have migrated around the body, it wasn't actually designed to be implanted. So, how stable, how robotic it was, it was in a silicon tube, it could have broken in the human body so it wasn't sensible to keep it in for too long, once we had shown what we could do with it (figure 2).
M.G. Michael: The question of stability and robustness of the implant, are you saying that has been addressed quite adequately right now to your satisfaction?
Kevin Warwick: I think for the Cyborg 2.0 type of implant which involves a link between the nervous system or the brain and the computer is certainly not addressed to my satisfaction (figure 3). I think it is an enormous question. The implant I have, the last one, was still only 3 months, I think the longest one in a human has been about 7 months and then from all reports it didn't go too well. So its a problem. On one hand you don't want to put in material that the body will reject, but if you have material like silicon or platinum that the body does link with nicely, then the problem after a few months is that the body can start eating away at it; it starts dissolving, it becomes too close to the material (figure 4). So, you are trying to find a material in a way of integrating the use for long term stability. The human body will rarely work that closely with foreign material. The technology has moved on quite a lot but there is still some way to go with it.
M.G. Michael: In Cyborg 2.0, in the experiment you and your wife, Irena, were implanted and hoped to receive messages from one another over computer mediation (figure 5). One of the obvious applications is for disabled persons. Was this one of the sole motivators for the experiment?
Kevin Warwick: Yes, I think it was one of the main driving forces. I am historically a communications person having worked for British Telecom for 6 years. For me it was looking at the possibility of opening up a new communications channel for people with Long Tim's Syndrome giving them some way to communicate. It was the bit that I found most exciting, but I am not sure most folk realize what we actually achieved. But, you need to know a lot about telephones and telegraphs in order to appreciate it. We did communicate, for the first time in the world directly from nervous system to nervous system electronically telegraphically, very simply.
M.G. Michael: As you said, Kevin, there is a lot of misinformation out there and there is a lot more education that needs to be done for a variety of reasons. What are some of the fundamental, technical, lessons learned from your experiments?
Kevin Warwick: Well, I think in terms of what we can do with extra sensory input, we showed with ultrasonics, it is possible and the human brain adapts to things very quickly. The human brain is amazingly clever, our brains are obviously not dumb and adapt quite quickly to what’s going on and that works to our benefit. And there are enormous possibilities with the technology extra sensory inputs we achieve, extending the human nervous system over the internet, which opens a new way of looking at humans. Our bodies are not restricted to the size and the shape they are, we can send out brain signals in different countries and continents. Those are things which really opened my mind as to what is going to be possible in the future.
M.G. Michael: Just to add another question Professor Warwick. I am getting a feeling here that questions of metaphysics and ontology do interest you a lot, am I correct?
Kevin Warwick: Yes, they do. But I often come at it from a realistic point of view, which is a bit of a choice.
M.G. Michael: I have been studying your work for some time now. I was especially fascinated to notice that you have a research associate who is from the humanities and that was a wonderful thing to see.
Kevin Warwick: That's Daniela, she's a bit like the devil on my shoulder. It's not like that she comes at it from a negative point of view, but she's more like "what will this mean for society? If we do that, how are people going to take it?" And it's really good to have those questions chipping away at you all the time, you have to think about it in a much broader way.
M.G. Michael: Absolutely. I tell you something that's an entire new interview, isn't it?
Kevin Warwick: Yes. It's not like the case that she is saying "Should you be doing that? This is not good", she's not doing that. She is saying "What does it mean? What are the positives? What are the negatives for society?" It really is a common picture that this is how it is going to be. Even if you're opening up something that is going to have military uses. I think some people say "it's military, it's fine" but how can that be the case, it's the country's staying power and we need the military and in many countries we are dependent on it as a way of life. So it’s very prevalent in a lot of the research we do.
M.G. Michael: Are you already looking toward a Cyborg 3.0 or 4.0? And what is coming next?
Kevin Warwick: Yes, well Cyborg 3.0 is what we are working on, with research with Amjad Shad, the neurosurgeon whom we worked on the last one. Cyborg 3.0 is looking at an implant for an individual with a spinal injury and I think it will be a brain implant and it has a number of aspects with it. Which ones will be more successful, we will have to see. What the surgeon wants to do is attempt to bridge over lesions so to literally put implants, as I would put it, to rewire the nervous system where there has been a break. And to see if the person over a period of time, can learn or relearn how to use parts of their body which have become not functional because of the lesion. At the same time we would like to use the signals we can get in order to allow the individual to do things which the patient otherwise wouldn't be able to do. So, this is someone who is severely paralyzed and what I did in the last experiment, Cyborg 2.0, was for example, to drive the wheel chair around directly from neural signals. What we would like the spinally injured patient to do is drive around a car just by thinking about it, directly by brain signals. Much as a demonstrator to see what is possible and have the person move around for the rest of their life.
M.G. Michael: There is extraordinary potential there. And my next question is, what do you think is coming next in the foreseeable future, say in the next 5 to 10 years? In your own work specifically.
Kevin Warwick: In my work, we have really been successful in the Parkinson’s Disease Project and got quite a lot of money from the Medical Research Council in the UK to take this further. That is, to provide a feedback loop and literally to have an intelligent system, probably the implanted device would be a microprocessor device which will be fully implanted with the Parkinson’s tremor stimulator. So, it is the next generation of stimulators. The nice thing is, the microprocessor systems that out-think the human brain. Before tremors occur in Parkinson’s Disease, there are signals in the deep brain that say it is going to occur. The microprocessors pick up on the signals and counteracting the resultant effect so stopping them occurring before they do occur. Which is really exciting not just from a Parkinson’s Disease point of view, therapeutically, but in a general sense it's looking at a computer sitting in the human brain predicting what the human brain is going to do and then stopping it doing it. So, it has all sorts of applications. How it is going to be used we'll see, but if you take things like slimming, for example, having a piece of electronics in your brain stopping you from eating chocolate cake. Maybe that's a flippant use of that technology but it shows how broadly the technology can be used.
M.G. Michael: I was interested in what you said about the broad uses of the technology once it's introduced. Do you see any problems with that? Do you think there are any risks in the broad use of this technology?
Kevin Warwick: I try when looking at this to be open, rather than to say "I am just developing this for Parkinson’s Disease, that's it", that's very naive. We have to look at the potential of other applications. And it can open up what other things can benefit, such as slimming, and it can open up potential negatives, such as remote controlled human beings, which could be misused for military purposes. So we have to be open to what is being developed here. I think it is important for society to consider the different options rather than in 10 years time be faced with all these people being remote controlled and then saying "Oh what a shock. We didn't know anything about that." | "Well, you were told about it 10 years ago and you should have spoken up about it then". I think any progress of this new type of technology is going to have potential positives and potential negatives, it just changes the way humans and technology interact in a very broad range of modes.
M.G. Michael: That's of course something we could discuss for a long time. Professor Warwick, do you believe that someone who is implanted with a microchip is a "Cyborg"? How do you define "Cyborg"?
Kevin Warwick: Some people say that a person riding a bike is a Cyborg, but that's a bit silly to me. Certainly someone who has technology such as a microchip inside them is a starter and when that allows them to do other things, enhances them, then that's my take on a Cyborg. I think that is has to be integral.
M.G. Michael: It’s a qualified sense, isn't it?
Kevin Warwick: Yes, that's right. It's not something like a pair of glasses you put on and off. It is integral and it enhances you. So, just implanting a microchip per se, the answer would be no. If the microchip is actually doing something then it extends the range of your abilities, then yes in that sense.
M.G. Michael: Do you believe we are attempting to evolve as a human species through technology?
Kevin Warwick: I think we can do. Technically we can see possibilities of improving what individuals can do. Evolution tends to imply biologically we will change, which in an individual I think "yes" the brain, the nervous system and the body will change to more closely integrate with technology if that is what the brain wants. The question is whether that biological change is passed onto children and their children. It depends on which theory of evolution you follow. But there are some that follow a strict Darwinian code that say "no that doesn't happen, either you pass on your genes or your genes are fixed. If you do things in your own life that doesn't affect the genes that are passed on". But then you have the Lamarckian theory that say "the habits and things that you do change the genetic make up, to a very small extent, and therefore you pass it on." I am more of the latter school. So then I would believe that, yes, we can technologically evolve and future offspring, their bodies will be more in tune and more biologically aligned with the technological possibilities.
M.G. Michael: Is it possible that the group of people that can afford this technology will actually have it and could we be creating a new elitist society, with the haves and have-nots that are actually able to access this technology?
Kevin Warwick: I think very much so. If we look to the evolution answer, I think any technology like this can stretch society, much like an elastic band. It doesn’t necessarily pull the bottom end down, in fact, it may actually help the whole way through. But it does stretch society, in terms of people who have more and can influence more. It's a case here though of whether there is so much of an enhancement that the elastic band breaks and we end up with two groups or maybe more. I think, yeah, there is a clear possibility here that those that have could evolve because we are not just looking at physical things you can take off or put on. We are looking at an intellectual upgrade, your intelligence is improved by having an implant that simply improves how your brain operates. And then how are humans different from other creatures? Well, I would say it its due to our intelligence, we can out-think other creatures and therefore we, in the evolution sense, we are more dominant than they are. I think there is a distinct possibility we will end up with an upgrade in society.
M.G. Michael: What applications can you see being deployed commercially utilizing humancentric chip implants, say in the next 10 years?
Kevin Warwick: Clearly extra-sensory input, it could be commercially viable. Ultrasonic is useful for people with disabilities. I think most commercial applications in the next 10 years are for helping people with disabilities. To look at upgrading, the communication side of things is enormous but I still think brain to brain communication is pushing that 10 year time frame. So that will be ultimately the biggest of all, communicating by thought. That's what we want to be able to do in years to come. I reckon most of them are helping people with spinal injuries and helping people who are blind to have a different sensory input, which are not enormous commercial applications.
M.G. Michael: What would you say to some critics in the field of robotics andartificial intelligence, that may say some of your predictions of the future possibilities are, perhaps, far too speculative?
Kevin Warwick: When I published my book "March of the Machines", one of the original hardbacks, back in 1997, one of the things I was saying "well there are a lot of things that are difficult, having robots walking around on two legs would be 20 years before we see that." Well, of course, before the paperback came out one year later, we had P2 robots and subsequently P3 robots doing exactly what we were saying would take 20 years within one year. So I think a lot of what I say is speculative, sure, but being overly speculative is rarely conservative in many ways. I think one criticism I have, intelligence is a vitally important aspect of what we are and what robots are and there is a clear possibility that humans are developing artificial intelligence that ultimately, could make the big decisions. But once it has an intellectual power that outperforms that of humans, then we're in a very, very dangerous area. But there is nothing, nothing whatsoever, no theory, no equation, no basis that says that cannot happen. If you look at it logically and from any scientific point of view, then it is almost surely going to happen. And therefore, I think we have to be open, where are we going with it, what are we doing with artificial intelligence? We got to be very, very careful otherwise we're opening up Pandora's Box and once we've opened it, once we've switched on machines that are more intelligent than we are, they are not going to let us... they are making the decisions. So it's a one way track, so I think those that say "No, you shouldn't say things like that", I think they are being grossly irresponsible to our society just because they want people to feel nice about them and go to sleep at night with their cocoa and say "that guy’s a nice person and that things are not going to be dangerous, I will buy their book, we'll make him a Knight". I think that's grossly irresponsible for science and philosophy towards the general public.
M.G. Michael: And one other thing, the issues that are often raised, being in a capitalist society, there is a rush to patent these things and sometimes in the rush to patent a lot of forethought is not given. So that's an important aspect, isn't it?
Kevin Warwick: I think it is, maybe the commercial reality of it. Money and patents have been detrimental to people in the long term.
M.G. Michael: What do you see as the risks of human beings being implanted with transponders? I know you've touched on some of them but can you tell me more about the risks.
Kevin Warwick: Yes, so you've got medical risks with anything you do like that. I think here we're looking at the human brain adapting in order to improve the overall capabilities. You don't know how it's going to adapt completely. Ok, we may lose a lot of things if we're taking on board other senses we may lose some of the senses we've got. We simply do not know. It really is something that is out of control but you really don't know which way it is going to go. Positives and negatives as in medical dangers; what we can gain is what we can see, what we can lose or what we will lose is really not clear. But for sure, we’ve got to lose something I believe, it's not going to just be gain, gain... I don't think hardly anything in life is like that.
M.G. Michael: Yes, there's always the price to pay for advancements.
Kevin Warwick: In this case, we really don't know what the price is.
M.G. Michael: That's the problem, isn't it? Kevin, what are some of the safeguards that should be introduced to ensure the protection of data for people embedded with transponders? Because we read that a lot of this data can be manipulated, it can be changed, it can be stolen. So what are your thoughts on that?
Kevin Warwick: I think even now with things like credit cards that people use, and particularly with finance it’s become purely electronic, you don’t actually see money. There is far, far more, than I think any person, even those people in the know can imagine, in terms of data on what a person does; where they live; who they see; where they go. Now, we are looking at transponder information that shows where a person is more accurately. It is a positive and a negative because in a sense you want the information to be there so the computers do things for you, but at the same time the fact that the information is there, it can be used in other ways. To bring in safeguards, it would be good to do that, but how we do it is not clear. So, I don't have an immediate answer. I think practically looking at how we can bring in those safeguards is a very difficult picture. Maybe we can stick more to intranet, so the networks and your data which is passed around on it is defined, is restricted. That is one way of limiting the dangers that are there. But it does then limit the practical effectiveness of the data that is there, you really want that data to do something, which is why you got the implant in the first place. But if you don't want the restrictions then you lose the safeguards and privacy.
M.G. Michael: So, is there a bit of trial and error involved here?
Kevin Warwick: I think it is very much trial and error, which is always a risky thing because you don't want to push it too far. You could get something very negative out of it. I think the basis of scientific investigation at the end of the day is the trial and error, you hope that you are not pushing things too far, you hope that you've made a good guess of what is going to happen. That's really all you can do, like “based on the scientific evidence, I think this is going to happen", you hope that you are not going to push this too far. But, you never know what can happen.
M.G. Michael: Do you believe in any way we can prejudge ethics with regards to emerging technologies like RFID?
Kevin Warwick: To a certain extent I think, yes, now that we've been talking about data disappearing and we can see what the technology has to offer. So we can look at it to a certain extent, maybe in the direction it is heading. But in some cases we can't, for example the use of this type of technology for tracking people, it has positives and negatives and it depends ethically which country you are in. In America for example, they are very keen on this technology being developed for things like tracking and monitoring people. They would like a stronger regime that this technology could help in abductions for instance, but if that is then applied in a more general sense across the world it could be extremely restrictive because of the Big Brother issues which seem very dangerous. So I think we can look to a certain extent forwards, but unless something is actually brought in and commercial effects come into play and the sociological effects, whether people want it or not. For example the cell phone, 25 to 30 years ago it was not a practical reality, it was not possible that these things would be able to work, there were all types of practical problems. Going from that, to being something that for many people they couldn’t live without- they can't go outside the house without the cell phone is strapped to their ear. So sociologically it's had an enormous impact on how we communicate and interact but to actually predict that in an ethical context, it would be very, very difficult.
M.G. Michael: I can see that. There's a contradiction there, because we can say historical paradigms are critically important but are not always 100% predictive so there's a contradiction there that we have to resolve.
Kevin Warwick: Yes, well taking history and seeing how it's gone can give us some indication. But I think, ethically, we do have to try and look at all the aspects. We need to look at the positives and negatives. We can get some messages from the past but we just can't tell.
M.G. Michael: The trajectory of technology is sometimes unstoppable. Kevin, can you comment on the newly enacted laws such as the chip implant laws in Wisconsin and elsewhere, where it has been moved to make involuntary humancentric implants illegal.
Kevin Warwick: I think there is a discussion there. It raises the attention of people to the fact that "Hey! We do have to look at this seriously in a general way," and what are the results of these discussions because implants are very, very different in nature as to what they do. So where these discussions go as to what type of implants and what methods can be used. I believe it is important that discussions like this do go on politically, rather than politicians keeping their heads in the sand about the technology moving on. So, I would welcome it, a discussion whole heartedly. With implants of course you do have therapy enhancement aspects, so to restrict the use of these implants, well, it'd be terrible. You know saying "you've got Parkinson’s, you've got epilepsy. Well, tough; we have the technology but we are not going to let you have any benefits from it". That would be horrible. At the same time, then if you say "yes, we will let you have these implants" then it opens up the possibilities of people enhancing but it is a very, very difficult problem. I hope the politicians don't come up with a silly solution that does not let people have these benefits. But, it's very, very good to have such discussions.
M.G. Michael: Yes, the problem is there, Kevin. Of course “legislation” is usually 4 years according to the term of the party in power. The foresight is usually limited to 4 years, isn't it? And that's one of the problems.
Kevin Warwick: Politicians are often after the short fix. They say "this technology is terrible" to give someone a nice political angle. But in the long term people look and say "well this was terrible for society. We were restricted and everyone else had the technology and we didn't" so yes, it can be problematic in a big way.
M.G. Michael: Do you see the potential for every person to be implanted with a microchip for national security purposes? Especially in the context that we are living in now with the threats of terrorism.
Kevin Warwick: That is a big issue. I think certainly to make it available, thinking of more in terms of passports rather than identity cards. I think certainly making it available for passports so if you wanted to move country to country or you want personally to have a higher level of security, then why not? It's certainly good enough for that now. As to whether it's made for every person, I mean in Britain we still don't have identity cards, I still believe that this is not something against an implant, this is something against, as I would see it, to the freedom of individual too. I believe this is a general identity card attitude that I think a lot of people in Britain, including myself, hold. So I think I am giving an answer that is not anti-implant but is anti-freedom of the individual to impose some sort of identification device on everybody. But of course, as you say, it would very much enhance security on a global scale and therefore there are a lot of positives to it. So, I've successfully not answered that question. [Laughs]
M.G. Michael: There are some hints there, there are a few hints there... [Laughs] Do you think parents have the right to make their child get an implant for the sake of an emergency situation? Does it promote a false sense of security for the parent? Can it realistically prevent an attack from occurring, for example?
Kevin Warwick: I'll answer the questions in reverse order. I think there is a deterrent factor there. Seriously we hope that a child is never abducted, but realistically it does happen sometimes. Statistics on it are often quite confusing, a situation is only counted as an abduction if nothing else happens. If the child is ultimately murdered, then it is not an abduction it is a murder. So what we are looking at is a lot more prevalent than some people would have you believe. But I think the deterrent factor is important. And therefore just having an implant is much like having a burglar alarm on your house. But, you actually need a box on the outside that shows you have an alarm on your house. So it may need something like that, something extra as well as something there. Does it give a false sense of security for the parent? I don't know false sense, but I hope that it does give a sense of security for the parent so they can relax a little bit. I don't think it gives a false sense because there is still a possibility there and I don't think parents take their eye off security aspects. I do get a lot of emails from concerned parents, there are a lot of parents out there concerned about the safety of their child. As for whether it's right, does the parent have the right to give the child an implant? In your wording there, it is quite interesting. A technical thing here is the right of the child and the decision the child can take. We are not looking at a major thing here like a child getting their leg amputated. We are looking at a little device that is injected under the skin. In terms of injuring the child, it's like having an injection. Parents allow their children to have an injection to prevent cholera, which is good for the child, even in the child says "no, I don't want this" then the parent will say "no, you have to have this injection". So, in a way things like that already go on and if you put it in that context, microchips are there to prevent something from happening. Then it's not too dissimilar to a chemical, this is just having a little bit of electronics injected compared to chemicals. Most chemicals could have a profound effect on the child's brain. The chemicals could have much, much worse an effect. I think putting it in context, it's nowhere near as serious other than if the implant is used in an abusive way. I would see the important thing as: Does the child itself know exactly what is going on? Are they happy with it, knowing they will be protected? Fine. But, if it helps considerably, then I don't see a problem with it. As long as it's not abused, as long as parents don't get access to where their child is 24 hours a day, only actually brought into play if the parents or police are worried and then it is brought to life as it were. So I don't really see there is an issue of it in a big way. Maybe it needs to be taken carefully step by step to ensure it is not used abusively. But, I don't really see it anymore than a kid getting an injection chemically to stop them getting diseases.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, let's just stay a little more in the deep and murky waters of ethics here. Do you think carers of sufferers of Alzheimer’s, for instance, have the right to make their loved ones get implants for the sake of an emergency situation, if the patients themselves are not able to make decisions that may affect their well being?
Kevin Warwick: Yes, it's a difficult one. If they are not able themselves, I would say yes. Same question again as giving the patient an injection which can give more profound effects. If they are in a situation where the medical professional or the loved ones can say "yes, this person needs an injection and they'll get an injection", then I would see them in the same place. I cannot see a problem with this because it could save their life, you are looking out for the good of the person. Again, there needs to be some sort of check to ensure it is not abused. But subject to that, I would think, "yes" is the answer, because it could save the person's life.
M.G. Michael: In a similar context, of voluntary versus involuntary, do you think we have the right to embed tracking devices into prisoners or suspected terrorists to ensure we can track and monitor them?
Kevin Warwick: Well, suspected terrorists, is a bit of a contradictory description...
M.G. Michael: Well, let's say "confirmed" terrorists.
Kevin Warwick: I think if a prisoner let's say, they are in prison and they are going to stay in prison for next 2 or 3 years, they could have a little implant if they could be paroled, if it's given as a choice like that. They effectively make the choice, why not? I think the technology is fine, it's not a problem. We are not looking at intrusive technology. The technology we are looking at is far less realistically a bit of body piercing. Pedophiles are a big problem now in the UK. They serve their sentences, they are released into the community, now what do we do? Do we tell the people they are living there? Or do we not tell people? That could be irresponsible, because you would have little children running around with a convicted pedophile in the community. What can we do? Well, why not let the felon have an implant we can monitor where they are and make sure they don't go to certain places. They are not allowed into schools and a remote can sound if they go anywhere near the school. It's using the technology in a sensible way for society. I think there are cases, particularly if the prisoners themselves agree because they benefit from it. Even with “suspected” terrorists… I think the use of the word "suspected"...
M.G. Michael: Yes, it is fuzzy.
Kevin Warwick: Let's put it this way, even if I was “suspected” as a terrorist looking at traveling around, and me being given an implant now allowed everybody to travel around a little more easily, including myself, fine, I'd go for it in a minute. To save an hour at this and that airport, even though I knew then some people knew where I was.
M.G. Michael: My next question may be over simplistic, but in a sense it defines different communities, so I'll ask it. When civil libertarians or privacy advocates or people with particular apocalyptic interpretations, for example those who have studied the Apocalypse of John, “the mark or the name of the beast” in Revelation, chapter 13. When they speak in opposition of humancentric chip implants, how might you respond to these people and groups?
Kevin Warwick: The first thing to say is that I have really been surprised at how little I have had in the way of, if you like, complaints or people speaking against me. Literally maybe a dozen emails, letters, phone calls in a dozen years, which is very, very little.
M.G. Michael: I find that amazing, I find that absolutely amazing.
Kevin Warwick: It should be more. I would hope it to be more to question what is going on. Whereas there is a lot of emails saying "yeah it's great, that's fantastic". I think if you do have the use of technology to help with people with disabilities and for people to stand against the use of that sort of technology, I think it is terrible. I really feel sad at anybody like that, for the reason that we could be helping an awful lot of people and living with some of those diseases is horrible, if we can use implants to help people. If we are looking though just at the tracking and monitoring type of implants or even there, if it does allow us more security, even the pedophile question being resolved in this way, then let's look at it… I hope we live in such a society that people can voice their opinion and voice their worries. We obviously need to take their worries into account. I am more on the other side, myself, I think there are so many benefits from chip implants that we need to move forward with it.
M.G. Michael: So, what you are saying is religion has a place in this discussion as long as it's informed and contributes to the debate to make this whole issue more clearer to the general population. So, debate is very important here amongst different sectors of the community.
Kevin Warwick: I wish I could have used those words. I think that is exactly it. I think it has an important role to play in this. And no way should we not listen to them as they are vital.
M.G. Michael: Thanks Kevin, that is generous of you. As an implantee how would you feel if data was being collected about you from an unobtrusive reader?
Kevin Warwick: I guess in a realistic scenario I would suspect that is what is going to happen. Obviously I would not be really happy with it. But, I would suspect it is going to happen because seeing what happens now with credit cards, just where the information turns up and what is known about me that I didn’t think was known about me. But that is me coming at it from a scientific point of view; the obvious answer from someone from the general public view "well this is a terrible thing". But, I think it is something that one has to expect and one has to try and be overly careful about where you go, what you do, and hence prevent the possibility of such information being picked up.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, the next question I think we might have already addressed it. But, I'll ask it in case something else has come into your mind. What are some of the other ethical issues that you feel must be addressed before the microchip implant technology can become widespread?
Kevin Warwick: I think ethical issues can often just be used to "how is this going to negatively affect humans?" I think we need to look broadly at commercial opportunities which are important and these are ethical issues as well because commercial opportunities can, for a particular community, open up extra profits and therefore the community can in general be better off because of these new commercial opportunities. So, I think looking at it from a broad ethical sense is important for positive and negative reasons, and making it as broad as possible there will be differences and one has to accept that. But, that is life. So it's more trying to steer that change into a way that we, "we" that's a big "We" there, we would like it to see it go in a broad sense. So I don’t know if there is a specific point other than to look broadly at what ethical considerations mean rather than just specifically as to what might normally be considered negative.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, what would you consider to be the most important breakthroughs that you've made in your research to date?
Kevin Warwick: I have no doubt that it goes back, and this is probably not going to be the appropriate answer, but if you put it into context of having an extra sense, an ultrasonic sense and showing that we can do things of that kind, that's really the ultimate communication (figure 6). When my brain received neural signals that had come electronically from my wife's brain… that was so exciting that we had achieved that. When you look at some communications, the difference between the telegraph of Morse and then the telephone of Bell, the telephone is not enormously different from the telegraph system as a method of communication. And really we use the same telegraphic methods but really moved on considerably. I mean instead of having to move through pressure waves as we do with the telephone, we went directly from neural signals into the electronics and stayed purely electronic. To me, this is enormous! But, I think the problem is, at the moment, that people don't understand exactly what we did there. To me there is no question the most important breakthrough was the first direct nervous system electronic communication.
M.G. Michael: To people that only have a basic knowledge of these things, it is extraordinary. I think that people concentrate a lot on the hardware and what they can't see is not considered “real”.
Kevin Warwick: I agree.
M.G. Michael: Just on that question, what did it feel like? How did it feel physically when this transmission happened?
Kevin Warwick: Very good question. I did get a surge, it was an electrical current. In terms of how it actually felt, this is going to be a silly answer, but this is how it is- it felt like my wife was communicating with me. It's like you are listening to me on the phone now, how does it feel like to hear me talking? So when I received the first pulse knowing that was from my wife, but my brain knew that it was my wife, the signal that I was looking forward to.
M.G. Michael: So, there was no doubt as to the clarity, the ontology of the sender?
Kevin Warwick: Oh, no, no. How it was set up in the lab, we were on completely different sides of the lab, we both had groups of people around us who were there partly to technically make it happen and partly to check that it was all ok. I couldn't see my wife, I didn't know she'd done anything. She actually moved her hand and as a result of that, my brain received a pulse. From the other side of the lab I shouted "yes!!" and which the other group knew that she'd done that. It all linked in and only when she moved her hand that I shouted "yes". We just showed it worked and a lot better than we expected. It was wonderful to know we had actually done it. We are the first in the world whether we get applauded for it in years to come or not. Someone will probably do it in 10 years time and they'll probably get some of the credit. But to know we actually did it, and no one had experienced it before from a scientific point of view, it was terrific.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, I've got to ask you this, so many thoughts are rushing into my mind right now. Did it take a lot of convincing to Irena?
Kevin Warwick: There was a magazine that said I had forced her into it and she was so annoyed with that. She pretty much wanted to be a part of it and we had to get ethical approval for her to be involved. It was a bit of a hassle but she was very much pushing that she wanted to do it. And she knew how important it was that she wanted to be part of it. So far from it, it was more her convincing me "don't stop what you are doing and we are definitely doing this" which was great.
M.G. Michael: Katina and I, in our work, speak of the Electrophorous and the Homo Electricus; that is we are becoming electric bearers. Does this make sense to you?
Kevin Warwick: Oh yes, I think well the human body is electric.
M.G. Michael: Well, it's very encouraging to hear that because I also asked Professor Toumazou and he was really supportive of our research. I also wanted to ask you, we've had a wonderful conversation here and there are so many points we could have addressed so it's been quite general, but you've been very clear in your responses… I just wanted to say is there anything final that you wanted to add? Anything you wanted to make clearer for me? Any final comments you wish to make?
Kevin Warwick: I've totally racked my brain at the moment. If I had a little memory chip, I would know what I should be saying here... [Laughs]
M.G. Michael: [Laughs] Or if I had one? I would have got to ask you questions more in your league…
Kevin Warwick: Things like that we can say jokingly. We don't exactly know how it is going to affect society in the long term. For some people it's worrying but for me it's tremendously exciting. So there we go.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, I would like to thank you for your time. I'm very grateful for your forthrightness and trust. Your unique commentary is critical to our research. I wish you discernment.
Kevin Warwick: Yes. Thanks. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that we do get a chance to meet up in the future.
M.G. Michael: Kevin, I would like very much to meet up with you and so would Katina. There is a lot more to talk about here.
Kevin Warwick: Cheers, well. Send my regards to Katina.
M.G. Michael: Thanks again, Kevin.
Key Terms & Definitions
Artificial Intelligence (AI): The capability of a computer system to learn from its experiences and simulate human intelligence in decision-making.
Convergence: To tend to meet in a point or line; incline towards each other.
Cybernetics: The study of nervous system controls in the brain as a basis for developing communications and controls in socio-technical systems.
Cyborg: The concept of a man-machine combination; a human who adds to or enhances his or her abilities by using technology.
Cyborg 1.0: Phase One of Professor Kevin Warwick’s chip implant experiment beginning on the 24th of August 1998. A silicon chip transponder was surgically implanted into the Professor’s forearm. This experiment allowed a computer to monitor Warwick as he moved through halls and offices at his workplace using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip. He could operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger.
Cyborg 2.0: Phase Two of Professor Kevin Warwick’s chip implant experiment beginning on the 14th of March 2002. A one hundred electrode array was surgically implanted into the median nerve fibers of the Professor’s left arm. This phase looked at how an implant could send signals back and forth between Warwick's nervous system and a computer. Kevin and his wife Irena, both were implanted to investigate how movement, thought or emotion signals could be transmitted from one person to the other, via a computer network.
Cyborg: A humanoid robot which incorporates the living tissue of a human or other organism.
Extra-sensory input: Beyond the normal range of the sense organs.
Humancentric Monitoring: Is the discrete observation or the continuous real-time observation of a subject, examining, inspecting or scrutinizing their progress or their given state over a period of time for the purposes of systematic review and revision.
Humancentric tracking: Is the act of following someone or something, in order to find that individual and to understand their pattern of movement over a period of time, or note their course for a particular purpose.
Humanoid: A robot that looks like a human in appearance and is autonomous. The term was derived by Czech playwright Karel Capek in 1920 from the Slav word for worker.
Lamarckian Theory: The theory that characteristics acquired by habits, use, disuse, or adaptations to changes in environment may be inherited.
Mark of the Beast: In the Book of Revelation 13:16f. the mark of the beast is a parody of God’s seal, Rev. 7:3. The mark (666) is gained by worshiping the beast and it signifies that the beast is the owner of those who have accepted it.
Microchip Implant: An integrated circuit device encased in radio-frequency identification transponders that can be active or passive and is implantable into animals or humans usually in the subcutaneous layer of the skin.
Misinformation: False or misleading information.
Neurosurgery: The branch of medicine relating to the surgery of the nervous system.
Paralysis: Loss of power of a voluntary muscular contraction.
Parkinson’s Disease: A form of paralysis characterised by tremor, muscular rigidity, and weakness of movement.
RFID Implant: A transponder injected into the sub-dermal layer of the skin, or any other part of the body in a human or animal.
Robot: Mechanical self-controlling apparatus designed to carry out a specific task.
Scientific Evidence: Evidence which either supports or refutes a scientific theory. It is usually empirical and follows a set scientific method relevant to a given field of inquiry.
Transponder: Also known as an electronic tag; are remotely activated receiver-transmitters. These devices can be external, injectable tags, or contactless smart cards and are mainly used for identification purposes, transmitting information on-demand.
Trial and Error: Process of experimentation to find the best way of achieving a desired result, in which various methods are tried and eliminated as unsuitable.