Review of the Father of Cyborgs – the Indiana Jones of neuroscience | Documentary films
Dr Phil Kennedy is considered by many to be the Indiana Jones of neuroscience: a Limerick-born doctor who became a pioneer in bioengineering, making people excited – and then nervous – about the way he worked outside the system. Then finally, sensationally, he experimented on himself by having an electrode implanted inside his brain at a clinic in Belize specializing in medical tourism.
Kennedy did this to measure the ways in which brainwaves can be harnessed for external computing capacity, helping people with locked-in syndrome or ALS, for example, although what was specifically achieved by the implant surgery on itself is unclear. This brief documentary is a partial introduction to the man and his work and he seeks to rescue Kennedy from his eccentric reputation, downplay the maverick side of his personality (there is no mention of his science-fiction novel). self-published fiction called 2051) and it doesn’t dwell on the fact that Kennedy is now seen as somewhat eccentric by mainstream neuroscientists – although disruptors, trailblazers and original thinkers are very often people like him.
This film about him does, however, give food for thought: authors such as Mark O’Connell are interviewed about the prospects of techno-homo sapiens, a transhuman evolutionary phase in which human beings become, in effect, wedded to computers. “Cell phones in our heads” is how someone imagines the future. So there are two implications: for sick people with ALS whose lives can be improved, and for perfectly healthy people whose lives can be improved… what? Even better? Superhuman? Or less than human? Dangerously dependent on outsourced memory and cognitive ability on computers that could go wrong?
Well, Kennedy says those ideas are here to stay. He is right.