Cybernetics: A Chronology of 8 Real-life Examples
Written for HealthScienceNow
In the Beginning…
Well, since 1956 when the phrase, ‘artificial intelligence’ in all its myriad forms, came in and out of the world’s consciousness as part apparition, part prophecy, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has waxed and waned in cycles. University programs established for the study of cybernetic organisms, otherwise denoted as cyborgs in a linguistic mash-up, were dependent on the tide of university trends, cultural mores and government funding that would feed the hungry beast of research and development. Now, the beings defined as part human and part machine are on the rise.
Most of us are familiar with pop-culture’s iconic sci-fi cyborgs, most notably, The Terminator. The virtually indestructible man-machine assassin immortalized the tagline of a generation from the 1984 movie, “I’ll be back”. After that, there was 1987’s RoboCop, and about 10 years earlier, the television series, The Six Million Dollar Man, overlapped by its companion spin-off, The Bionic Woman.
Propagating the Space-time Continuum
Impassioned scientists from across the globe have explored uncharted waters from the helm of curiosity and the desire to upgrade the human condition, even to compete with the very machines being manufactured by the genius seed. The following timeline is a smorgasbord of cyborgism, the good, the bad and the undetermined.
Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University
As the world’s first cyborg, Warwick proffered complete devotion to his brand of science craft, when in 1998 he had a radio frequency identification device surgically implanted in his arm. Since then he’s been recognized by the university’s electronic doors that magically open without the encumbrance of having to swipe an ID badge and is able to turn on a lamp by pumping his fist into a quick double squeeze.
Irena Warwick, Wife of Professor Warwick
In 2002 a micro neurosurgery procedure was performed on Irena’s hand, whereby a thin needle was inserted into the median nerve of her palm. By using a laboratory computer rigged as a communications intermediary they were able to link their nervous systems together so that when she moved her hand he felt a signal, a pulse in his brain.
The Female Patients of Dr. Stuart Meloy, Anesthesiologist
In 2004 the implantation of spinal cord electrodes intended to provide relief from chronic pain accidentally became a “happy endings” device for the women he treated. Now lovingly referred to as the Orgasmatron, it sends pleasure signals to the brain with a computer chip that induces orgasm.
Neil Harbisson, the Eyeborg
A painter whose vision was limited to only black and white since birth has used a revolutionary device since 2004 called the eyeborg. Attached permanently to his head it translates color frequencies into sound frequencies allowing him to “see” hundreds of color hues with his ears, effectively allowing him to “hear” a rainbow.
Patients in Nursing Care Facilities Throughout Japan
2005 marked the year that inventor, Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai, unveiled an exoskeletal suit designed to improve the quality of life for the elderly and physically disabled. The device is strapped on to the legs and back and contains micro-electric sensors that detect the nerve impulses through the skin to provide assisted movement, making it easier to perform daily tasks such as walking or lifting.
Gordon, The Ratborg Robot
In 2008, in yet another example of Professor Warwick’s explorations of artificial intelligence, he created what some might argue is the opposite of a cyborg; a machine with organic enhancement as opposed to an organic being with mechanical augmentation. The small robot, fitted with a biological brain cultivated from the neurons of a rat’s embryo, has a prime directive not to bump into anything. As soon as it senses an obstacle it will change direction. Subsequently, displayed on a lab table for observation and fully surrounded by students, the ratborg was rendered motionless as there was no place to go without the threat of imminent collision.
Carol Kasyjanski, Wireless Pacemaker Patient
This patient received the world’s first wireless pacemaker in 2009. An Internet-enabled home monitoring system transmits essential information to her physician, recording heart and pacemaker activity from a remote location. Based on a preprogrammed range of normal pacemaker functioning, an emergency response will be generated when a life-threatening situation is detected, sans smartphone.
Oscar Pistorius, Track and Field Athlete
A bilateral amputee from the knees down, Oscar Pistorius sports high-tech prosthetics. In a controversial decision, Pistorius, a.k.a. The Blade Runner, was granted permission to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London after the International Association of Athletic Federations banned his participation, stating that the prosthetics, designed to mimic the spring of a cat’s hind legs gave him “an unfair advantage.”
Stranger Than Fiction or Just Strange?
Maybe, but advances in science are made by proving the theorems that are the conjuring’s of imagination. In spite of the many hard questions that cyborgism is bound to generate, there are numerous applications that are slated to be launched from the bioelectronics platform, showing promise in the areas of pain cessation, functional movement and self-regulation. In fact, the suffering caused by a broad spectrum of physical and mental juggernauts including Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s Disease or paralysis from spinal cord injuries are projecting alleviation as AI studies progress.
Artificially stimulated neural activity in real-time is the next frontier for human-AI integration. Principles developed from a study conducted at the University of Chicago may very well create the breakthrough that scientists have worked towards and amputees longed for. Published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research findings conducted by senior author, Sliman Bensmaia, PhD and assistant professor at the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, point toward the ability for immediate sensory interface between the brain and a prosthetic limb, the restoration of touch.
A conversation with Sunil Vemuri, Co-Founder and CPO of reQall - a company specializing in context-aware, proactive and intelligent assistant technologies - reveals how prosthetic memory can help us in the future. “As the rate of information increases, our ability to remember it decreases; biological brains are not designed to handle that kind of overload. Technology is looking at various forms of biological computations, bioprocessors that could resemble what a cell is. It may not be an electronic chip -- it may be a biochemical entity that goes into the body and performs computations very similar to what a computer chip does. Augmented memory will be key if we’re going to have superior cognitive abilities,” he commented.
It seems as though we’ve fallen down a virtual rabbit hole with elaborate, colorful circuitry, one in which technology requires more technology. And it does.