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Artificial Intelligence, bionics and consciousness

October 2011

Professor Kevin Warwick, Dr Kathleen Richardson and Professor Ray Tallis introduced a discussion on Artificial Intelligence and consciousness, chaired by Dr Stuart Derbyshire.

Kevin WarwickIn 2002 Professor Kevin Warwick embarked on a ground breaking experiment Cyborg Project 2.0, in which a one hundred-electrode array was surgically implanted into his own left wrist, connecting his nervous system and an external ‘gauntlet’ housing supporting electronics. The purpose of this experiment was to send signals back and forth between Professor Warwick’s nervous system and a computer via the internet, and most notably, to communicate with his wife Irena who also had an array implanted in her arm. This was noted as the first direct electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.

Kathleen Richardson


In May 2011, ‘Milo’, a Serbian living in Austria, volunteered to have his hand amputated so he could be fitted with a bionic limb connecting to and controlled by the nerve signals in his arm, which had been paralysed in a motorcycle accident, and already partly repaired using nerves from his leg. Meanwhile, developments in stem cell science and synthetic biology have brought the prospect of replacing flesh with ‘synthetic’ flesh a whole lot closer, raising further questions about where man ends and machine begins.


Ray TallisRobots, the 2005 computer-animated comedy film, reflects a real intellectual tension between a relatively fixed, physiologically-based conception of humanity and the increasingly sophisticated world of computer-based devices with human characteristics. It seems we are blurring the distinction between the human form we were born with and the modified form increasing numbers of us now have through medical intervention, as well as sophisticated technologies that interface with our physiology.


To what extent are we becoming or could become ‘transhumans’? And to what extent can human-designed devices become more human, and even think like or better than humans – beating the ‘Turing test’, long thought to distinguish humans from computers? Will it become possible to download and store human knowledge from our brains, and upload to the next generation, potentially speeding the process of advancing human capabilities? And what about the exciting prospects offered by biologically-based computing - imagined and designed by humans, but with unpredictable potential, far beyond the human-scripted programmes associated with existing computing? Could human consciousness really be superseded by our own creations?


Some background readings

CubeStormer, YouTube video by RoboticSolutions 13 Feb 2010

David Chalmers on the Singularity, listen to the philosophy bites podcast 22 May 2010

Will robots take over the world, Dr Kathleen Richardson, UCL Lunch Hour Lecture Series, March 2011

The Cambridge Quintet reviewed by Charles Brickdale April 2011

Bionic hand for 'elective amputation' patient, by Neil Bowdler, BBC News 18 May 2011

Are friends electric? Kathleen Richardson, The Times Higher Education, 09 June 2011

Mmmm! I know that tastes good... I've seen the ad! by Danny Boyle, New Economics 10 June 2011

Brain research's 'golden age', by Tom Feilden, BBC 22 June 2011

Professor Kevin Warwick on The Choice, BBC Radio 4, 14 June 2011

A First Step Toward a Prosthesis for Memory, by Lauren Gravitz, Technology Review 23 June 2011

Mind Control & the Internet, by Sue Halpern, The New York Review of Books, 23 June 2011

Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, by Ray Tallis, Times Higher Education 30 June 2011

Man is more than an overdeveloped monkey?, by Tim Black, spiked review of books Aug 2011

Light from the red hat, by Robin Walsh, Culture Wars 31 Aug 2011


Photo of discussion

AI, bionics and consciosness at John Rylands Library


Listen again (variable quality)...

Speakers and audience discussion - click on the Play button:


Sponsors and Partners

Battle of IdeasThis discussion is a satellite event of the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2011 weekend festival of ideas being held on 29 and 30 October 2011, hosted by the Royal College of Art, London. Now in its seventh year, the Battle of Ideas festival comprises 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. It affords the opportunity for some clear thinking, rational debate and agenda-setting - above all, it's future-orientated, whilst retaining a healthy regard for the past achievements of humanity.

 Manchester Science Festival

For the second year, the Manchester Salon is participating in the fabulous Manchester Science Festival, which is celebrating its fifth year. With over 200 events for families and adults, you can expect an exciting nine days of cutting-edge research, the brightest minds and amazing events. You’ll have the chance to delve into immersive experiences, explore the science of the city by foot, join in the debate, enjoy hands-on activities, see awe-inspiring films and much more. Watch out for trailblazers throughout the year and join us at events throughout Greater Manchester during 22 – 30 October 2011.


IEEE Robotics and Automation UK&RI This discussion has also been supported by the IEEE UK&RI Robotics & Automation chapter.




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