As Kevin Warwick gently squeezed his hand into a fist one day in 2002, a robotic hand came to life 3,400 miles away and mimicked the gesture. The University of Reading cybernetics professor had successfully wired the nerves of his forearm to a computer in New York City’s Columbia University and networked them to a robotic system back in his Reading, England, lab. “My body was effectively extended over the Internet,” Warwick says.
It’s a far cry from his vision of transforming humanity into a race of half-machine cyborgs able to commune with the digital world—there is no spoon, Neo—but such an evolution is necessary, says 54-year-old Warwick. Those who don’t avail themselves of subcutaneous microchips and other implanted technology, he predicts, will be at a serious disadvantage in tomorrow’s world, because they won’t be able to communicate with the “superintelligent machines” sure to be occupying the highest rungs of society, as he explains in a 2003 documentary, Building Gods, which is circulating online.
As a blogger, I cannot ridicule anyone’s documentary for ‘circulating online’. But as a theist and a humanist (and incidentally someone who ranks contemporary Matrix references at about the level of continuing to say ‘Talk to the hand’) — I must express profound concern and grave doubt in the wisdom of this project. Bringing back polytheism never sounded like such a time commitment. Although being able to punch someone 3,000 miles away with a robot hand is totally rad, choosing to become the Lawnmower Man is so not. Especially if the motivational driver for that little piece of interest calculus is the Sound of Inevitability. No, the closest I come to mechanical animals is this. The costs incurred in modern life by being put out and inconvenienced by one another on a daily basis are already high enough to make constant doping (with solids, liquids, and gases) a regimental necessity. The last thing I need to deal with from you people is everyone turning into all-powerful, disembodied robots.