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Antonio Budini


   After the movie theatres had record crowds during the projections of the movie, Robocop, years ago, for a short time one of the TV networks broadcast a series of shows in which the protagonist was the famous anti-crime character from the movie.

   It all remains circumscribed in the sphere of the projections of science fiction. Fortunately, it is unthinkable, for us poor mortals, that the creation of a cybernetic police officer could happen. We turn off the TV and sleep peacefully, some a little worried, some comforted by the existence by the existence, however improbable, of a weapon of this kind.

   The TV series goes on so that without even thinking about it , we find ourselves wrapped up in the adventures of this pile of scrap metal.

   When a well-known daily newspaper communicates the realization of a cybernetic human, with an article accompanied by the photo of Robocop, we are no longer particularly disturbed, because that figure is so familiar to us since we have become so habituated to the televised hammering on the subject.

   The project of the human-robot is called “Inter” (Intelligent neural interface), and is financed by the European Community of States with the collaboration of several German, Spanish and Swiss universities and research centers and the Arts Lab, which is the laboratory of robotics and high technology of the “Sant’ Anna” school of higher learning in Pisa.

   The school in Pisa has the determining role in the project because, besides having received the assignment from the EEC to coordinate the project itself, it has developed a functioning “neural container”. Or rather, a miniaturized electronic device that connects the peripheral nervous system with external prostheses.

   Paolo Dario, a professor from Livorno [Italy], teacher of mechatronics at numerous universities around the world and director of the Arts Lab explains that in the future they could devote themselves to cybernetic prostheses capable of being moved by cerebral impulses and having tactile sensations.

   The professor also explains how all this comes to be: after having implanted a chip (like the ones used in computers) in a peripheral nerve of some guinea pigs and rabbits, the scientists noticed that the damaged nerve filaments regenerated and wedged themselves inside the myriad of holes that existed in the chip. Simply, a cybernetic organism was born: a mixture of muscular tissue and electronic circuits. Very soon it will be possible to register nervous signals and stimulate nervous fibers.

   From science fiction to realization, passing through animal experimentation. The animal liberationists have done much to document the uselessness of testing new drugs on animals in laboratories, but how do they go about opposing this slaughter that has nothing to do with the pharmaceutical industry and, furthermore, is sold as a possibility for those who have suffered mutilations of their limbs?

   Personally, I don’t believe that the experiments are limited to guinea pigs and rabbits, nor that they stop at chimpanzees. Research for documentation, like the reflection of every revolutionary, should not just be interested in the sector of the pharmaceutical industry, but should deal with the full spectrum.

   At the Arts Lab in Pisa, artificial skin equipped with sensors capable of simulating tactile sensations, optimal for eventually covering the cybernetic prostheses, is in the phase of projection as well.

   Another field to which the Arts Lab is applying itself is that of the construction of micro-crystals to implant in the cerebral cortex, with micro-cameras set in place capable of projecting images directly onto the cortex. This technology is also used to create sensors for the deaf. In this case, the micro-crystals are connected to microphones.

   The justification for this research is obviously found in the humanitarian spirit that seems to hover around as their principle rule of action. The officially declared aim is that of alleviating people’s suffering, intervening in the irreversible damage that strikes their vital organs, even artificially reconstructing them, in short, furnishing new horizons to medicine. Essentially, this research opens prospects that were reserved until recently for the fantasies of novelists. The availability of increasingly sophistic, increasingly miniaturized electronic apparati makes hypothetical technologies of control possible that today we can’t even imagine.

   All this research is currently based on the torture of animals, but limiting ourselves to freeing these animals may not be enough.

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