If you were offered a technology that could be installed as a part of your physical body and enhance your life, would you want it? The answer would probably be no. I know for myself that the idea of getting any kind of device surgically installed in me just sounds like a terrible idea. There’s a lot to consider, what are the medical risks? What can the device itself actually do? And what control does the creator of that device have over me? Can they track my location? Do they sell my medical data? These are all big questions that most people wouldn’t like the answer to. However, there may be a way to convince people to embrace the idea of embedded technology, we just need to do it in the right place at the right time.
What Would Need to Happen First?
I think of myself as the customer in this scenario. Let’s create a theoretical device such as a processor chip that is installed physically and then let’s make a list as to why we would not want this:
- The medical risks of installing a device and maintaining a device outweigh the benefits.
- It may be too expensive with all the medical costs added in.
- The idea of having a system that monitors and sends data to a third party is too creepy.
- It’s hard to get rid of; if I want to no longer use such a device, that requires another possible surgery.
As you can see, we can probably go on all day about why this is such a bad idea. It’s safe to say that if something today came out like this, it would probably fail.
So what would we need to do first to make something like this even worth considering? First we would need to remove the privacy concern. This will probably be something that will happen within the next decade. As we start to slowly introduce devices that listen to us, follow us, and take personal information from us to be handled by third parties, we will become more comfortable with the fact that anything personal that we do can be public or purchased. The other thing that could happen is a contract between the company and the customer. For example, if this theoretical processor chip that was going to be installed in my head had a contract promising no public data sharing of any of my personal medical information, that would create some peace of mind. There are still the risks of cyber security breaches, but that is something that is becoming very mainstream today.
The real issues that would hold such a device back, would be it’s medical costs and the fact that medicine is not in a stage where we can do reliable surgeries to install such types of products. Once medicine catches up, then all that really remains is the will and the development of technology to create such a device.
What Would Such a Device Be?
So in order for this conversation to even be transitioned into reality, we would need a society comfortable with lack of privacy, or trusting enough to let a company handle their most private data and major advances in medicine to provide reliable, cheap, and painless surgeries to install a device. We obviously aren’t in such a timeline yet, but for conversations sake, let’s assume that we are. We may be decades into the future and society is essentially numb to being monitored 24/7 by the technology they use and have no qualms with having their information being leaked to the public. We also have major advances in medicine, where surgeries are fast, reliable, and painless. You could walk in and get a minor to moderate operation done and it would be the equivalent to having your teeth looked at by the dentist.
Now that we are in a made up time period where the setting is right for us to launch the product, we still have some concerns:
- How can we create a product that is physically installed into a customer.
- How do we make it enticing enough to make the customer want to get this device installed?
- And how can we create a give and take scenario? For example, I create a device that monitors your blood sugar levels, but in return I can sell that data to whoever I want. I give you a convenient service and in exchange I take your personal information to sell. Maybe I can’t legally sell all of it, but I can sell information that isn’t too personal.
Let’s go with a theoretical processor chip that gets installed in your head. Asking anyone to install a processor in their head would be answered pretty swiftly with a “No.” So, we need to offer some services that make it worth it. A service that is becoming popular with wearable technology is health. People want to see how far they are walking, how healthy they are eating, how well they are sleeping, and the list goes on. There are devices right now that help do this, but they are usually fragmented into separate devices and apps. What if we could centralize everything with this theoretical human processor? We can make it do the following:
- Monitor all health (blood pressure, heart rate, number of steps, how long you are sitting, how healthy you are eating, etc.)
- Share personal informational statistics with the right people (Health charts for doctors).
- Use your bio-metric data to create secure and unique identities (Create bank accounts, sign contracts, login to online accounts, etc.)
These three ideas are a lot to digest and some of them can get pretty deep into sci-fi. Let’s try to break it down one by one.
Monitor All Health.
Instead of offering someone a processor to install in their head. What if we instead offered someone the option to use a device that can tell you if you’re about to have a heart attack and contact 911, before you even have the first symptom? Now some people may be listening. When we can install something physically we can gain more access to information than from the surface level. I can have a device that can scan and monitor everything. Imagine being able to diagnose cancer in a person before they even reach the doctors office? Maybe it can tell you that there’s a lump you didn’t notice on your breast and it’s cancerous. These scenarios aren’t happy ones, but there situations that can save your life when caught early.
The same goes with our eating habits. Today, most calorie tracking is done by entering product information into an app and the app will look it up based on what is has stored in it’s database. It then takes the calorie total of the food you ate and adds it to an already existing number. After a while it will summarize this information such as fat content, sugars consumed, vitamins, etc. and then make recommendations on how to eat better. Unless you’re dedicated in tracking your food consumption however, there’s a lot of people who will find it hard to constantly add things they ate. They may also try to cheat and not enter something they ate at all to get the satisfaction of staying under their calorie limit. But we can’t cheat a device that monitors us from within our own body. It can tell us in real time everything. It can tell me how much I ate without me having to specify what it is and it can tell me how many calories I burned. These ideas make life a lot easier. No one has to do more work anymore to see how healthy they are it would be like having a doctor and personal trainer following you around 24/7.
Another point of interest is our sleep cycle. Today, some of the most accurate devices require you to wear something while you sleep so your phone or device can accurately monitor you. Other devices use more basic concepts such as listening to when you turn or get up, and if you unlocked your phone or turned the lights on. All of these work to an extent, but none of them can answer really important questions such as how often did you enter REM sleep? How long does it take for you to fall asleep? How often did you wake up last night? We can make educated guesses today based on common data such as noises and light sources, but we can’t really mine that data without having to wear something inconvenient while we sleep.
Share Personal Information With the Right People.
If the device is a physical processing unit, we can use it to leverage our own personal lives. One possibility is to be able to share information with each other without having to actually do anything. Maybe while visiting your doctor, you can share all of your personal health statistics without having to actually relay how you’re feeling. Or maybe you were badly hurt and unable to respond. A first responder will have no clue as to what damage may have been done, but our physical device does, and assuming it hasn’t been damaged it can tell a first responder what our current state is. This can make the difference with saving your life. Maybe there is brain swelling that a first responder wouldn’t notice, but if a physical device was able to report your condition in real time as soon as first responders arrive, then it could arguably grab the attention of consumers looking for something to enhance their longevity throughout life.
Use Your Bio-Metric Data to Create Secure and Unique Identities.
One of the biggest issues faced today by any company that collects personal data is security. Passwords only go so far and currently one of the best methods is to use a password manager. A password manager is like a vault with all of your passwords in it. The only way for anyone to access this vault is to have the master password. Of course this really puts all of your eggs in one basket. If someone finds out my master password, they’ve essentially unlocked all of my passwords. We can make this less likely by using two-factor authentication, but the reality still stands that it’s not perfect.
Most people do not use a password manager and most of us are guilty of reusing passwords, especially with online accounts we may not care about and have no significant value to us. Passwords are hard to manage and hard to protect; it relies on constant vigilance and awareness. Also, it’s hard to make passwords unique; it’s very possible that two users who have no relations to each other share the same password. The only thing keeping their identities safe is the fact that their usernames are unique as well. However, we could try to leverage our own personal health as way of creating unique passwords.
For example, maybe instead of having a static password that has to be remembered forever, my password to my bank account can be a combination of my average blood pressure for the past 24 hours and my daily calorie intake. Both of those things would be almost impossible to predict and if they change every day it would make it only harder. The only way for anyone to guess something like that is if they had me hooked up to a blood pressure machine for the past 24 hours and monitored everything I ate. These make strong passwords because it require extremely thorough social engineering to break them. These are passwords that we ourselves wouldn’t even know, but a physical device would and if that information was stored locally and only updated externally at certain intervals, it would create greater protection.
There are still flaws in this idea though that need to be put into consideration. For example, if we go back to our past two features we talked about, they both require collection and storage of private data into a third party source. So in theory, if I can break into that third party data repository that is supposed to keep some of my information private, it could compromise my passwords. The best way to make something like this even remotely secure, is to change the passwords frequently enough so that even with a mass data dump, any data that is pertaining to a password would already be stale and outdated.
Ethics, Ethics, Ethics.
To wrap up this idea, I want to mention the implications on how ethical something like this is. I don’t think there is a right answer really. A device of this scale raises many questions; some of those being how will government authorities want to monitor and regulate physically embedded devices? How private will my medical data be? What will be collected and what will remain locally on the device? All of these things are safe to assume will go towards having as much power over the consumer as possible. Government agencies may want to use such devices to constantly track and monitor its citizens in case they are terrorists or commit crimes. Certain corporations would love to know everything you eat and how healthy you are in order to determine things such as what you would buy next time you are at the store, what kind health insurance you are entitled to, and what products would be best for you to see in advertising based on your exercise or where you’ve traveled to. Physically embedded technology isn’t here yet, but I would argue that it is beginning to approach our doorstep. We see devices such as smart watches which monitor our lives and health, and for now they remain external, but once future technology is present it’s not a matter of if, but how can a product convince the customer that it’s worth physically installing it within ourselves.