Don's Diary: I, cyborg

April 5, 2002


Up at 5am for the drive to the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. Irena, my wife, and Mark Gasson, lead researcher, are with me. I do not like operations, yet here I am having one that I do not need, for scientific reasons: an implant operation that could lead to permanent damage to my left hand.

Surgery commences at 8.30am, lasts for two hours and is filmed throughout by the BBC. A microelectrode array, containing 100 pins, is fired into the median nerve of my left arm. Wires from the array appear further up my arm and are then linked to a terminal pad. In the days ahead we hope to join the pad up to a radio transmitter/ receiver interface, in order to directly connect my nervous system to a computer. This is the first time an operation of this type has ever been attempted. It goes well, and afterwards my left hand seems to be OK.


The project is being carried out jointly with the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, a key aim being to help research into spinal injuries. Using the array could, in the future, bring some movement back to limbs with no working neural connection.

I spend today letting members of the NSIC team know how I am convalescing. Keeping the implant in place, with no rejection and no infection, is itself a positive result. I also need to bring our sponsors, Computer Associates, Tumbleweed Communications and Fujitsu, up to date. The project has cost well over £500,000, and without their help we would never have been able to get this far.


Spend part of the day working on my new book, I, Cyborg , a complete autobiographical account of the operation, its results, why I wanted to do it and where it is likely to take us. It refers to my childhood, when my father underwent a successful neural operation. It also points to the inspiration I gained from science-fiction writers such as H. G. Wells and Michael Crichton.

As well as helping the NSIC, we want to try out extra-sensory input and measure neural signals associated with emotions and experiences. Hence the title I, Cyborg , a cyborg, as all good Trekkies will know, being a cybernetic organism - part human, part machine.

Later on I travel up to the Radcliffe Infirmary for consultant neurosurgeon Peter Teddy to look me over. He is delighted with my progress. The 2in scar on my left arm, underneath which the microelectrode array was positioned, is healing well. Further up my arm, where the connecting wires protrude and the terminal pad is dangling, there is no sign of infection.

He gives me the OK to announce what we have done.


I travel to Shepherd's Bush to appear live on BBC breakfast TV and the Today programme. Then on to Oxford Circus to broadcast live to North America on CNN Headline News and Canada AM .

In the afternoon I am back in Reading for various radio programmes and interviews on Carlton, Central, Meridian TV and Russia's first TV channel.

News coverage in the Sun , Mirror and Mail , along with a front page story on the Toronto Globe and Mail , causes a rush on my website , which crashes under the strain. Fortunately, it is back online again by the end of the day.


I get together with ten researchers in the cybernetics department at Reading University. This is the big one, will we get any signals from the implant?

Some critics have suggested we will not be able to record anything useful, all we shall see will be an average mish-mash of signals. Will they be proved right?

If we get the sort of signals we are hoping for, then the weeks ahead will mean a lot of lab testing to understand more what we were looking at, along with occasional demonstrations to show what we have achieved. Mark connects wires directly from the terminal pad on my arm, to the computer. We are all very tense. I move my fingers and touch them together. What do we witness on the monitor? All will be revealed in I, Cyborg .

Kevin Warwick is professor of cybernetics, University of Reading.

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