Dr. Phil Kennedy is a pioneer of brain-to-machine interfacing. He lovingly calls his patients and experiments cyborgs — a science fiction term describing a combination of human and machine. Kennedy, himself, is one of those cyborgs.
Kennedy, of Irish descent and with a calm, jovial voice reminiscent of Liam Neeson, talks of his loner work ethic: “History shows that the best scientific ideas come from an individual and not a committee.” Others compare him to famous loner scientific pioneers like Alexander Graham Bell.
Of his most famous experiment, the insertion of electrodes into his own brain, he calmly but firmly says, “Science has always been skeptical of self-experimentation … [but] It’s my brain and I can do what I like with it.” It was the only way he could definitively know what the experience was like for the patient.
Father of the Cyborgs traces Kennedy’s rise and fall in the public eye as he experiments on first animals, and finally on humans in an attempt to solve the problem of locked-in patients — patients so totally paralyzed that they no longer have any means to communicate with the outside world.
Collaborator Melody Moore Jackson points out that developments that help the disabled invariably help the world at large as well: she tells us that for example the ballpoint pen and typewriter were both developed for people with disabilities to communicate.
This documentary matter-of-factly discusses Kennedy’s work, from successfully giving locked-in patients like John Ray, the first cyborg, the ability to communicate, to some failures, to the steps he took ultimately to experiment on his own brain. It was this last step, sensationalized at the time in the press, that essentially got him blackballed from many science institutions. It was a step too far. But he has no regrets.
“I would 100% do it again. I’d do it to myself if I needed to — but I’d be pushing my luck,” says Kennedy.
The ethical ramifications of Kennedy’s work are lightly discussed. Questions such as, “who should get this technology?” and “can this be used for good or evil?” Some sensationalist reporting calls his work the first step toward mind control.
Overall, it’s a fascinating piece, and while it is generally only reporting from one side of the story, it’s interesting to look into the mind of the man who looks into minds.
9 out of 10 Cyborgs
|Father of the Cyborgs
||1 Hour 16 Mins.