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Scientists test first human cyborg

OXFORD, England -- A British university professor has been fitted with cyborg technology enabling his nervous system to be linked to a computer.

The ground-breaking surgery on Professor Kevin Warwick effectively makes him the world's first cyborg -- part human, part machine.

Although a long way from fictional characters The Terminator or the Six Million Dollar Man, it is hoped that readings will be taken from the implant in his arm of electrical impulses coursing through his nerves.

These signals, encoding movements like wiggling fingers and feelings like shock and pain, will be transmitted to a computer and recorded for the first time.

Similar experiments have previously only ever been carried out on cats and monkeys in the United States.

Surgeons implanted a silicon square about 3mm wide into an incision in Warwick's left wrist and attached its 100 electrodes, each as thin as a hair, into the median nerve.

Connecting wires were fed under the skin of the forearm and out from a skin puncture and the wounds were sewn up.

The wires will be linked to a transmitter/receiver device to relay nerve messages to a computer by radio signal.

It is possible that the procedure could lead to a medical breakthrough for people paralysed by spinal cord damage, such as Superman actor Christopher Reeve.

On Friday, Warwick, 48, denied claims that the surgery, which was carried out at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England, was just a publicity stunt.

'Change the world'

"To go through a two-hour operation I would say is a little bit extreme for a publicity stunt," he told the BBC.

"To say no you can't do this or this is publicity is absolutely crazy at this stage when we haven't even looked at it."

He said the 500,000 ($715,000) experiment was about "seriously helping people" with spinal injuries.

He added: "This has not been done on a human before so for someone to say this is not going to tell us much ... we don't know.

"We really don't know but we want to find out what sort of signals we are going to get and what sort of signals we can put in."

Researchers at the university's department of cybernetics will carry out experiments on Warwick for about a month.

It is hoped the science could one day help actor Christopher Reeve
It is hoped the science could one day help actor Christopher Reeve  

He said: "What we're doing is historic and momentous. It is going to change the world.

"Science fiction has predicted this for quite some time. As a scientist, I'm excited about taking a step into the future.

"But as a human I do share the ethical concerns about what it will mean for humanity."

Warwick also hopes to wire himself up to a ultrasonic sensor, used by robots to navigate around objects, to give himself a bat-like sixth sense.

He believes the technique could be developed within a decade to restore movement to a tetraplegic's hand or feeling to a prosthetic leg used by an amputee.

"For someone like Christopher Reeve, it might not bring back complex movement. But if it could allow him to control a bit of technology to pick up a cup, it would be enormously useful," he said.

Warwick has already been a guinea pig for his own experiments.

In 1998 a silicon chip, which turned on lights and opened doors when he walked into his office, was implanted in his arm.


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