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Who was the first cyborg?

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Kevin Warwick uses a cyborg implant to control a robot hand on the internet. (Image credit: Kevin Warwick)

Fictional cyborgs can be found everywhere, from the big screen to comics and novels. But who was the first real bionic human?

To answer this question, let’s draw our attention to Kevin Warwick, who has a scar on his left forearm from which surgeons have pulled 100 silicon tips, fitted with platinum electrodes, directly into his. the nervous system. These spikes allowed his body to receive external electronic signals – for example, from a computer – and to retransmit them.

This operation arguably made Warwick the first cyborg in 2002, fusing his body with technology to expand his usual human capacities in the realm of science fiction. With the implant, it could be connected to computers, control robots on other continents via the Internet, and detect ultrasonic sound waves, just like a bat can.

“It’s like a superpower that your brain can suddenly control,” Warwick, professor emeritus of cybernetics at the University of Reading and Coventry University in the UK, told Live Science.

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The word “cyborg” was coined in 1960 by neurophysiologist and engineer Manfred Clynes, although creatures resembling cyborgs have appeared in science fiction since the 1920s, according to Reference Oxford. The meaning of cyborg is wide and variable depending on the source.

Merriam webster defines a cyborg as a bionic human, with “bionic” meaning biological abilities or performance enhanced by electronic or electromechanical devices. The first body-worn electronic hearing aids were developed in the early 20th century, according to the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. But while an electronic hearing aid can help the hard of hearing, it does not give them extra and superhuman abilities. The same is true of other wonders of medical technology, such as pacemakers, which are implanted electrical devices that help the patient. heart to beat.

Warwick got his first implant in 1998, a simple radio frequency identification (RFID) chip placed under the skin of his arm. Computers in his laboratory at the University of Reading were connected to antennas that detected the radio waves transmitted by the chip so that the computers could monitor and perform tasks for Warwick as he approached, such as opening electronic doors. But he believes it was the 2002 implant that earned him the nickname “cyborg,” because the implant was built into his body’s nervous system and extended what human biology was capable of.

Fibrous tissue has grown around the implant, securing it in place in his arm, which means that the tissue has accepted the implant into the body. The tips of the implant could detect signals passing through its nervous system that a computer connected to the implant deciphered in real time. The computer could also send its own signals to Warwick’s nervous system via the spikes. This bridge meant that the technology related to Warwick essentially became a part of him. “But also, it gave me abilities that I just didn’t have as a human,” Warwick said.

For example, he moved a robot hand to the UK from New York, like it was his hand. Thus, the signals that his brain sent to his hand ordering him to close into a fist were interpreted by a computer connected to his implant and sent across the world, via the Internet, to another computer connected to the robot’s hand. , so that the robot’s hand was also ordered to close. The metal hand had sensors that sent signals across the internet and into Warwick’s wired nervous system, which his brain received as pulses. The more frequent the impulses were, the stronger the hand. “I could feel what the hand was feeling,” he said. “It was extremely powerful.”

Related: What if our hands had 6 fingers?

Controlling the robot’s hand was one of many experiments Warwick performed while living with the implant for around three months. He acquired a bat-like feel by connecting his implant to a modified baseball cap that had ultrasonic sensors attached to it. The sensors sent signals through his nervous system in the form of pulses, which became more frequent as different objects came closer to him.

His biggest “eureka moment” came when he connected his nervous system to the nervous system of his wife, Irena Warwick, after she also pressed electrodes into the nerves in his arm. He couldn’t see what she was doing, but when she opened and closed her hand he could feel it. As with the robot arm, Warwick received impulses in his nervous system to signal what Irena was doing.

The Warwicks aren’t the only ones to hold a prominent place in cyborg history. Neil Harbisson became the first cyborg in the world to be legally recognized by a government in 2004 after the British government allowed him to carry his antenna, which allows him to “hear” the color, in a passport photo, according to CNN.

Neil Harbisson posing next to one of his works. (Image credit: Josep Lago / Contributor via Getty Images)

Harbisson, artist and cyborg activist, was born color blind; the antenna detects colors for him and translates them into sounds he can hear, each color having its own note. The technology, which Harbisson had implanted in his skull, even allows him to hear certain colors that humans cannot see, such as infrared. Unlike the 2002 Warwick Implant which was removed after his experiments, Harbisson’s Antenna Implant is a permanent device that he has been wearing since 2004.

There is, however, a definition of a cyborg that requires more than an implant or two. According to the Oxford Reference, a cyborg is a hybrid: half human and half machine. Scientist Peter Scott-Morgan is on track to achieve this by using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to overcome his motor neuron disease, such as connecting his trachea to an external ventilator to help him breathe and using a synthetic voice to speak, like the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Unlike Hawking, who used cheek contractions to navigate a computer and select words to say, Scott-Morgan plans to control his technology through implants connected to his brain and is working on the development of a more autonomous robotic exoskeleton. stronger than her body ever was. according to “Peter: The Human Cyborg,” a 2020 documentary following his progress.

Warwick has no disabilities to overcome and has withdrawn from upgrading his body with technology. He won’t rule out another implant, but he’s disappointed at the slow pace of scientific progress humans have made with cyborgs since he went under the knife. According to Warwick, his experiments with cyborgs did not catch fire academically, and the work was never fully accepted by his peers.

He expected many people to have implants in their brains now communicate just by thinking of each other. “We don’t have anyone doing that which is really disappointing,” Warwick said.

Originally posted on Live Science.


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