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Brain in a machine: Scientists investigate possibility of body-less future

September 4, 2013 1:16pm
Fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ intergalactic nemesis, Krang, rejoice! Scientists are now investigating whether it is possible to one day live our lives as brains without bodies.
 
According to the Daily Mail and Vice Magazine, many scientists consider the human body as a near-obsolete biological system, one that needs a serious upgrade if we are to sustain healthy living in our rapidly changing environment—or, more interestingly, if we have plans to leave our Earthly home and colonize distant planets.
 
Cybernetics expert at the University of Reading, Professor Kevin Warwick, however, believes these people are missing the point. Why upgrade these messy, corruptible bags of flesh when we could do the next best thing—get rid of them altogether?
 
"The brain is the critical thing," he said. "Even on Earth, the physical body that we've got is perhaps not suitable anymore. We could do with something better."
 
The wild, wild world of zany brain experiments
 
Perhaps in the running to bag the Best Mad Scientist award, Warwick has subjected himself to a number of bizarre experiments. In one such experiment, he transformed himself into a "cyborg" by having a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip surgically implanted into his arm. The chip allowed him to manipulate computer-controlled devices in the vicinity, such as lights, doors, and heaters.
 

In 2002, another implant successfully enabled him to directly interact with his nervous system. The chip emitted signals that a robot developed by a colleague, Dr. Peter Kyberd, was able to detect, enabling it to imitate the movements of Warwick’s arm.
 
And as if that wasn't mind-blowing enough, Warwick’s nervous system was also linked to the internet in New York’s University of Columbia. This allowed him to take control of a robot arm located in the University of Reading.
 
Warwick's own wife took part in the experiments by having another chip implanted in her arm, with the goal to one day create a form of long-distance, telepathic communication via the Internet. The result was the very first direct and completely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.
 
How’s that for connectedness?
 
And the good news is, no damage was detected in the tissue and nervous systems of the two human guinea pigs involved.
 
Last but definitely not the least, is Warwick’s robot, Gordon. Gordon is controlled by rat brains.
 

This Frankenstein-esque robot is under the total control of the brain cells of a rat embryo. Gordon can decide where to go, when to go there, and when to just lie back and chill.
 
The aim here is to reproduce the procedure with human nervous systems, which of course would pave the way for future extraterrestrial rovers or spacefaring machines controlled by nothing more than the human brains implanted into them.
 
A new form of human existence
 
James Hughes, a bioethicist at Trinity College, believes we have the potential to create a new kind of existence for ourselves, one in which we human beings will no longer need food and water to survive. By transferring our consciousness into more reliable and enduring forms, we will be able to traverse the massive expanse of space with little worry.
 
"It's really a much simpler problem. Let's just work on keeping brains alive and then it doesn't matter about the body," echoed Warwick, who remains optimistic that we could one day send human brain-bearing vehicles to alien worlds.
 
Matthew Liao, a bioethicist hailing from New York University, is of the opinion that our present bodies may one day be no longer be able to serve as suitable protective shells in our ever-changing planet. One way to slow down global warming, he believes, is to upgrade our bodies to be friendlier to the environment.
 
But the applications of such a technology are limitless. Liao also thinks it is possible to facilitate space travel by freezing brain cells. When the spacecraft has reached a potentially habitable extrasolar planet many years later, a device will then defrost the cells, returning the individual to consciousness.
 
Much like Aliens' suspended animation, except without Ripley's impressive bod and that nasty alien brute eager to chomp on our acid-strewn carcasses. — VC, GMA News



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