Goodbye Peter 2.0! The world’s first real cyborg is declared dead

British scientist Peter Scott-Morgan has died five years after being diagnosed with ALS.

On June 15, Peter's family announced the sad news via Twitter:

It is with sadness that Peter passed away peacefully surrounded by family and close friends. He is incredibly proud of all those who supported him and his vision to change the way people think about disability.

If you compare Peter's life to a movie, there are probably two styles of painting before and after.

Before 2017, Peter was an accomplished robotics scientist with a Ph.D. from Imperial College London, published 8 books, and gave more than 1,000 speeches around the world.

In 2017, Peter was diagnosed with ALS, and doctors judged that he had only 6 months to live. Reluctant to accept his fate, he transformed himself into a "half-human, half-machine" through multiple surgeries, and evolved into "Peter 2.0" with the help of technologies such as eye tracking, speech synthesis, and virtual avatars.

Take yourself as a guinea pig, turn science fiction into reality, and bring inspiration and light to the disabled… Although there are still many unfulfilled wishes, Peter's life stopped at the age of 64.

At this moment, he decides to become a cyborg

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND), is a terminal illness more cruel than cancer.

As the disease progresses, the motor neurons in the patient's brain and spinal cord will gradually degenerate, causing muscle atrophy, and eventually the body will be "frozen" and unable to move, speak, eat, or even breathe.

Famous physicist Stephen Hawking was trapped in a wheelchair for most of his life because of this disease.

▲ Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21

In an online interview with DXC Technology in January this year, Peter, who was left with only his brain and eyes to function normally, said:

My brain is frantically trying to communicate with the outside world, but I can only roll my eyes…like I live in my own universe and can only communicate by typing Morse code to others.

At that time, what supported Peter to complete the interview was a series of "plug-in machinery" and technical integration——

He has 4 tubes attached to his body for feeding, breathing and excretion. Eye-tracking equipment and Hawking's same AI software help him express his thoughts smoothly. His textual thoughts are quickly converted into speech, narrated by a synthetic voice; at the same time, Peter's virtual avatar is making lip changes, rhythm pauses, and shaking his head based on the content of the speech.

▲ Peter and his partner in an online interview

Peter's "half-human, half-mechanical" form is called a cyborg.

The term "cyborg" first appeared in 1960, referring to the fusion of humans and machines, and is quite common in science fiction and film and television dramas, such as DC's superhero Cyborg and "Ghost in the Shell" Major.

Unlike robots, cyborgs emphasize thinking by the human brain and enhance capabilities through mechanical accessories.

▲ Picture from the movie "Ghost in the Shell"

After being diagnosed with ALS, Peter collected a lot of information, and soon came up with a comprehensive plan to transform his body. The first step is the "tripleostomy".

The so-called "triple ostomy" is actually 3 surgical procedures: gastrostomy, colostomy, and cystostomy.

The doctor inserted tubes into his stomach, colon and bladder respectively, which not only solved the problem of eating and excretion, and extended his life, but also relieved the inconvenience of daily care and allowed Peter to live a more dignified life.

▲ Schematic diagram of "Triple Ostomy"

Peter's radical risk-taking idea caused great controversy in the British medical community because there had never been a similar precedent. People couldn't understand why he wanted to harm his own healthy organs. At the same time, doctors refused to operate on him because of the risk of breathing obstruction and exacerbation of surgical anesthesia.

Finally, after persuading layer by layer, in July 2018, after 3 hours and 40 minutes of operation time, Peter had a life-sustaining external system. And this unprecedented three-in-one operation has also subverted the medical field's treatment direction for ALS, bringing new thinking.

British TV Channel 4's documentary "Peter: The Human Cyborg" (Peter: The Human Cyborg), filmed the real state of Peter before and after surgery.

▲ "Peter: The Birth of the Human Cyborg" trailer

Before the operation, he said excitedly with anticipation: "I'm going to be a human guinea pig! It's like a scientific experiment, no matter the result of the operation is good or bad, we can learn something from it and do better next time. "

After the operation, he was lying on the hospital bed and showed the camera with a smile: "Look, this is my new interface, this is the input tube, this is the No. 1 output tube, the No. 2 output tube…"

Peter 2.0, the best partner with AI

After completing the "Triple Ostomy", Peter continued to follow the technology he believed in and fought back against fate.

All my early science education came from Doctor Who and Star Trek. They taught me that if you are smart and brave enough and have access to technology, anything is possible.

▲ Peter has been actively speaking out and sharing his "scientific experiments" with the public

Peter found through data collection that the loss of the ability to speak was the most frustrating for people with ALS. No matter how accurate the existing text-to-speech software is, it cannot allow these "souls trapped in the body" to express their personalities and communicate their emotions.

In 2018, before his speaking ability was affected, Peter found Dr. Matthew Aylett, a speech technology research and development expert, and CereProc, where he worked, to "retain" his voice.

In addition, considering that ALS would also cause Peter to lose facial expressions, he also contacted Embody Digital in advance to capture facial motion and create a vivid 3D virtual avatar.

Hawking's rather stiff-sounding "machine voice" came from speech synthesis technology in 1986, and he used it until the last moment of his life because he couldn't find a more preferred alternative.

But Peter is different. He wants the voice of the future generations to be like a real human being.

▲ Hawking's iconic synthetic "machine sound" has also appeared in many film and television dramas

The whole project took over a year before and after. Peter stayed in the recording studio for several weeks, leaving more than 15 hours of audio, more than 1,000 phrases, and expressions of calm, anger, excitement, etc., and then handed over to AI to learn and imitate.

By the time Aylett delivered the finished product, Peter was already having a hard time speaking, and he will have a total laryngectomy and lose his voice in three months.

Thankfully, after countless optimizations, Peter's speech synthesis worked just fine, and they even got the voice to sing. Hearing his own similar voice singing "Pure Imagination", Peter was shocked at that moment, his eyes were red, and he was speechless for a long time.

▲ Peter's avatar & synthetic sound effects

Peter also needed a solution that would allow him to output his thoughts freely, after all, the ability to move his fingers was one of the things he would say goodbye to.

He was very interested in brain-computer interfaces at first, but found that the output efficiency was too low, and finally decided to choose eye tracking.

Later, Peter met Lama Nachman, director of Intel's Prospective Computing Lab. A few years ago, she developed an Assisted Context Awareness Toolkit (ACAT) when she upgraded the speech synthesis system for Hawking.

Previously, Hawking typed by twitching his cheek muscles and could only type one word a minute. After using ACAT, Hawking's speech speed was more than doubled-because the AI ​​continued to learn Hawking's expressions, he only needed to input about 20% of the letters, and the system could quickly predict the next word.

This open source software is naturally suitable for Peter to use to improve communication efficiency.

▲ Nachman helped Hawking upgrade the speech synthesis system

Nachman found that although both scientists, Peter and Hawking had very different attitudes towards AI.

Hawking likes to correct errors in AI. He always wants to have complete control, and what he says and writes must be exactly what he has in mind. Peter regards AI as a partner, and he is even willing to use AI in more life scenarios to see what smart and interesting surprises it can produce.

In Peter's view, the relationship between humans and AI is like "director vs improv actor".

▲ Peter's autobiography "Peter 2.0", 1/4 of which was written by eye tracking

No matter how wary Hollywood blockbusters are that artificial intelligence will wipe out humankind, the "director Peter" in front of him seems to have hopeless optimism and confidence in AI.

In an interview with the official account "One Piece", he said:

I believe that the best state of human beings in the future is when people and artificial intelligence work together to become human-centric artificial intelligence (human-centric AI). In other words, artificial intelligence and people live in harmony, not their separate performances, but interdependent and synergistic.

everything's ready. To survive, Peter completed a radical total laryngectomy in October 2019. Doctors separated his esophagus and trachea, and connected a new tube to breathe. Peter completely lost his voice and officially bid farewell to Peter 1.0.

One month after the operation, Peter announced loudly on social networks: "Peter 2.0 is online!" With various AI blessings, Peter became a complete cyborg.

I will continue to evolve. As a human, I have died, and I will continue to live as a "cyborg" in the future.

What happens when a cyborg dies?

Peter's death did not come without warning.

On April 8, Peter said on social networks: ALS has made it difficult for his eyes to close, because his eyes are dry and he cannot use eye tracking to communicate with everyone.

▲ Lenovo staff Ian (left), came to help Peter test other alternatives

On May 4, Nachman brought Intel's brain-computer interface expert Bruna Girvent to visit Peter. In the photo, he is wearing a brain-computer interface device and is experiencing mind communication.

▲ Lama Nachman (rear left), director of Intel's Anticipatory Computing Lab, Bruna Girvent (rear right), Intel brain-computer interface expert

Both tweets actually delivered a less optimistic message: Peter's condition had deteriorated further. But he still showed his signature cheerful smile in the group photo, and kept his optimism between the lines: "I really love high technology!"

If life hadn't stopped at the age of 64, Peter would have been able to witness even more exciting visions become reality.

Experts are further training the AI ​​Peter uses, and when it becomes more powerful, it will be able to identify who Peter is talking to, quickly analyze past conversations between the two, and then provide appropriate suggestions based on the context.

Peter's speech synthesis is also growing, he has learned to say "hello" in Chinese and even sing French songs fluently. His next-generation avatar is more delicate and more realistic, and will be able to simultaneously generate facial expressions such as smiling, laughing, and eyebrow raising based on real-time speech synthesis and semantics.

In addition, there are more projects in the present tense –

An AI self-driving wheelchair that applies technology from the automotive industry, hoping to take Peter "to a place where no wheelchair has gone".

A smart home project tailored for Peter will sense Peter's needs and respond in time through software and hardware such as smart thermostats, smart light bulbs, and biosensors.

▲ Peter's transformation from human to cyborg, behind a "think tank" from all over the world

In any case, Peter left us with countless future revelations.

In 2019, Peter and his partner founded a charity, The Scott-Morgan Foundation.

The technical experts, designers, doctors, etc. who helped Peter complete the cyborg transformation, as well as the companies they work for, such as Intel, Lenovo, CereProc, DXC Technology, etc., all gathered here because of this "human guinea pig" who refused to accept his fate. here.

Peter referred to these like-minded allies as "The Rebels."

Although Peter has passed away, the foundation will continue to operate and related research will continue.

The Rebels will continue to transform the lives of those limited by age, health problems, disabilities, etc. through high-tech systems such as artificial intelligence, robotics, speech synthesis, and virtual reality. Research results that are sufficiently mature will be open-sourced in the future for those in need.

What exactly happens when a cyborg dies?

Peter has also thought about this issue. He believes that if there are enough records of life data and the artificial intelligence has matured enough, then when the biological self dies, the AI ​​can completely continue his essence and take over everything from him.

When one's consciousness is so closely intertwined with the technology around it, perhaps biological death no longer means final death. This is what I am trying to make the reader realize, that most people alive today will usher in a new human age.

It's a pity that he didn't have enough experimental time.

▲ Peter before the "triple ostomy", when his condition was not too serious

At the end of the documentary "Peter: The Birth of the Human Cyborg", Peter, who has completed a total laryngectomy, is waiting for a wheelchair with "three heads and six arms" to arrive home.

Cameras, eye-tracking devices, speech synthesis… Peter can't wait to experience it like a child who got a long-awaited toy. He happily said to the camera:

Being alive is so exciting! Now is not the end, the fun has just begun!

Peter's departure is not the end.

He gave us a new beginning with his life.

▼ References:


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