Last week we were joined by Dr Joe Taylor who is Head of the North at Candesic – a consultancy firm comprised of medical professionals with business experience who deliver CEO level clarity with R&D level insights. Joe is also a lecturer of medicine and neuroscience at the University of Oxford and the University of Stanford. Joe led a fascinating HiveMind for us on the use of implanted technology not only to treat illnesses and health conditions but also to augment our natural abilities.
In recent years there are an increasing number of biohackers and enthusiasts willing to experiment on themselves by implanting microchips that can do all sorts of amazing things like store your medical records, open doors, store passwords, monitor your temperature and even pay for things using the back of your hand. Joe happens to have several microchips implanted in his hands that allow him to do many of these things. However, it is not just a fun party trick, there are real advantages to having this technology in our hands. If Joe is taken to the hospital without any identification, his medical records can be accessed by scanning the chip in his hand and this will allow the doctors to treat him more effectively. If he were mugged and had his wallet stolen, he could use the payment chip in his other hand to find his way home.
This philosophical movement known as Transhumanism is not new; the term was first used in an essay published in 1957 by English philosopher and biologist, Julain Huxley. Huxley spoke about his devotion to promoting the development of human enhancement technologies to increase or augment our sensory perception, cognitive function and emotive abilities that will also improve our health and extend our lifespans. So, the concept of using technology to enhance our abilities is certainly not new or futuristic. If you wear a fitness tracker to monitor your activity levels, track calories, monitor your heart rate and so on, you already have a wearable devise that is designed to augment your ability to live a healthier lifestyle. However, wearable and implantable technology of the future will be far more sophisticated than our fitness trackers of today. Imagine a contact lens that is also a camera? If you think that sounds far-fetched, Google invented one in 2014 so it is not impossible. Of course, there are all sorts of moral and ethical concerns around recording people without consent, so it might not become commercially available but there are many professional applications for that kind of technology when you give an expert the ability to see through your eyes.
American neuroscientist, David Eagleman has conducted some very interesting research and developed wearable devices that allow people to "hear" through their skin. When we are born, our brains do not know how to interpret soundwaves into what we perceive as language, this is something that our brains develop over time. Eagleman's studies have shown that the brain can also learn to understand vibrations and pulses on the skin as if we were hearing it, essentially creating a new sense. This has obvious advantages for people who are deaf because hearing aids are not always effective and cochlea implants require invasive surgery, which can also be cost-prohibitive for people in poorer nations. This new sense could also be used to interoperate big data in new ways. Imagine if a pilot could absorb data from every system on the aircraft to ensure no faults were occurring without physically having to check the hardware or even consciously thinking about it. Imagine if stock market traders could interoperate numbers and trends by wearing a jacket or wristband that sends vibrations through their skin. This technology combined with translation software could also allow us to collaborate more effectively across language barriers, so the application for this technology is endless.
As wearable technology is becoming more sophisticated and impressive, implanted technology is also starting to become more mainstream and is already very popular in Sweden where many people have chosen to implant microchips to replace credit cards and keys.
Watch the full HiveMind with Dr Joe Taylor and decide for yourself if the future really is in our hands.