Thursday, November 17, 2005

MPrize-Michael Chorost on Cochlear Implants and Transhumanism

MPrize-Michael Chorost on Cochlear Implants and Transhumanism: Michael Chorost on Cochlear Implants and Transhumanism

"On August 31st, Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt : How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human, spoke at the Institute.

"Rebuilt is the first cyborg memoir, the story of how Chorost lost his hearing, got a cochlear implant, and learned to hear again - this time with the world of sounds mediated by a set of microphones, microprocessors, and electrodes. A cochlear implant is really a couple devices: the implant that sits on the surface of the skull, with an thin wire running into his inner ear. At the end of the wire are six electrodes. Under normal circumstances, the cochlea transduces sound vibrations into electrical impulses that travel to the brain; many cases of deafness (like Chorost's) are caused by a failure in the cochlear, which leaves it unable to translate motion into electrical signals, but still able to send those signals to the
brain. An implant bypasses all the ear's delicate sound transmission and transduction mechanisms, and feeds signals directly to the cochlear nerves....

"...Chorost also talked a bit about the transhumanist literature. He describes himself as trying to stake out a middle ground between enthusiasts like Kevin Warwick and critics like Francis Fukuyama; he sees his work emphasizing the complexity of the human body, and the necessity of soft approaches such as training and social infrastructure to gain maximum benefit from whatever technology is developed....

"He's also more skeptical of claims that new technologies will transform humans. Almost all current technologies are used to restore senses or sensory capabilities, rather than extend or enhance.

"Restoration is the goal of most ordinary people, and is difficult enough: 'I am skeptical of potential for enhancement via bionics,' on the grounds that our natural sensory organs are fantastically sophisticated, and reproducing them - or completely new things - will be very hard to create. Further, in the pre-nanotech state of the art, 'bionics is big and clunky: it works on the scale of millimeters. The body works at the level of nanometers. We're not even close' to matching the body's capabilities and scale."


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