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Kevin Warwick
professor of cybernetics at the the School of Systems Engineering at the University of Reading

My research involves robotics, artificial intelligence and above all cyborgs. I have myself been given two implants, the latter of which linked my nervous system with the internet for experimentation. In one experiment, my nervous system was linked directly with that of my wife, to enable us to communicate in a completely new way.

When I was a child, the first science fiction story I read was The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. I was fascinated from start to finish. I felt that the incredible thing was, it could happen! But in reality, would humans win out in the end?

I also read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton, about a man who has electrodes inserted into his brain in order to electronically alter his emotions. I read it more as a future science report than as a novel. Over 30 years later, when I had electrodes inserted into my own nervous system, it was as though I had read about it before it happened.

I have been driven by the excitement brought about through scientific invention and endeavour – for example, the electrical experiments of Michael Faraday, the first telephone call of Graham Bell, and the design of the jet engine by Frank Whittle. When my wife and I were successful with the world’s first direct nervous system to nervous system communication, I felt that maybe we went some way in that direction. Of course, there are also fictional inspirations along the same lines, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson being a wonderful example.

Personal inspiration comes from pioneers such as the Wright Brothers, going somewhere for the first time, despite criticism; Robert Scott, pushing the boundaries, maybe too far; John F Kennedy, setting sights on the future; and even Horatio Nelson, putting personal safety at risk. But I know that my work could help a lot of people who have a spinal injury, or are blind, or have Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, and this is what really drives me forward.

If my research could help just one or two people, and make their life a little better, then that research is worthwhile. This makes any criticism from others seem insignificant, and pushes me to go that little bit further in my attempts to get the results.

Kevin Warwick is author of books including I, Cyborg (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and March Of The Machines: The Breakthrough In Artificial Intelligence (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.