SittingNow.co.uk continue their rebooted ‘CounterTech’ series, with another great article from DisInfo’s Joe McFall:
This week, Italian scientists announced that in a month-long experiment conducted last year, an amputee’s nervous system was attached to a mechanical hand disconnected from his body. The man, Pierpaolo Petruzziello, was not only able to move the robotic appendage, but was apparently able to receive feedback and feel sensations from the hand. From the Baltimore Sun:
- The Italy-based team said at a news conference in Rome on Wednesday that in 2008 it implanted electrodes into the nerves located in what remained of Petruzziello’s left arm, which was cut off in a crash some three years ago.
- The prosthetic was not implanted on the patient, only connected through the electrodes. During the news conference, video was shown of Petruzziello as he concentrated to give orders to the hand placed next to him.
- During the month he had the electrodes connected, he learned to wiggle the robotic fingers independently, make a fist, grab objects and make other movements.
This story is not unlike last year’s story of mechanical-arm-moving monkeys, in which electrodes were wired directly into the brains of monkeys, allowing them to learn how to move remote robotic arms to reach and grab for tasty treats. The main difference, here, of course, is the proof-of-concept that we can do the same thing with the human nervous system. This reminds me of my favorite Marshall McLuhan quotes (from Understanding Media, 1964):
- The human subject need not be an amputee in order to be a cyborg. Any person can be jacked into a robotic appendage and be trained to move it around at will.
- The appendage need not be a robotic hand, or even analogous to an existing biological appendage. There no reason, theoretically, that a human can’t be jacked into a robotic car, or a robotic plane or a robotic space cruiser, and learn to control it. Forget the dangers of embodied artificially intelligent brains, we are now able to embody human consciousness into any arbitrary robotic form with appropriate sensory feedback.
- All of this can be done at a distance. A robot can be embodied with human consciousness remotely across any arbitrary distance.
Besides, there’s no moral difference between this sort of nightmarish future vision and our present reality. The only difference between thought-controlled remote death machines and technology currently in use (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Afghanistan, for example) is a joystick. The trend in military technology is increasingly toward abstraction of the agent-soldier from the actual event of homicide. The danger is that this abstraction becomes a sort of absolution, and that physical distance becomes emotional distance. It’s as if keeping the soldier away from actual battlefield interaction keeps us all from engaging with what is being done by our governments, with our money and with our citizens, to people in faraway lands. It keeps us abstracted physically and emotionally from murderous acts done in our names, and gives us a nice, tidy, sense of absolution.
Joe McFall received his undergraduate degree in Linguistic Anthropology from Emory University in 1998, and went on to receive two Masters degrees, in Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence, from the University of Georgia in 2005 and 2007. He holds a lifetime interest in culture and counterculture, fringe science, paranormal, alternate history and conspiracy theory. He works as a software developer and lives in Atlanta, GA. He is also, alongside our buddies Raymond Wiley and Austin Gandy, one of the hosts of Disinformation the Podcast, Disinformation World News, and OutThere Radio.