Could future computer viruses infect humans?

One ex-cyborg thinks they could...

One ex-cyborg thinks they could...

Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University and a man who has wired up his nervous system to a computer and put an RFID chip in his arm, is looking forward to becoming a cyborg once again - but warned the day will come when computer viruses can infect humans as well as PCs.

Speaking this week at Consult Hyperion's fifth Digital Identity Forum, Warwick said it won't be long before those who aren't cyborgs will be considered the odd ones out.

"For those of you that want to stay human... you'll be a subspecies in the future," he said.

Warwick believes that there are advantages for a human who is networked to a computer.

Networking a human brain would mean an almost "infinite knowledge base", he said, adding it would be akin to "upgrading humans... giving us abilities we don’t already have".

Warwick says the security problems that dog modern computing won't be much different from those that could plague the cyborgs of the future.

"We're looking at software viruses and biological viruses becoming one and the same," he said. "The security problems [will] be much, much greater... they will have to become critical in future."

If humans were networked, the implications of being hacked would be far more serious and attitudes towards hackers would be radically changed, he added.

"Now, hackers' illegal input into a network is tolerated," said Warwick, but if humans were connected to the internet and hacks carried out, "this would be pushing the realms of tolerance".

With his own networking experiments, in which he used his body's connectivity to operate a mechanical arm in the US, Warwick refused to publicise the IP address of his arm in case someone hijacked it.

While the advent of networked humans may be a significant way off, Warwick's experiments are intended to have a practical purpose. He has been working with Stoke Mandeville hospital on the possible implications of the networked human for those with spinal injuries; for example, to enable people to control a wheelchair through their nervous system.

Nevertheless, Warwick said the idea of marrying humanity and technology isn't currently a popular one. Talking of his RFID experiments, he said: "I got a lot of criticism, I don't know why."

Putting RFID chips in arms is now more than a novelty. Party goers at one club in Barcelona can choose to have RFID chips implanted in their arms as a means of paying for their drinks and some Mexican law enforcement officials had the chips implanted as a means of fending off attempted kidnappings.

The US Food and Drug Administration has also recently approved the use of RFID in humans. One potential application would be allowing medical staff to draw information on a patient's health from the chip.