He grows biological brains in a dish and connects them to robots.
He calls the brain ''a squidgy mass of biology.''
He infects his own body with a computer virus.
He sends rays of electrodes into a colleague's spine and simulates involuntary movement using electrical impulses.
No, this is not out of a science fiction novel or a horror movie. He is Dr. Mark Gasson, a distinguished scientist and senior research fellow at the Cybernetic Intelligence Research Group, University of Reading.
In this exclusive interview with Nandini Krishnan, he talks about some of his most path breaking experiments.
What area of research led you to try and transfer a computer virus to yourself?
We're very interested in two new areas of application of implantable technology. One, is medical devices such as pacemakers, deep-brain stimulators and cochlear implants. These form very intimate links with the body. The other area, is non-medical devices used as a sort of enhancement to the body, such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identifying) tags.
These have been around for quite a few years, especially as implantable devices in pets. So to identify a pet that's gone missing, you could scan it with a reader and it would give you a unique number which links to a database.
Technology has come on a long way in the last maybe ten years, and you find that these devices are more like miniature computers, whereby they don't just give you a unique number, but they can actually store information, manipulate information and do simple computations. Several people around the world have implanted these for security applications, to allow them access to a building, let's say.
Now we're interested in the potential applications, but also the potential risks, of this.
Could you describe the experiment you performed on yourself?
Well, like I said, there are certain risks which we need to start to take seriously. One of these is the security aspect, and in that context, we've looked at computer viruses.
A little over a year ago now, I had an RFID device implanted in my left hand, and I used it for accessing my building at the university, and my laboratory. Also, it linked to my mobile phone. So my mobile phone will only work if it can detect the tag in my hand. So if someone steals my mobile phone, it simply won't work.
What we've done is used the tag to conduct two experiments. One is infecting the tag with the computer virus, which means that when I try to access the building, the computer virus is actually transferred to the database which controls secure access to the building. So when we infected the database, that in turn infected other devices which were used to access the building. And people typically use RFID smart cards. So the virus would try to copy itself to these smart cards.
The other experiment we've done is infecting the computer system first, and then allowing that to transfer itself to my device. So in effect, we've got a virus spreading from my implant to the building, or from the building to my implant.
Image: A Radio Frequency Identifying Device. Photo Courtesy: Paul Hughes. (Unauthorised reproduction is prohibited.)