Square Root of Negative One

cybernetics…or, super hero

Posted in baking idea by cheng on October 14, 2010

Interestingly, Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at University of Reading, visited CMU the same week we read Bruce Sterling’s vision of the SPIME. Kevin talked about his research projects, including the ones in which he implanted a nerve-computer interface in his body.
In his view, the technology expands the input and output human beings can get. On one hand, we could sense things we weren’t able to before ( “ Who is not envious that your television can see infrared but you can’t?”). Kevin spent 6 weeks to learn to interpret ultrasonic sensor input, and to use it to avoid obstacles. “Yes!” One would immediately infer that blind people can benefit from this. (Actually, Electronic Lollipop is already doing it.) How about feeling hazards, such as radioactivity? If a firefighter can see the temperature, and know what’s about to explode, could that be a form of super power of seeing the future? “More than 50 years ago, Austrian researcher Ivo Kohler gave people goggles that severely distorted their vision: The lenses turned the world upside down. After several weeks, subjects adjusted – their vision was still tweaked, but their brains began to process the images so they’d appear normal. In fact, when people took the glasses off at the end of the trial, everything seemed to move and distort in the opposite way”( sensory prosthetics, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.04/esp_pr.html) Could we merge some 6th sense into people’s existing sensors, or use some less occupied ones (like Electronic Lollipop)?
On the other hand, we could extend our impact to a new level. Kevin showed a robotic arm connected to the human body. It could be engineered to mimic a human arm. It might as well be 100 times stronger. It doesn’t even need to connect to the human body (I was imagining Ian Ingram’s “YOU ARE NO. 1 “ installation, hmm…) . “Your body gets as large as the internet goes”. Potentially, yes. A more interesting question is, if each body is an I/O node, what can we get out of the whole network? Are we more intelligent? More powerful? How do we show it in a costume design, and deliver the idea in a show?
Coincidently, TEI student design competition is calling for superhero suit. I see an intriguing opportunity to make a statement on this topic. It’ll be fun to stop by Kevin Warwick’s lab and show my vision of the future.

“what do you want to be?”


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