Take a moment to carry out a quick Google search on the Internet of Bodies and the warnings are stark: “dangerous”, “perilous” and “are we ready?”, scream the top three search results. Just what is this phenomenon that’s driving the Washington Post and others to the brink and how will it play out in the very real world of our everyday lives?
Cast your mind back to the late 1990s when you first heard the phrase: Internet of Things. This innocuous, even vague, soundbite is leading a revolution in the way we live our interconnected lives, from smart speakers that talk to our lighting, to cars that call home, every gadget, every electrical device we own is fast becoming an entity that can send and receive data at the drop of a voice command.
And so, what of this Internet of Bodies? If the lines between human and machine really are blurring, as claimed by leading industry experts, then surely the possibilities, like the Internet of Things, are incredible. If your teenage viewing consisted of Blade Runner and Robo Cop, you’ll no doubt view this mash up of human and the robotic through the lens of a dystopian nightmare. But are the naysayers right to be so paranoid, as our bodies are increasingly used as a conduit for information to the internet?
Essentially, we’re talking about the Internet of Things internalised, smart devices that are placed inside the human body transforming it into a platform to send and receive data.
Many smart devices are already in use from heart implants that keep the organ functioning correctly and can be programmed outside from another source, to contact lenses that can also monitor glucose levels in tears. And if you have a pet, you’ll already have made use of microchipping technology that can be used to identify your dog if he strays too far or that allows your cat, and yours alone, to enter through your cat door.
So far we’re impressed, but we’re not going to stop with just a few devices that may or may not be used to assassinate us (former US VP, Dick Cheney famously had his heart implant disabled as a precaution against hackers). We’re taking this concept all the way, with smart pills that can send data from deep inside your intestinal tracts and tiny implants in your brain that can help regulate everything from Epilepsy to Alzheimer’s Disease.
Let’s be honest, the Internet of Bodies is, to pluck a popular expression from social media platforms, problematic. Problematic in that the questions it raises about personal security and safety are so vast that it’s almost impossible to fully get to grips with how it could ever be regulated. But let’s take a quick look at some of the IoB’s practical applications before we lose ourselves in the negativity that surrounds it.
Creating sustainable and effective health benefits is probably the most legitimately noble use of the IoB, it’s when you start looking at its wider considerations that you start to understand a little more of the panic behind those headline and search engine results.
Consider the fear that caused a senior American politician to listen to his concerned doctors and have something that was essentially his fail-safe back-up plan turned off. Just how susceptible are these miniscule devices to infiltration from hacks and viruses? We’re not talking about a hard drive that hands over your confidential bank details, we’re talking about your body and internal organs potentially being weaponized against you. That, to term another expression, is huge.
There is, however, a further question we need to ask ourselves when we think about the IoB. Imagine a worker who, after arriving at their office building, simply passes a hand casually over a sensor to gain access. Under their palm they carry a chip that contains everything about them, perhaps even their ethnicity, their religion and sexual preference or marital status.
Convenient? Maybe. But, in this age where everyone’s a suspect, how long before the data held on our nationality and beliefs is used to covertly track a person’s movements and who’s to say how that microchip can be used and who can access it. There’s something that almost screams of eugenics about the whole thing.
We are not prepared for the IoB, in much the same way that we are not prepared for the IoT, not fully, not really. We love the idea that miniature robots will fix us, but the reality does not stop there and we, as a community of tech enthusiasts, leaders and as a race have a great deal to think about and plan for if we’re going to see this tech used wisely and for the greater good.
Can we fully legislate the IoB through political and legal rule making? With its propensity for change, this is an almost impossible task to keep up with. So, that leaves much of the IoB rulebook being written by the tech innovators themselves and you have to ask yourself if you really want the likes of Elon Musk holding the pen.
Fascinating, helpful and certainly the future for so many industries, the IoB is here and it’s not holding back. How will you find the balance between the convenience of a password free life and unlimited access to whatever goes on inside your head?