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Computerizing people may be next step in tech

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  • Computerizing people may be next step in tech

    Computerizing people may be next step in tech

    By Steve Johnson, San Jose Mercury News
    POSTED: 12/23/13, 9:18 AM EST |

    It’s likely the world in the not-so-distant future will be increasingly populated by computerized people like Amal Graafstra.

    The 37-year-old doesn’t need a key or password to get into his car, home or computer. He’s programmed them to unlock at the mere wave of his hands, which are implanted with radio frequency identification tags. The rice-size gadgets work so well, the Seattle resident says, he’s sold similar ones to more than 500 customers through his company Dangerous Things.

    The move to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to their skin via “smart tattoos” could revolutionize health care and change the way people interact with devices and one another. Critics call the trend intrusive, even sacrilegious. But others say it ultimately will make life better for everybody. Some researchers and executives envision a day when devices placed in people will enable them to control computers, prosthetic devices and many other things solely with their thoughts.

    “In the next 10 to 20 years we will see rapid development in bioengineered and man-machine interfaces,” predicted Graafstra, who wrote a book about the technology, adding that the trend is going to “push the boundaries of what it means to be human.”

    Many large technology companies and researchers are keenly interested in the topic.

    In a patent application made public in November, Google’s Motorola Mobility branch proposed an “electronic skin tattoo” for the throat — with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver — that would let someone operate other devices via voice commands.

    When asked, Google said it often seeks patents on employee brainstorms and that, while “some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t.” But Google CEO Larry Page apparently is intrigued with enhancing people electronically. A 2011 book about the Mountain View search giant quoted him saying, “Eventually you’ll have an implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”

    Similar notions are under study by others, including UC Berkeley researchers. In a scholarly paper published in July, they proposed implanting people’s brains with thousands of tiny sensors they called “neural dust.”

    The idea initially is to have the little circuits gather detailed data on brain functions. But eventually, lead researcher Dongjin Seo said, the electronic swarms may prove useful for “controlling devices via thought” or stimulating malfunctioning brain regions to restore “limb motor control for paralyzed patients.”

    Among the most widely anticipated uses for implants, smart pills and electronic tattoos are medical.

    In October, Stanford doctors implanted the brain of a Parkinson’s disease sufferer with a new device that gathers detailed data on the “neural signatures” of his illness. They hope to use the information to make a gadget that will ease Parkinson’s symptoms with electrical impulses that adjust to any activity the patients do.

    Last year, Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City won approval to sell a pill that relays information about a person’s vital signs via a mobile phone to their doctor. And officials at Santa Clara-based Intel envision their microchips one day in devices ingested or implanted for medical and other uses.

    Some fear implants might become mandatory for health insurance or jobs.

    After learning about a Cincinnati video surveillance firm that required employees to have a chip inserted in them, California Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced a bill that became law in 2008 forbidding anyone in this state from making similar demands.

    Two years later, when the Virginia House of Delegates passed a similar measure, some of the lawmakers — citing biblical references about the Antichrist — denounced implanted chips as “the mark of the beast.”

    It’s unclear how widespread those concerns are. A study Intel made public this month found that 70 percent of the 12,000 adults it surveyed were receptive to having their health data collected by various means, including “swallowed monitors.”
    Hell is paved with good intentions. Sadly.

    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

  • #2
    It's always going to be a matter of degrees. It's going to be a topic that medical ethicists will have to discuss for ages to come.

    Is it right to implant oneself with computer technology that lets you turn your hand into a cell phone?

    What about the computer technology that drives pacemakers?

    If there were some manner of computer chip implant in the brain that, could, say, make someone dramatically more intelligent, remember more, think more quickly, act/react more quickly, would that be ethical to do?

    What if that same technology could give a stroke victim full use of their faculties and muscles? Allow the paralyzed to walk again? Control robotic prosthetics to allow war injured and accident victims to walk/run again just like nothing had ever happened?

    It's always going to be a question, and there's almost certainly never going to be a single "right" answer.

    Remember: breast augmentation technology came originally from trying to help women who had lost breasts to mastectomy. Right? Or wrong? Do you deny women who lost their breasts this option just because there are some strippers and porn stars out there who "abuse" it?

    About a year or so, there was some show on Science Channel or one of those about "the science of science fiction" or something along those lines, and they addressed a little bit of this. They brought up something in the program that I had really not considered before: I am a cyborg, by the strictest definition of the word (something along the lines of "having a mechanical device implanted in the body to improve one's life and/or improve one's physical performance"). Forty, fifty years ago, in the age of Steve Austin on the television, my hip implant practically was science fiction. While I don't know it for sure, I'm guessing that there probably was some controversy about whether putting a large chunk of titanium alloy formed into a ball-and-socket joint into someone was the ethically correct thing to do, even if doing so alleviated suffering of the patient involved. Now it's routine, and no one has any ethical qualms about it whatsoever. I very distinctly remember all of the medical ethics debates about whether it was right to implant a Jarvik VII into Bill Schroeder. While people living wholly on artificial hearts has never really turned into something commonplace, the technology involved allows for heart surgery that would have been unheard-of just 20-30 years ago by using O.R. "artificial hearts" that greatly extend surgical times safely.

    I think that this will always be a question for the ages.
    Last edited by Adam; Monday, December 23, 2013, 8:04 PM. Reason: Correct dreadful sentence structure
    It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
    In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
    Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
    Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now


    • #3
      Sadly. those cutting-edge medical ethicists now think that killing a two-year old is "okay" if the kid is defective.

      I guess I don't trust these people to make good decisions based on morality. I think they will make decisions based on pragmatism. I will never be on the "right" side of a pragmatic medical decision.
      "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."