Monday, March 19, 2007

Robot of the Week - Robot Monkey Cyborg Special

You might have heard about this one already, but it's one of the more astonishing things to have happened in the past couple of years. Duke University Doctor Miguel Nicolelis has successfully wired up monkeys' brains to a robotic arm which they have learned to control using thought alone:

Here is a New Scientist article on the subject.

Although not exactly a robot in the autonomous sense, this illustrates a kind of blending of the robotic into the biological that has been going on for some time now. There are, in fact, many cyborgs living among us today. Many, many people depend on their mechanical enhancements for continued life, mobility, the ability to communicate, or all of these things at once. Anyone who has:

- a pacemaker,
- an artificial heart
- a portable dialysis machine
- portable oxygen
- an automated wheelchair
- artificial limbs
- a hearing aid
- contact lenses or glasses
- Speech Assistance machines

is already in some degree a cyborg.

You could make an argument for almost any sort of tool to enhance human performance as being a step down the road to cybernetics, but for the word to have any real meaning I think you have to draw the line somewhere. For me, I think that any time we take a machine into our bodies, or invest some degree of our consciousness into a machine, we are talking about the merger that produces cyborgs.

It's interesting to think that, in as much as our conscious minds seem to ride along on our biological bodies without as much real control over them as we might think, that the ongoing push toward cybernetics isn't so much an attempt to prolong the life of the body as it is consciousness attempting to devise a more acquiescent, durable host for itself. Consciousness, the selfish meme, attempting to transcend its withering native flesh through the agency of technological invention, an activity unique to consciousness itself.


karenb said...

The kids really look forward to the robot of the week but this one freaked 'em out. Some primal concern for the monkey and what would he do without the robot to feed him... so is distrust of our dependence on machines hard-wired? Cool research though. Think how incredibly life-changing this could be for amputees, those with MS or paralysis.
Great blog - keep it up!

Bill Cunningham said...

Yeah, the monkey thing is pretty disturbing to look at. The monkey actually does still have his own regular arms as well - when he's not hooked up to the machine, he's more or less a regular monkey. You can tell them he can feed himself the normal way most of the time.

The next one is more fun, kind of a real-life transformer.

I'm glad your'e enjoying these, there alot of fun to hunt down. I'll have more in between them soon... I'm building up to a couple of more complete essay style posts.