The return of Captain Cyborg
Thursday April 29, 2004
Captain Cyborg is back. Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University is a legend: this week the Independent ran a piece on his discovery that watching Richard and Judy on television for half an hour was the best thing to improve IQ test performance, and that reading a book was bad for you. Warwick was telling exactly the same story four years ago. I phoned his secretary and his research assistant to find out if he’d published this data in any journals. “Oh yes … the Daily Mail?” Not quite what I was looking for. “The Independent?”
So are the papers right to trust him? In 1999, several broadsheets covered his warning on cyber drugs. “Law enforcement officials are bracing themselves for the introduction of virtual reality drugs which, because they are transmitted across the internet or using radio waves, can be taken without anyone ever needing to actually possess them.” Warwick was quoted as saying: “The question is not whether virtual reality narcotics can be created, but how soon they can be put on the market.” Buffoon, says Inman Harvey of the University of Sussex. Irresponsible, says Professor Alan Bundy of Edinburgh.
Â· Warwick also surgically implanted a trivial chip in his arm, which allowed sensors to detect his presence and do things like turn on lights and open doors, then romped about in the media explaining gravely that he was now a cyborg: “Being a human was OK,” he said. “But being a cyborg has a lot more to offer.” Bravo. It was never clear why he couldn’t just carry the chip in his pocket. Before the century is out, he says, machines will take over the planet. “It’s difficult to describe how frustrating it is in the field seeing this man being our spokesman,” says Richard Reeve, of the AI department at Edinburgh.
Â· After the Soham murders he waded into the media again, saying he was going to implant a locating transmitter in an 11-year-old girl, in case she was abducted. The “chip” would cost “Â£20”. Academic experts in mobile phone networks and animal tracking with experience in similar devices thought it was bunk (tinyurl.com/2mep6). Children’s charities and medical ethicists said the unnecessary surgery was irresponsible. And any fool could see that a kidnapper would chop it out messily. As before, after a flurry of media coverage: nothing. Idiot, says Joanna Bryson of MIT. Unrealistic, says Professor Blay Whitby from Sussex. His experiments fail hilariously (tinyurl.com/3xkc2). He’s obsessed with media coverage. And we can’t get enough of him.
(This story was followed up on here.)
Bryson and Whitby have since cast doubt on these quotes attributed to them from The Register. I now believe these quotes to be inaccurate.