CXO

Hardware implants: How tech could really get under your skin

It's taken years for the idea of implanting anything artificial in the human body to gain acceptance. So how will the public react when implants become really smart?

Written in my Abu Dhabi hotel and despatched to TechRepublic via a 3Mbps LAN port in my room.

The modern era of human repair using implants got underway in the 1970s with passive joints, stents and valves. Electronic stimulators for lungs, heart and brain soon followed. Today, they are commonplace - but it wasn't always that way, despite their obvious efficacy.

In the early days I viewed the metal, plastic and electronic implants as the fastest way to afford temporary repairs rather than any long-term remedy. And while progress with man-made biological replacements was always going to be slower, it did offer the prospect of greater compatibility and performance.

Surprisingly, we have made faster progress today than projected 20 or even 10 years ago, and our growing population of cyborgs live long and natural lives without any significant downside. Many of my friends and colleagues have been repaired in this way and have seen the quality of their lives improved and extended.

Throughout this period the biggest surprise has been nothing to do with the technologies, or indeed the accepting nature of the patients and their desire to get back to a normal life. It has been the reaction of some parts of the media and those with no involvement whatsoever, personal or professional.

This reaction has spanned the logically cautious to the crazy hype of those worried about our engineering some new form of species. Arguments have focused on the sanctity of life, violations of the human body, creeping cyborgisation and the potential for a Big Brother society.

Fortunately, rationality and a growing demand continue to win the day. At the same time the supply of donated human organs is insufficient, so the manufactured alternatives are vital.

At the leading edge we now have experiments with artificial retinas, stem-cell regeneration of the brain, tissue growth and printing of muscle, ligament and skin. However the most contentious area seems to be the inclusion of electronic devices with controls and displays just under the skin.

Subcutaneous technology

Subcutaneous displays and buttons have been demonstrated, although the long-term stability and the risk of infection and rejection have yet to be established. But if they became a certified safe option, will anyone want them?

My guess is yes. In fact, please form an orderly line behind me. The potential advantages are enormous, and with surgical removal simple, a lot of the Big Brother worries go away.

I have long dreamt of carrying my electronic ID, passport, medical records, and other personal information subcutaneously. And with my genetically inherited deafness gradually worsening, the prospect of internal electronic enhancement is hard to resist.

But then come the restoration of 20:20 vision and a built-in head-up display, leading ultimately to the onboard equivalent of an iPhone, iPad, iPod, radio and TV.

Does it all sound creepy? Well, walking around with headphones listening to music, wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, sporting a facial tattoo, or just owning a personal portable phone would have been viewed as weird only 30 years ago.

For those of you who are going to be around in 30 years, extensive device implants will probably be the norm. But for me, dammit, I was born a couple of decades too early.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

19 comments
Snak
Snak

Deaf since the age of 23 and now approaching 80, she spent 50 years hearing absolutely nothing (other than distressing Tinnitus). She never heard her children speak, nor any music at all. She loved birds, but heard not a single one. Whilst the cochlear implant technology is crude, I no longer have to wave in front of her face to attract her attention. Opinion is always dependent upon personal circumstance, but I seriously doubt the government are going to start controlling her like a robot because of this great aid, both to her and the people with whom she communicates.

Wolffe_
Wolffe_

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Slayer_
Slayer_

About this stuff. It was so poorly done, I figured it was a joke.

Alienwilly
Alienwilly

Can you say EMP? Are you willing to risk the possibility of frying electronics in your body when our unstable world system or the sun decides to send CME's our way? I don't think so! You guys are not as stable as you think. What part of this doesn't sound fishy to you? Can you say NO privacy? Or, am I just nuts? How about 6-6-6, the U.P.C. rfid chips, attached to Obama care, need i go on? You really don't think this is a coincidence, do you? OK, Maybe I'm just nuts? Do a little research on transhumanisation. My "Heads-up display" is talkin' to me right now, and it's sayin' this ain't gonna be pretty. http://superstore.wnd.com/sales/WILD-CARD-SALE/Trans-Humanism-Destroying-The-Barriers-DVD

lcplwilson
lcplwilson

We implant ID's etc in our pets, so the tech is or seems pretty safe!!

mckinnej
mckinnej

While I'm not so keen on having implanted chips, I'm totally good with other repairs. Everyone that I know that has had knee replacements wish they had done it sooner. Their lives are much better now. If a similar repair would make this pain in my shoulder go away, I would jump on it. (Going to the Dr. today.) The downside to all of this is of course the cost. The average person can't afford this stuff without insurance.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Gold alloy and plastics reinforcing and replacing parts of my teeth. Polypropylene mesh holding my guts in. I prefer biological repairs as they are self-sustaining, but go with what you have that works.

davidecook
davidecook

Implanted microchips are not for me. But I'd wager that some time in the future, governments will try to require it.

peter
peter

Snak = What a nice story - and a sensible view. Having worked with a lot of disabled and disadvantage it is great to see what relatively simple technology can do to improve and enhance their lives.

peter
peter

No we are not - there are far more good neurons on the planet than bad - and the upside of this technology can be the difference between living and dying, a good quality of life or a living hell....this is about people trying to help people....with what we have in our technology tool chest right now...

peter
peter

When they save you life with a pacemaker or an electro-brain stimulator you will see things rather differently

peter
peter

I don't think you are nuts but you are ill informed - the EMP problem for pacemakers was craked a couple of decades ago - and as for privacy, security and safety - they are all relative quantities and not absolutes! We can engineer it to the level that satisfies the majority.

peter
peter

Indeed we do - and some special/expensive people on the quiet!

Alienwilly
Alienwilly

OH, So in so's pit bull's heart rate is up, maybe we should neutralize it and fine the owner. After all find the pet, find you.

peter
peter

Funnily enough I have had a bad shoulder for about 12 months after sleeping on the red eye on a really hard seat! Cost wise - depends where you live on the planet - and the savings in care facilities when you are restored to independence.

peter
peter

Met too - but I cant get all biological solutions/repairs yet....but organic electronics may be on the way!

peter
peter

....well not yet anyway...remain fit and well and you may never need one...but amongst my older friends the situation is moving toward 'dead' or alive with an implant...interesting decisions for all of us ahead!

Alienwilly
Alienwilly

How about when it's time for Obama care to take effect. Would you be happy to allow this to get ANY FREE medical care? NOT in my lifetime!

peter
peter

The USA represents less than 5% of the worlds population and so does its healthcare system, and other countries do it differently :-)