The Rise of the Electrophorus

The Rise of the Electrophorus

Katina Michael (University of Wollongong, Australia) and M.G. Michael (University of Wollongong, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-795-9.ch014
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When Jacques Ellul (1964, p. 432) predicted the use of “electronic banks” in his book, The Technological Society, he was not referring to the computerization of financial institutions or the use of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Rather it was in the context of the possibility of the dawn of a new entity- the coupling of man and machine. Ellul was predicting that one day knowledge would be accumulated in electronic banks and “transmitted directly to the human nervous system by means of coded electronic messages… [w]hat is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness…” As unbelievable as this man-machine complex may have sounded at the time, forty years on visionaries are still predicting that such scenarios will be possible by the turn of the twentysecond century. A large proportion of these visionaries are cyberneticists. Cybernetics is the study of nervous system controls in the brain as a basis for developing communications and controls in sociotechnical systems.
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From Prosthetics To Amplification

While orthopedic replacements corrective in nature have been around since the 1950s (Banbury, 1997) and are required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether, implants of the future will attempt to add new functionality to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions (Figure 1). Kevin Warwick’s Cyborg 2.0 project for instance, intended to prove that two persons with respective implants could communicate sensation and movement by thoughts alone. In 2002, the BBC reported that a tiny silicon square with 100 electrodes was connected to the professor’s median nerve and linked to a transmitter/receiver in his forearm. Although, “Warwick believe[d] that when he move[d] his own fingers, his brain [would] also be able to move Irena’s” (Dobson 2001, p. 1), the outcome of the experiment was described at best as sending “morse-code” messages. Warwick (2002) is still of the belief that a person’s brain could be directly linked to a computer network. Commercial players are also intent on keeping ahead, continually funding projects in this area of research. IBM’s Personal Area Network (PAN) prototype transmitter, showed the potential to use the human body’s natural salinity as a conductor to sending or receiving data electronically. While the devices used were wearable, it showed that as many as four people could exchange electronic messages simply by shaking hands (Scannell, 1996).

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