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TECHNOLOGY

The fusion of man and machine

By Kevin Warwick for CNN

Kevin Warwick
Kevin Warwick displays a chip implant attached to the main nerve of his arm.

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(CNN) -- By 2020 exciting advances in bio-interfacing will make it possible for a wider range of diseases to be treated electronically.

Initially Parkinson's disease and epilepsy will be successfully dealt with. But the effects of multiple sclerosis, paralysis and motor neurone disease will also be much reduced as the individual is enabled to control their environment and even drive their car, by their thoughts alone, using implanted technology.

Other problem areas such as senile dementia and schizophrenia could perhaps be tackled in a similar fashion.

The whole area, termed E-Medicine, will spawn a plethora of new companies.

As well as being used for therapy, the use of implant technology for enhancement will also become more acceptable.

Initially there will be a backlash among those who consider the prospect of being able to "upgrade themselves" ethically inappropriate.

But once the technology has been proven and is commercially available at relatively low cost, it is expected that the range of people making use of it will increase dramatically.

Memory enhancement, an increased range of senses, dieting control and thought communication will all be on the market, while technology to allow for multi-dimensional thought will be at the planning stage.

All of these upgrades will be based on a direct link between a human and a machine brain.

In this way the ever increasing power of machine intelligence can be used to provide an improvement in human capabilities, rather than allowing intelligent machines to make important decisions.

Nevertheless the use of networked intelligent computers to control all the financial markets will present a worrying trend -- it will no longer be clear who exactly is making the key decisions; a machine based on human criteria, or a machine based on purely machine criteria been learnt through market experience.

The military sector will witness some of the most dramatic changes. Fighter planes will be completely computer controlled, without any human intervention. Clearly it will be computers that think and learn fastest that will win the day.

The big question, though, is whether there will still be room for human soldiers at the frontline.

By extending their senses through networked implants military personnel could be kept safely out of harm's way while being virtually connected to the battlefront via a brain-network connection.

Finally, it will be interesting to witness the phasing out of the old style printed passport. Once everyone is fitted with a Radio Frequency ID implant containing individual data it will be difficult to imagine how we managed without them.

It's incredible to think it was only as long ago as 1998 that the first human tested out such an implant. Since then progress has indeed been swift.

-- Kevin Warwick is professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading and the author of "I, Cyborg." In 2001 he became the world's first "cyborg" after having a chip implanted in his arm.

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