History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, the 50th anniversary of the first African American recipient of the military’s highest honor.

Plus 20 years ago, the first radio-frequency ID chip embedded in a person.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, a publishing milestone. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on August 24th, 1456. After two years of intensive labor, a German blacksmith completes and binds the world’s first book printed with movable metal type—the Gutenberg Bible.

DIMUNATION: This is arguably the most important book in the history of the printed book.

Mark Dimunation is a rare book specialist at the Library of Congress. He says Gutenberg changed the world—not only by making the Bible accessible, but making mass communication possible.

DIMUNATION: The multiples that come out of printing has a dramatic impact on Europe…probably more so than computers have had in our own generation.

Gutenberg printed less than 180 copies of the Bible—one of which sits in the Library of Congress. Fewer than 25 complete copies are known to exist today—making it one of the rarest books in the world. Even so, today, anyone with a browser can page through it at The World Digital Library online.

Next, August 21st, 1968: James Anderson, Jr. becomes the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor. Anderson died in the line of duty when falling on an enemy hand grenade. The president’s citation reads:

Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Anderson reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off. In this singularly heroic act, Private First Class Anderson saved his comrades. His personal heroism, extraordinary valor, and inspirational supreme self-sacrifice reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

In 1985, the United States Navy named a military transport ship after Anderson. It sailed for 24 years before being decommissioned in 2009.

And finally, August 24th, 1998. Kevin Warwick, a UK professor, tested the first human implanted radio-frequency identification device. The RFID chip was the size of a grain of rice. In 2012, Warwick described the experiment during a TED talk:

WARRICK: Now what it did for me was as I walked down the corridors, the lights came on just for me. Walking to my laboratory, the door opened, then coming in the door, it said “Hello Professor Warrick…”

Warwick’s experiment was only the first step in his “Project Cyborg” research—culminating with a neural implant, allowing him to control a robot arm with his nervous system. Today, he remains committed to what he calls “enhancing humankind.”

WARRICK: The cyborg – the ‘part human, part machine’ – I think is a realistic way to go ahead…upgrading humans, increasing the memory.

WORLD Radio technology correspondent Michael Cochrane:

COCHRANE: The RFID Chip really opened the door, it was the first baby-step into this whole world of what they’re calling biohacking, which is, you know, integrating technology with the human body, ostensibly to increase performance, improve memory…it’s sort of opened a Pandora’s box. We see it in the extreme end of this with the transhumanist movement. The idea being that we could go beyond the limitations of our human body by augmenting it with machines.

Regardless of how quickly the field of cybernetics advances, government, industry, and medical interests continue to lobby for increased human implantation of RFID: for storing medical records, passports, and banking information in the back of a person’s hand. So far, privacy rights and safety advocates have successfully slowed implementation in the U.S., even as other countries embrace the technology.  

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Wikipedia via Flikr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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