Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan, a terminally ill scientist, cried as he heard his future robotic voice for the first time.
The genius is on a mission to become the world’s first cyborg in a bid to combat his muscle wasting disease.
Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan, 62, wants to enhance his deteriorating body with a high-tech exoskeleton and a mind-reading computer.
Diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) in 2017 – the same condition that afflicted Professor Stephen Hawking – Peter refused to accept his fate and embarked on a quest to become a fully-fledged cyborg.
The robotics expert, based in Torquay, Devon, has already “re-plumbed” his stomach to avoid needing a carer to eat and go to the bathroom, and has even ditched his voice box for a digital one.
He eventually hopes to walk using an exoskeleton and use an animated avatar to speak and act out his facial expressions on a computer screen.
Peter is the subject of a Channel 4 documentary that aired this week, “Peter: The Human Cyborg”.
“Think of it as a science experiment,” he says during the program.
“This is cyborg territory, and I intend to be a human guinea pig to see just how far we can turn science fiction into reality.”
Speaking about losing his voice, the scientist remarked: “I really want, when I’m, locked in, to sound a bit like me and convey some of the emotion and hopefully gain a bit of the empathy from people in my current state.
“Without that, I think I’ll feel very very isolated.”
He eventually heard his robotic voice alongside his family, including husband Francis, which was a very emotional moment because by this point Peter had almost lost his ability to talk.
The emotional moment saw the family listen as his robotic voice was programmed to sing.
The documentary was filmed over two years and follows Peter since his tragic MND diagnosis – which he discovered when one day he became unable to move his leg.
“I did what I have done all my life which is, as I get out of the bath, you shake your foot to get the water off – and it wouldn’t happen,” he recounts.
“After a series of tests I was diagnosed with motor neuron disease – a horrific, cruel disease.”
By his side the whole time has been his partner Francis, who he met when he was nearly 21.
“It is a shock… how do we deal with this? I’ve shed a tear. You feel alone, you feel very afraid,” Francis says. “Watching him deteriorate… it’s traumatic.”
While Peter remains remarkably positive throughout the documentary, he says at one point: “To see how my body is wasting away – it creeps up on you when you least expect it, and it gets through a chink in your armour that you didn’t even know was there.
“That’s when I feel myself get close to tearful. I feel emotion welling up.
“I think the first time was when I looked at my legs and they really were withered.”
The AI buff, who has a PhD in robotics, was given two years to live by doctors, a prognosis that meant he should have passed away last year.
Peter has said he wants to become “the most advanced human cybernetic organism ever created in 13.8 billion years”.
He hopes his journey can save other MND sufferers from being “locked in”, a process that leaves sufferers with a fully-functioning mind trapped in a body that can no longer move.
“From the very beginning, Francis and I always knew that this was a journey,” Peter, adds. “Not just for us, also for absolutely everyone who feels trapped in their bodies.
“It’s alright to feel scared, it comes with being human. We can each be far stronger than we ever believed. We can fight our fears and progress will then accelerate.”
Peter is working with leading artificial intelligence (AI) pioneers and robotics experts to extend his life.
They’ve created a cutting-edge AI system that will eventually let him use his eyes to control an avatar that speaks in his own voice.
The same team – some who worked with Stephen Hawking – created a “Charlie 2.0” wheelchair.
The advanced piece of engineering will include a laptop and eye tracker as well as other requirements.
Other bodily functions have also been replaced – Peter is now fed through a tube and has a catheter and colostomy bag attached.
Last year, the pioneering patient underwent a laryngectomy, a complex operation to separate his oesophagus and trachea.
The procedure meant he wouldn’t run any risk of swallowing and choking on his saliva – but removed his biological voicebox.
Peter embraced his transition to a digital voice, tweeting: “This is my last post as Peter 1.0.
“Tomorrow I trade my voice for potentially decades of life as we complete the final medical procedure for my transition to Full Cyborg, the month I was told statistically I would be dead.
“I’m not dying, I’m transforming. Oh, how I love science.”
Peter says that facing everything head-on with the man he loves has helped him.
“We’ve always had the mantra of turning liabilities into assets, and motor neuron disease is no exception,” he adds.
He also took inspiration from Stephen Hawking, whom he had the privilege of meeting before his death in 2018.
“The most important thing he said, was ‘focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t’,” says Peter.
“Because if you focus and get frustrated, and grieve too much – because that’s what it feels like, you’re grieving for all the life, all the things you could do – that is psychologically corrosive.”
The Scott-Morgan Foundation, which he set up with husband Francis, seeks to use AI, robotics and other high-tech systems to transform the lives of those “restricted by age, ill-health, disability, or any other physical or mental disadvantages.”
On his website, Peter said this vision is far from just a dream: “We are within touching distance of changing everything. I’m not dying – I’m transforming. This is a terminal disease like you’ve never seen it before. And as far as I’m concerned, bring it on.MND hasn’t even begun to bring me to my knees. And even long after I’m locked in, I will still be standing tall.”
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