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Human-machine symbiosis overview

By K. Warwick and Mark N. Gasson


The interface between humans and technology is a rapidly changing field. In particular as technological methods have improved dramatically so interaction has become possible that could only be speculated about even a decade earlier. This interaction can though take on a wide range of forms. Indeed standard buttons and dials with televisual feedback are perhaps a common example. But now virtual reality systems, wearable computers and most of all, implant technology are throwing up a completely new concept, namely a symbiosis of human and machine. No longer is it sensible simply to consider how a human interacts with a machine, but rather how the human-machine symbiotic combination interacts with the outside world. In this paper we take a look at some of the recent approaches, putting implant technology in context. We also consider some specific practical examples which may well alter the way we look at this symbiosis in the future. The main area of interest as far as symbiotic studies are concerned is clearly the use of implant technology, particularly where a connection is made between technology and the human brain and/or nervous system. Often pilot tests and experimentation has been carried out apriori to investigate the eventual possibilities before human subjects are themselves involved. Some of the more pertinent animal studies are discussed briefly here. The paper however concentrates on human experimentation, in particular that carried out by the authors themselves, firstly to indicate what possibilities exist as of now with available technology, but perhaps more importantly to also show what might be possible with such technology in the future and how this may well have extensive social effects. The driving force behind the integration of technology with humans on a neural level has historically been to restore lost functionality in individuals who have suffered neurological trauma such as spinal cord damage, or who suffer from a debilitating disease such as lateral amyotrophic sclerosis. Very few would argue against the development of implants to enable such people to control their environment, or some aspect of their own body functions. Indeed this technology in the short term has applications for amelioration of symptoms for the physically impaired, such as alternative senses being bestowed on a blind or deaf individual. However the issue becomes distinctly more complex when it is proposed that such technology be used on those with no medical need, but instead who wish to enhance and augment their own bodies, particularly in terms of their mental attributes. These issues are discussed here in the light of practical experimental test results and their ethical consequences

Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Publ
Year: 2005
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