37-year-old Amal Graafstra doesn’t use a key, fob or password to access his car, home and PC. Rather, Graafstra simply waves his hands which are implanted with a number of RFID chips.
“In the next 10 to 20 years we will see rapid development in bioengineered and man-machine interfaces,” Graafstra told Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News. “The trend is going to push the boundaries of what it means to be human.”
As Johnson reports, the current trend to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to the skin via “smart tattoos” will likely revolutionize health care and change the way individuals interact with devices and one another. Although critics have labeled the trend intrusive, advocates say it will ultimately help make life better for everyone. Indeed, some researchers envision a day when devices placed in people will enable them to control computers, prosthetic devices and many other items solely with their thoughts. Unsurprisingly, Bay Area companies have expressed significant interest in implantable tech.
For example, Google’s Motorola Mobility filed a patent application in November that proposed an “electronic skin tattoo” for the throat – with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver – that would allow users to operate various devices via voice commands.
“Eventually you’ll have an implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer,” Google CEO Larry Page was quoted as saying in 2011. Similar research is being conducted elsewhere, including UC Berkeley where scientists proposed implanting people’s brains with thousands of tiny sensors dubbed “neural dust” tasked with gathering detailed. Eventually, says lead researcher Dongjin Seo, the electronic swarms may be capable of controlling devices via thought or stimulating malfunctioning brain regions to restore limb motor control for paralyzed patients.
Stanford doctors have already gone a step further by implanting the brain of a Parkinson’s disease sufferer with a new device that gathers detailed data on the “neural signatures” of his illness. Ultimately, scientists hope the information can be used to create a new device to ease Parkinson’s symptoms with electrical impulses that automatically adjust to patient activity.
The full text of Steve Johnson’s article, titled “Computerizing people may be next step in tech,” can be read on the San Jose Mercury News here.