Imagine that your body can connect to a data centre. This data can help prevent and manage your state of health and other activities to improve your daily life. Is this possible? Do we see it ethically acceptable? The Internet of the Bodies is one of the technologies derived from the development of the Internet of Things, and which has created quite a lot of controversy in the face of the challenges, benefits, and possible inconveniences that this implies for people.
What is the Internet of Bodies (IoB)?
The Internet of Bodies (IoB) refers to devices placed or implanted in the human body that maintain a continuous dialogue between a variety of contact points through the Internet. This technology uses the body as an information platform. It may seem creepy, however, analysing it can produce infinite possibilities.
Without a doubt, IoB can allow people with medical conditions, such as diabetes, to have better quality and longer life. This technology allows us to closely monitor blood glucose in real-time and control body functions, by simply using a mobile app.
There are 3 types of IoB, which are classified according to where the device or sensor is located:
The first are devices for external use, which includes the well-known Apple Watches and Fitbit Smart Bands, among others. These devices can continuously monitor our bodies with their health applications and are being used now by customers.
The second is for internal use, where recent advances in pacemakers or implants are included. The third category refers to developments related to devices embedded in the body. Includes sensors inserted inside the skin. One example is the brain-computer interfaces (BCI), although it may seem like science fiction, it is a computerized interface where the human brain merges with an external device, allowing a real-time connection with remote computers that receive constant updates, for control and monitoring.
Examples of IoB product development, closer than you can imagine
The most famous example: defibrillators and smart pacemakers
One of the most famous examples is the defibrillator or pacemaker. It is a small device placed in the abdomen, which helps patients with heart conditions to control abnormal heart rhythms, using electrical impulses. It also tracks information in real-time, linking the pacemaker with a mobile application.
Already in use and on the market: The smart pill
The ingestible sensors begin to appear in the health market. This technology is contained in the form of a pill, with the possibility of evaluating the intestinal climate as the sensor travels through the body, sending data to a smartphone. Imagine having a real-time diagnosis about the state of your digestive system, detecting conditions, and following them up; or through the information collected, design a perfect diet for your body. There are a lot of possibilities.
These pills can also be used for “digital chemotherapy”. The company Proteus digital has been in charge of developing this technology that can help optimize, record the time, dose, and type of chemotherapy taken, and combine it with data about rest habits, activity, and heart rate. Information can also be shared with pharmacists or caregivers through a secure mobile platform.
Around the corner: Smart contact lenses
“Smart contact lenses” that integrate sensors and chips that can monitor health diagnoses based on information from the eye and eye fluid are being developed. It aims to monitor glucose levels, without repeated punctures throughout the day.
Also, outside of the healthcare sector, smart contact lenses can be used to record images and videos, including zooming. Large companies such as Sony, Google, and Samsung are betting on this development, linking it to the development of Virtual Reality.
IoB also used for your day-to-day activities
Not all applications for the Internet of Bodies are intended for the health sector. The Biohax company developed a chip the size of a grain of rice, with the possibility of opening doors, paying, and logging into devices, simply with a hand wave. These sensors were applied to 50 employees of the company Three Square Market, to automatically manage all these daily actions within the company.
Challenges for the Internet of Bodies use and development
There is great concern about the implications of connecting the human body to the Internet. Consumer needs and desires exist, but the ethical, safety and control challenges are on the loop. For some years now we have seen some consumer-imposed fads in digital tattoos, or biohackers inserting computer chips into the skin. Also, the need for new forms of care and monitoring for long-term conditions or to improve the quality of life. Now coupled with the development of Artificial Intelligence, the possibilities for this technology are multiplying.
The main concern is the privacy loss and control. It must be determined who can access the data and for what purpose. A simple example: A device that monitors health can detect unhealthy behaviours. Will insurance companies be able to access that information? It is vitally important to determine the limits.
Another important aspect is the link with AI. Artificial Intelligence has the power to instantly process massive amounts of data and use machine learning algorithms to jump to conclusions. What is important in this is not only the data itself but the inferences that can be drawn from it. With data analysis, it is possible to predict and track behaviours, edit or eliminate genetic abnormalities, and subject citizens to 24-hour surveillance. What is the limit? It would seem like a dystopian scenario, but it is necessary to visualize these scenarios to prevent them.
Another relevant challenge that equally affects the Internet of Things development is security. With the difference that, on the Internet of Bodies, a lack of security can have much more serious consequences, when connected to a person. Cybersecurity development is required to protect yourself from hackers. Companies that decide to apply this technology must prevent and be clear to the consumer how they are protecting their data and privacy. IoB will open a whole new dimension of cybersecurity issues, as device malfunctions or security cracks can have massive repercussions.
As the Internet of Bodies technology keeps growing, legal and regulatory issues will need to be resolved and policies around the proper use of technology will need to be built. The bottom line: privacy and cybersecurity must be implemented right from the start. It is necessary that we know through clear policies, how we should use this technology and that the consumer is in control of their data. It is a technology that proposes a disruptive shift that has the power to change the meaning of personal autonomy. But also, it has the power to save lives, to prevent diseases and make life easier for us.