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Reg jealous of my success, claims Captain Cyborg

Amazed at how he manages to bamboozle gullible hacks, more like

In the publicity build-up to Captain Cyborg's latest bionic upgrade, his human alter-ego, Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics and Reading University, has been interviewed by The Guardian today.

He's surprisingly lucid in comparison to his usual interviews and manages to avoid the trademark doom-mongering and baseless claims of scientific advance.

However, in answer to the last question - how do you feel about the perception of your work in some media? - he replies: "Other than The Register, where they enjoy giving an alternative view of my work, and a couple of digs in the Guardian, most of the media is fine at reporting what is actually happening.

"Putting myself out on a limb probably makes a few people jealous more than anything else. If our work can help someone who is blind have some extra sense and increased ability to move around then what the hell about some media people!"

It's flattering indeed to be spoken of by The Great One. We kindly return the insinuation of jealousy, however, and would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone why Kevin Warwick is little more than a publicity seeking professor whose defining talent is his ability to give newspapers what they want.

First some history. We first raised doubts about Kevin back in November 1999 when he was garnering huge media plaudits for "implanting a 2.5cm microchip into the top of his arm". It was only the scepticism of two Reg staffers that caused us not to follow tack.

We had doubts, and were concerned by the vast array of articles by apparently authoritative sources from the BBC to CNN to The Times, all taking Kevin at his word. Why would our niggling doubts take precedence over the many journalists that Kevin has spoken to and who have investigated his claims?

Frustrated at the lack of response from Prof Warwick to our questions, we wrote a sceptical piece and asked for help in justifying the suggestion that the chip would "send out various electrical impulses and thereby control how his arm moves".

Over the new few months we were contacted by more and more people, including many academics in the field of cybernetics, delighted at our piece and providing reams of evidence that Warwick wasn't what he seemed.

It was only when Wired magazine featured him on the front cover in February 2000, with seven pages detailing his "breakthrough", that we decided to write a second piece titled Home truths: Bionic man takes the Metal Mickey.

We listed the litany of experimental failures that Kevin Warwick has undertaken during his academic career, questioned his habit of embellishing to a ridiculous degree what his experiments meant, and allowed fellow academics to make their opinion of his work known. We also revealed that moves were afoot to remove Kevin Warwick from the British Association's list of competent spokespeople due to the damage many of his peers felt he was causing to the serious study of artificial intelligence.

His claim to have published "over 300 academic papers" remains questionable. A search of academic papers for any Kevin Warwick revealed fewer than 50 papers.

With regard to today's comment that "if our work can help someone who is blind have some extra sense and increased ability to move around then what the hell about some media people", we would like to quote what Professor Blay Whitby from Sussex University said about him in February last year: "For centuries before there was serious scientific and engineering progress in artificial flight, people tried strapping feathered wings to their arms and jumping off towers. The frequently fatal, always humiliating, results of such self-experimentation were not seen as serious progress. The scientific fields upon which Warwick pontificates are at such an early stage of development that we would do well to give more attention to the serious scientists than to the 'tower jumpers'."

In August that year, Prof. Warwick made the papers again claiming that watching television can actually increase your IQ. It was perfect tabloid fodder and made mention of TV shows currently riding high in the ratings. It also took admired activities like listening to classical music, drinking orange juice, talking to friends, and claimed they lowered IQ.

The study was, of course, a complete farce and didn't stand up to even the most basic examination of scientific methodolody. But it did provide useful publicity for Kevin's new book QI: the Quest for Intelligence.

On the back of this publicity we then heard for the first time about his second chip experiment. That was in August 2000. Since then we have had heard nothing but what this chip can do. A visit by The Observer in December revealed that the chip's electronics were still in prototype stage, didn't work and weren't even built by Kevin.

The full list of attributes given to the chip by Kevin in the year since he first announced its planned implementation (he finally said last month he would have it "implanted" either this month or next) will perhaps never be known. Needless to say, none of them will appear in the final product - but by then media attention will have been assured and who will remember what was said precisely?

The straightest explanation of what the new chip will do was probably given in today's Guardian interview. "The second implant links my nervous system, by radio, to the computer. So we are looking at remote control movements, extra sensory input, counteracting pain and new communication."

Kevin has yet to mention how long the "chip" will remain in his arm - last time it was nine days. There has still to be any explanation of how precisely or what precisely this chip is going to measure. Even if he does manage to pick up some form of electrical signal from a nerve in his arm, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that all we have is a small electrical signal sent to an arm.

What possible use is this? What will anyone learn that we don't already know? Despite all the claims that the Warwick team hopes to record the signals and replay them - implying that they could perform intricate movements of the arm without Kevin even being aware of it - we will eat our hat if they achieve anything but a sharp, reflex response from the arm if they send an electrical signal to it.

Of course when it doesn't work, Professor Warwick will claim they have learnt a lot from the experiment and they will perfect it in another chip in two years' time - just enough time for another couple of lectures tours and at least one more book.

Kevin Warwick is indeed a "tower jumper" and will never be anything more than an entertaining tabloid figure to be wheeled out when a juicy quote is needed about the fate of mankind. But please let's not provide credibility to his questionable experiments. ®

Related Links

The Guardian: Interview with Kevin Warwick
The Guardian in better days
Guardian columnist talks off Kevin's appearance at the Royal Institution's Christmas lecture

Captain Cyborg stories

World's first cyborg: man/machine or pipedream?
Home truths: Bionic man takes the Metal Mickey
Kevin Warwick: a life in pictures

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