“Homo Cyberneticus: Neurocognitive considerations for the embodiment of artificial limbs”
(When) should we all get artificial limbs? Technology is progressing at a remarkable pace, providing us with wearable robotic technologies to substitute, and even supplement, our own limbs, freeing humans from the biological constraints of their own bodies. But can the human brain embody these exciting technologies as new body parts? I will describe very recent neuroimaging and behavioural studies we’ve been conducting in amputees who use prosthetic limbs to substitute their missing hand function. We find that although brain resources originally devoted to body representation can be utilised to represent an artificial limb, the representational features of a prosthesis do not mimic that of a biological hand. These studies provide a first glimpse into neurocognitive opportunities and limitations towards artificial limb embodiment. I will then present ongoing studies examining what happens to people’s (intact) biological body representation after they are provided with robotic augmentation – a Third Thumb. If you want to know what happens… please attend the talk! The bottom line is that our intuitions as scientists (mainly inspired by sci-fi culture) tend to fail us when hypothesising on how the brain interfaces with wearable technology, so there are many pertinent open questions that await further research.