cylon pride

The cool thing about cyborgs is that they have abilities beyond that of the native human—similarly, this ear can do things mine can’t. For a start, the researchers printed an antenna in the ear that has significant sensitivity to microwaves. This is actually a very impressive achievement, because the entire electronic circuit was printed using polymer gels (the conductive parts were silicone doped with silver nanoparticles), which generally don’t cope well with radio frequency currents.

In principle, with a bit of extra electronics, the cochlea implant would allow a human to hear radio, TV, Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, airport radar systems, and various other electromagnetic signals (much like a satellite finder). This sounds kind of cool on one level, but you would really want to be able to turn it off. Imagine trying to go to sleep to the sound of your Wi-Fi arguing with the neighbor’s about who gets channel one.

Now scientists, legal experts and philosophers are joining forces to scrutinise the promise of intelligent systems and wrangle over their implications. This week in Brighton, the fourth EuCogIII members’ conference is set to tackle these issues head on.

“Fundamentally we’re interested in considering the ethical and societal impact of such systems,” says Alan Winfield, professor of electronic engineering at UWE Bristol. It is time, he says, to make some crucial decisions. “If we get it wrong, there are consequences right now.”

One of the greatest issues, says Bertolini, is that there are many types of robots each posing different legal problems. State of the art prosthetic devices – essentially wearable intelligent robots – could soon outperform our natural limbs, raising new concerns that the technology could become available to individuals who may wish to trade in their healthy body parts for a prosthesis. “Should this be regulated, and eventually if it should be regulated, how should it be regulated?” asks Bertolini.

The questions become even more pressing when the possibility of implants are considered – imagine a brain chip that could let you check your email, search the internet or tap in to GPS. It’s the ultimate “hands-free” device.

This possibility of becoming “bio-hybrid” may sound futuristic, unlikely even. But when technology develops, it develops quickly. “It is moving way faster than legislation can keep up and yes, it’s a problem,” says Tony Belpaeme, professor of cognitive systems and robotics at the University of Plymouth.