Robots of the flesh open door to future

Man with a chip-implanted hand at uni symposium

IMAGINE a world where a wave of a chip-implanted hand opens doors, turns on your computer, or starts the family car.

Or a world where your entire medical or personal history is carried inside your body to be accessed at the flick of a government controlled button.

Will there be a time when cyborg athletes running and jumping on artificial legs, arms, or even hearts, smash world records with ease?

Such Orwellian scenarios have now left the pages of science fiction to become a potentially frightening reality, with emergence of the latest generation of all-seeing, all-knowing technologies.

Just what the social implications of these emerging technologies might be will be explored during a three-day international symposium which starts at the University of Wollongong today.

Speakers from 17 countries will present more than 70 papers centred on automatic identification, location-based services, social networking, nanotechnology, and privacy and human rights.

Symposium chair, Associate Professor Katina Michael said some of the key topics to be explored will include ethical aspects of bar-code and microchip implants in the human body, the challenge of cyborg rights, tracking and monitoring living and non-living things, and internet filtering and regulation in Australia.

"We have seen an increase in the use of wearable and embedded technologies in everyday life, so I believe it's time for public debate on a range of associated issues," Prof Michael said.

"One recent example of an issue that has posed a number of social and ethical challenges regarding cyborg rights is South African runner Oscar Pistorius, who runs with the aid of carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs," she said.

"Pistorius's artificial lower legs have allowed him to compete in open competitions, but this has generated claims that he has an unfair advantage over runners with prosthetic limbs," she said.

One of those presenting a paper at the symposium is Amal Graafstra, who has a radio-frequency identification chip implanted in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger.

One of about 300 implant "hobbyists" around the world, he can unlock his car and his front door and even turn on his computer.

Citation: Paul McInerney, June 7, 2010, "Robots of the flesh open door to future", Illawarra Mercury, p. 3.