An operating table; a surgeon's scalpel moves precisely across the surface of an eyeball to make a delicate incision. But the scalpel is teleoperated, and the surgeon is hundreds of miles away, grasping a force-feedback device and watching the output from a medical imaging system on a video monitor.
Actually, this scene is a simulation, and the scalpel is merely cutting into a grape. But by the early 1990s robotic surgery and telesurgery had been active research topics for some time, and there had been many such experiments. Tissue removal had been practiced on chicken breasts, brain surgery on watermelons. 18 And there had been some successful practical applications of robotic devices to surgical tasks requiring positional certainty and rapid performance: in March 1991, at Shaftesbury Hospital in London, the world's firstactive surgical robot was used to perform prostate surgery onalive patient, 19 and in November 1992 Robodoc-a specialized robotic arm-helped replace the arthritic hip of a sixty-four-year-old Sacramento man. 20 Specialized telemanipulators were becoming an increasingly important part of the cyborg organ repertoire.
There are endless reasons for robotically extending your reach. If you are a skilled surgeon, you might want to make your capabilities more widely available through use of remote manipulation techniques, or you might just want to stay well away from dangerous places like battlefields or the South Side of Chicago. If you are an astronomer, you might wish to use a telescope without actually having to go to some distant, isolated site. If you are a vulcanologist, you might not want to climb down into an active crater to take a look. 21 If you are a construction machinery operator, you might rather work from the comfort and safety of an air-conditioned site office than from a vertiginous, noisy, dusty cab. 22 If you are a cop or a bomb disposal specialist, you might very understandably want to get a dangerous job done without having to put your flesh on the line. 23 If you are a planetary geologist, you may simply have no way of getting your own body to the terrain that you want to explore. 24 And if you are in your right mind, you will not want to get too cozy with infectious samples in a medical laboratory or with a nuclear power plant or hazardous chemical plant in an emergency situation. Just equip yourself with the right sorts of video eyes and electromechanical hands.
Just as boxers with long arms stand less chance of getting belted in the jaw than opponents with shorter reaches, so cyborg soldiers equipped with teleoperated weapons can stay safely in the rear echelon and avoid the dangers of front-line combat. In the Gulf War, for the first time, teleoperated weapons actually played a significant battlefield role. 25 The sky was abuzz with Pioneer RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles)-teleoperated, pilotless planes that were used to track Iraqi forces, spot missile sites, search for mines, and survey bomb damage. The 82nd Airborne used Pointer RPVs to patrol base perimeters, and German mine sweepers deployed teleoperated patrol boats. In the future, the hand that holds the weapon may grow even longer: a 1987 Military Review article speculated, "In a physiological sense, when needed, soldiers may actually appear to be three miles tall and twenty miles wide ... we might hope to create future warriors that we could send forward surrounded by protecting robots or remote control aircraft." 26 Goliath is being reinvented.
Conversely, if robotic devices are constructed at insect size, they can also be used to get closer than we otherwise could and thus to manipulate things that are too small to be grasped by the fingertips. Rodney Brooks contrived a cockroach-sized robot at MIT in 1988, then set to work on piezoelectric motor-powered ant robots about a millimeter across. These might, he suggested, be used to crawl into arteries and unclog them, reconnect severed neurons, or skate across eyeballs to perform retinal surgery. 27 Tiny telemanipulators and robots seem particularly well suited to laparoscopic surgery, in which instruments and cameras are inserted through very small incisions in the body while the surgeon watches a video monitor, perhaps from a remote location. Johannes Smits of Boston University, inventor of a micromotor device, has suggested that minute electromechanical bugs could also act as miniature spies: "Imagine what you could do with an ant if you could control it. You could make it walk into CIA headquarters." 28
By using a microscope instead of an ordinary video camera and a micromanipulator in place of a human-scaled telerobot, you can go right down to the atomic scale and act in the world you find there. The UNC/UCLA nanomanipulator, for example, employs a head-mounted stereo display to view data from a scanning-tunneling microscope in real time and makes use of the microscope probe tip as a manipulator. A force-feedback arm provides the effectof running a nanoscaled hand across the displayed surfaces and pushing things around. 29 Ultra-Lilliputian nanorobots-whichhave at least been the subject of serious speculation-could submarine through veins and arteries and perform molecular-level surgery. 30
All this is the outcome of an evolutionary process that began in the second half of the eighteenth century, when scientists began to play with the idea of accomplishing action at a distance by sending electricity through wires. 31 Early experiments produced sparks or moved pith balls. By the early nineteenth century there was much scientific speculation about the possibility of telegraphy-writing at a distance. By 1843 Samuel Morse had successfully constructed a long-distance telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore, and opened it with the Morse-coded message "What hath God wrought." By the 1890s William Crookes was imagining the "new and astonishing" possibility of wireless telegraphy, and as the twentieth century dawned Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a wireless signal across the Atlantic. (Marconi's first transatlantic message was one of modernist minimalisma single pulse, just one bit of information.) Now, any device connected to the worldwide telecommunications network is potentially a site for action by anyone anywhere on that net. So virtual reality researcher Warren Robinett has extrapolated from the telegraph to bodily telepresence: "In a few years visual telepresence may be widely available, so that a person can move by virtual travel instantly to distant locations, just as it is now possible with the telephone for hearing only. If, at that time, most controllable devices are linked to the communications network, then it will be possible for a person to project by virtual travel to a distant location and initiate actions there through the actuators available at that site." 32
Unlike Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, we telemanipulating cyborgs cannot be encircled by neat arcs swept through our outstretched limbs. Our grasp has no limits-upper or lower. We have no fixed scale.