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Kevin Warwick - a book to plug and more nonsense to tell us

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Updated Just when you thought it was safe, out comes cybernetics crazyman Kevin Warwick with another book and another study that will prove to be an absolute load of twaddle but will get some useful newspaper inches in the meantime. We despair.

Kevin, for those of you fortunate enough not to know, is Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University. By dint of several chip-based experiments, completely dismissed by the academic community, he has extrapolated various science-fiction nightmare scenarios which, coincidentally, fit in with the main themes of whatever book he is promoting at the time.

The appalling extensions of failed experiments into paranoid fantasies about machines have driven academics working in the fields of Artifical Intelligence and Robotics nuts and also shown up the media as embarrassingly gullible.

So what's he up to now? He has a new book out, QI: the Quest for Intelligence. It's a clever title because it's "IQ" backwards, implying some kind of rethinking of intelligence. But before we get to a discussion of the book, we have to cover the PR angle to promote it.

In today's Daily Telegraph, the findings of an intelligence study among 200 students (aged 18 and 19) were given extensive coverage and even an editorial (albeit tongue-in-cheek). The angle is - you've gotta hand it to him really - that watching television can actually increase your IQ. It then lists a whole load of negative activities which actually help boost your IQ (a name-check to popular TV shows This Morning and Friends) and a load of positive ones (like listening to classical music, drinking orange juice, talking to friends) that reduce it. The precise scientific methods weren't divulged and we don't want to waste any time finding them out.

The "study" is perfect tabloid fodder (although it looks so far that few have bitten) and blatant nonsense. The problem though is that it's not a spoof or a joke but rather the exploitation of academic qualification for personal gain. Those in universities through the UK are also frustrated that Warwick is providing many people with false views of their speciality and also tries to act as an official spokesperson.

The frequency with which Kevin has popped up and the degree to which he is willing to stretch the truth have reduced significantly since The Reg started telling everyone about it back in February, but he still made it on Radio 4's Today programme today.

So back to the book. Although we'd prefer it if everyone just ignored Professor Warwick, at least Radio 4 pitched him against another academic who dismissed everything he said - Dr Neil Gascgoine. The book continues Kev's conviction that we'll all be taken over by machines more intelligent than us. He attempts to revisit the concept of intelligence but comes to the vacuous conclusion that it can't be defined.

Despite this, the book then goes on to say that machines with a different type of intelligence and different morals and ethics will become more powerful that humans and thus will eventually take over. It's an old sci-fi piece of philosophy given credence by the fact that he is a Professor, and is seductive in its fake reasoning.

Talking about the new book, Warwick also hinted at a new "experiment". We can hardly wait. "Intelligence is what puts humans in our position," he said. "If there is something more intelligent than us, it would take over. We can't trust politicians and the military on this."

Dr Neil Gascgoine responded that he felt Kev has been "frightened by an episode of Star Trek" when he was younger. He continued that the book was all about how you can't define intelligence and that his "manic fear" that machines would take over were "not justified". The discussion turned to ethics. Prof Warwick said that we were looking at the issue through human ethics and morals, whereas machines will have different morals and ethics - and hence will happily go about killing us.

"What a strange way to think about it," replied Gascgoine, before announcing that Kev's stance was a "wholly unwarranted, unsupportable position".

So he's back. God help us all.

Update: Oh no, it gets worse. We've been sent the intended Christmas lectures of The Royal Institution by a concerned reader.

"The Christmas Lectures, sponsored by Glaxo Wellcome and, for the first time this year, being televised by Channel 4, are an opportunity for young people to learn directly from scientists who are recognised as among the best in their field. Previous lecturers have included Michael Faraday, James Dewar, Frank Whittle, Frank Close and Susan Greenfield. All explain their work using practical demonstrations and experiments," it says. And then the killer blow: "This year the Christmas Lecturer is Prof Kevin Warwick of Reading University."

That's right, Kev will be talking gibberish not once, not twice but five times on dates between 14 and 30 December - and they will all be televised by Channel 4 during the Christmas period. They cover most of the same nonsense as previously and no doubt he will become expert in a few more specialities between now and December. You can find details here.

We are genuinely concerned about this apparent approval for Professor Warwick's flights of fancy and plan to make a serious approach to those concerned. We would ask anyone with a serious interest in this area of research to contact us at this email address. ®

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