Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future


The social implications of a wide variety of technologies are the subject matter of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT). This paper reviews the SSIT's contributions since the Society's founding in 1982, and surveys the outlook for certain key technologies that may have significant social impacts in the future. Military and security technologies, always of significant interest to SSIT, may become more autonomous with less human intervention, and this may have both good and bad consequences. We examine some current trends such as mobile, wearable, and pervasive computing, and find both dangers and opportunities in these trends. We foresee major social implications in the increasing variety and sophistication of implant technologies, leading to cyborgs and human-machine hybrids. The possibility that the human mind may be simulated in and transferred to hardware may lead to a transhumanist future in which humanity redesigns itself: technology would become society.

SECTION I. Introduction

“Scientists think; engineers make.” Engineering is fundamentally an activity, as opposed to an intellectual discipline. The goal of science and philosophy is to know; the goal of engineering is to do something good or useful. But even in that bare-bones description of engineering, the words “good” and “useful” have philosophical implications.

Because modern science itself has existed for only 400 years or so, the discipline of engineering in the sense of applying scientific knowledge and principles to the satisfaction of human needs and desires is only about two centuries old. But for such a historically young activity, engineering has probably done more than any other single human development to change the face of the material world.

It took until the mid-20th century for engineers to develop the kind of self-awareness that leads to thinking about engineering and technology as they relate to society. Until about 1900, most engineers felt comfortable in a “chain-of-command” structure in which the boss—whether it be a military commander, a corporation, or a wealthy individual—issued orders that were to be carried out to the best of the engineer's technical ability. Fulfillment of duty was all that was expected. But as the range and depth of technological achievements grew, engineers, philosophers, and the public began to realize that we had all better take some time and effort to think about the social implications of technology. That is the purpose of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT): to provide a forum for discussion of the deeper questions about the history, connections, and future trends of engineering, technology, and society.

This paper is not focused on the history or future of any particular technology as such, though we will address several technological issues in depth. Instead, we will review the significant contributions of SSIT to the ongoing worldwide discussion of technology and society, and how technological developments have given rise to ethical, political, and social issues of critical importance to the future. SSIT is the one society in IEEE where engineers and allied professionals are encouraged to be introspective—to think about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what effects their actions will have. We believe the unique perspective of SSIT enables us to make a valuable contribution to the panoply of ideas presented in this Centennial Special Issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE.



A. Brief History of SSIT

SSIT as a technical society in IEEE was founded in 1982, after a decade as the Committee on Social Responsibility in Engineering (CSRE). In 1991, SSIT held its first International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), in Toronto, ON, Canada. Beginning in 1996, the Symposium has been held annually, with venues intentionally located outside the continental United States every few years in order to increase international participation.

SSIT total membership was 1705 as of December 2011. Possibly because SSIT does not focus exclusively on a particular technical discipline, it is rare that SSIT membership is a member's primary connection to IEEE. As SSIT's parent organization seeks ways to increase its usefulness and relevance to the rapidly changing engineering world of the 21st century, SSIT will both chronicle and participate in the changes taking place both in engineering and in society as a whole. for a more detailed history of the first 25 years of SSIT, see [1].

B. Approaches to the Social Implications of Technology

In the historical article referred to above [1], former SSIT president Clint Andrews remarked that there are two distinct intellectual approaches which one can take with regard to questions involving technology and society. The CSIT and the early SSIT followed what he calls the “critical science” approach which “tends to focus on the adverse effects of science and technical change.” Most IEEE societies are organized around a particular set of technologies. The underlying assumption of many in these societies is that these particular technologies are beneficial, and that the central issues to be addressed are technical, e.g., having to do with making the technologies better, faster, and cheaper. Andrews viewed this second “technological optimism” trend as somewhat neglected by SSIT in the past, and expressed the hope that a more balanced approach might attract a larger audience to the organization's publications and activities. It is important to note, however, that from the very beginning, SSIT has called for a greater emphasis on the development of beneficial technology such as environmentally benign energy sources and more efficient electrical devices.

In considering technology in its wider context, issues that are unquestionable in a purely technical forum may become open to question. Technique A may be more efficient and a fraction of the cost of technique B in storing data with similar security provisions, but what if a managed offshore shared storage solution is not the best thing to do under a given set of circumstances? The question of whether A or B is better technologically (and economically) is thus subsumed in the larger question of whether and why the entire technological project is going to benefit anyone, and who it may benefit, and who it may harm. The fact that opening up a discussion to wider questions sometimes leads to answers that cast doubt on the previously unquestioned goodness of a given enterprise is probably behind Andrews' perception that on balance, the issues joined by SSIT have predominantly fallen into the critical-science camp. Just as no one expects the dictates of conscience to be in complete agreement with one's instinctive desires, a person seeking unalloyed technological optimism in the pages or discussions hosted by SSIT will probably be disappointed. But the larger aim is to reach conclusions about technology and society that most of us will be thankful for some day, if not today. Another aim is to ensure that we bring issues to light and propose ways forward to safeguard against negative effects of technologies on society.

C. Major Topic Areas of SSIT

In this section, we will review some (but by no means all) topics that have become recurring themes over the years in SSIT's quarterly peer-reviewed publication, the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. The articles cited are representative only in the sense that they fall into categories that have been dealt with in depth, and are not intended to be a “best of” list. These themes fall into four broad categories: 1) war, military technology (including nuclear weapons), and security issues, broadly defined; 2) energy technologies, policies and related issues: the environment, sustainable development, green technology, climate change, etc.; 3) computers and society, information and communications technologies (ICT), cybersystems, cyborgs, and information-driven technologies; and 4) groups of people who have historically been underprivileged, unempowered, or otherwise disadvantaged: Blacks, women, residents of developing nations, the handicapped, and so on. Education and healthcare also fit in the last category because the young and the ill are in a position of dependence on those in power.

1. Military and Security Issues

Concern about the Vietnam War was a strong motivation for most of the early members of the Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering, the predecessor organization of SSIT. The problem of how and even whether engineers should be involved in the development or deployment of military technology has continued to appear in some form throughout the years, although the end of the Cold War changed the context of the discussion. This category goes beyond formal armed combat if one includes technologies that tend to exert state control or monitoring on the public, such as surveillance technologies and the violation of privacy by various technical means. In the first volume of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine published in 1982, luminaries such as Adm. Bobby R. Inman (ret.) voiced their opinions about Cold War technology [2], and the future trend toward terrorism as a major player in international relations was foreshadowed by articles such as “Technology and terrorism: privatizing public violence,” published in 1991 [3]. Opinions voiced in the Magazine on nuclear technology ranged from Shanebrook's 1999 endorsement of a total global ban on nuclear weapons [4] to Andrews' thorough review of national responses to energy vulnerability, in which he pointed out that France has developed an apparently safe, productive, and economical nuclear-powered energy sector [5]. In 2009, a special section of five articles appeared on the topic of lethal robots and their implications for ethical use in war and peacekeeping operations [6]. And in 2010, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in espionage and surveillance was addressed in a special issue on “Überveillance,” defined by authors M.G. Michael and K. Michael as the use of electronic means to track and gather information on an individual, together with the “deliberate integration of an individual's personal data for the continuous tracking and monitoring of identity and location in real time” [7].

2. Energy and Related Technologies and Issues

from the earliest years of the Society, articles on energy topics such as alternative fuels appeared in the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. A 1983 article on Brazil's then-novel effort to supplement imported oil with alcohol from sugarcane [8] presaged today's controversial U.S. federal mandate for the ethanol content in motor fuels. The Spring 1984 issue hosted a debate on nuclear power generation between H. M. Gueron, director of New York's Con Edison Nuclear Coal and Fuel Supply division at the time [9], and J. J. MacKenzie, a senior staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists [10]. Long before greenhouse gases became a household phrase and bandied about in debates between Presidential candidates, the Magazine published an article examining the need to increase the U.S.'s peak electrical generating capacity because the increase in average temperature due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the demand for air conditioning [11]. The larger implications of global warming apparently escaped the attention of the authors, focused as they were on the power-generating needs of the state of Minnesota. By 1990, the greenhouse effect was of sufficient concern to show up on the legislative agendas of a number of nations, and although Cruver attributed this to the “explosion of doomsday publicity,” he assessed the implications of such legislation for future energy and policy planning [12]. Several authors in a special issue on the social implications of systems concepts viewed the Earth's total environment in terms of a complex system in 2000 [13]. The theme of ISTAS 2009 was the social implications of sustainable development, and this theme was addressed in six articles in the resulting special issue of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine for Fall 2010. The record of speculation, debate, forecasting, and analysis sampled here shows that not only has SSIT carried out its charter by examining the social implications of energy technology and related issues, but also it has shown itself a leader and forerunner in trends that later became large-scale public debates.

3. Computing, Telecommunications, and Cyberspace

Fig. 1. BRLESC-II computer built by U.S. Army personnel for use at the Ballistics Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Grounds between about 1967 and 1978, A. V. Kurian at console. Courtesy of U.S. Army Photos.

In the early years of SSIT, computers were primarily huge mainframes operated by large institutions (Fig. 1). But with the personal computer revolution and especially the explosion of the Internet, SSIT has done its part to chronicle and examine the history, present state, and future trends of the hardware, software, human habits and interactions, and the complex of computer and communications technologies that are typically subsumed under the acronym of ICT.

As we now know, the question of intellectual property has been vastly complicated by the ready availability of peer-to-peer software, high-speed network connections, and legislation passed to protect such rights. In a paper published in 1998, Davis addressed the question of protection of intellectual property in cyberspace [14]. As the Internet grew, so did the volume of papers on all sorts of issues it raised, from the implications of electronic profiling [15] to the threats and promises of facial recognition technology [16]. One of the more forward-looking themes addressed in the pages of the Magazine came in 2005 with a special issue on sustainable pervasive computing [17]. This issue provides an example of how both the critical science and the technological optimism themes cited by Andrews above can be brought together in a single topic. And to show that futuristic themes are not shirked by the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine authors, in 2011 Clarke speculated in an article entitled “Cyborg rights” on the limits and problems that may come as people physically merge with increasingly advanced hardware (implanted chips, sensory enhancements, and so on) [18].

4. Underprivileged Groups

Last but certainly not least, the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine have hosted articles inspired by the plight of underprivileged peoples, broadly defined. This includes demographic groups such as women and ethnic minorities and those disadvantaged by economic issues, such as residents of developing countries. While the young and the ill are not often formally recognized as underprivileged in the conventional sense, in common with other underprivileged groups they need society's help in order to survive and thrive, in the form of education and healthcare, respectively. An important subset of education is the theme of engineering ethics, a subject of vital interest to many SSIT members and officials since the organization's founding.

In its first year, the Magazine carried an article on ethical issues in decision making [19]. A special 1998 issue on computers and the Internet as used in the K-12 classroom explored these matters in eight focused articles [20]. The roles of ethics and professionalism in the personal enjoyment of engineering was explored by Florman (author of the book The Introspective Engineer) in an interview with the Magazine's managing editor Terri Bookman in 2000 [21]. An entire special issue was devoted to engineering ethics in education the following year, after changes in the U.S. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's policies made it appear that ethics might receive more attention in college engineering curricula [22].

The IEEE Technology & Society Magazine has hosted many articles on the status of women, both as a demographic group and as a minority in the engineering profession. Articles and special issues on themes involving women have on occasion been the source of considerable controversy, even threatening the organization's autonomy at one point [1, p. 9]. In 1999, ISTAS was held for the first time in conjunction with two other IEEE entities: the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee and the IEEE History Center. The resulting special issue that came out in 2000 carried articles as diverse as the history of women in the telegraph industry [23], the challenges of being both a woman and an engineering student [24], and two articles on technology and the sex industry [25], [26].

Engineering education in a global context was the theme of a Fall 2005 special issue of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, and education has been the focus of several special issues and ISTAS meetings over the years [27]–[28][29]. The recent development termed “humanitarian engineering” was explored in a special issue only two years ago, in 2010 [30]. Exemplified by the U.S.-based Engineers without Borders organization, these engineers pursue projects, and sometimes careers, based not only on profit and market share, but also on the degree to which they can help people who might not otherwise benefit from their engineering talents.

SECTION III. The Present

Fig. 2.  Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Fig. 2. Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Emerging technologies that will act to shape the next few years are complex in their makeup with highly meshed value chains that resemble more a process or service than an individual product [31]. At the heart of this development is convergence: convergence in devices, convergence in applications, convergence in content, and convergence in infrastructure. The current environment is typified by the move toward cloud computing solutions and Web 2.0 social media platforms with ubiquitous access via a myriad of mobile or fixed devices, some of which will be wearable on people and animals (Fig. 2) or embedded in systems (e.g., vehicles and household appliances).

Simultaneous with these changes are the emergence of web services that may or may not require a human operator for decision making in a given business process, reliance upon data streams from automatic identification devices [e.g., radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags], the accuracy and reliability of location-based services [e.g., using Global Positioning Systems (GPS)] and condition monitoring techniques (e.g., using sensors to measure temperature or other physiological data). Most of this new technology will be invisibly located in miniaturized semiconductors which are set to reach such economies of scale, that it is commonly noted by technology evangelists that every single living and nonliving thing will come equipped with a chip “on board.”

Fig. 3. Business woman checking in for an interstate trip using an electronic ticket sent to her mobile phone. Her phone also acts as a mobile payment mechanism and has built-in location services features. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

The ultimate vision of a Web of Things and People (WoTaP)—smart homes using smart meters, smart cars using smart roads, smart cities using smart grids—is one where pervasive and embedded systems will play an active role toward sustainability and renewable energy efficiency. The internetworked environment will need to be facilitated by a fourth-generation mobility capability which will enable even higher amounts of bandwidth to the end user as well as seamless communication and coordination by intelligence built into the cloud. Every smart mobile transaction will be validated by a precise location and linked back to a subject (Fig. 3).

In the short term, some of the prominent technologies that will impact society will be autonomous computing systems with built-in ambient intelligence which will amalgamate the power of web services and artificial intelligence (AI) through multiagent systems, robotics, and video surveillance technologies (e.g., even the use of drones) (Fig. 4). These technologies will provide advanced business and security intelligence. While these systems will lead to impressive uses in green initiatives and in making direct connections between people and dwellings, people and artifacts, and even people and animals, they will require end users to give up personal information related to identity, place, and condition to be drawn transparently from smart devices.

Fig. 4.  A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

Fig. 4. A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

The price of all of this will be that very little remains private any longer. While the opportunities that present themselves with emerging technologies are enormous with a great number of positive implications for society—for instance, a decrease in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities, a reduction in the carbon emission footprint by each household, greater social interconnectedness, etc.—ultimately these gains too will be susceptible to limitations. Who the designated controller is and what they will do with the acquired data is something we can only speculate about. We return then, to the perennial question of “who will guard the guards themselves”: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [32]

A. Mobile and Pervasive Computing

In our modern world, data collection from many of our most common activities begins from the moment we step out our front door in the morning until we go to sleep at night. In addition to near-continual data collection, we have become a society of people that voluntarily broadcasts to the world a great deal of personal information. Vacation photos, major life events, and trivialities such as where we are having dinner to our most mundane thoughts, all form part of the stream of data through which we electronically share our inner lives. This combination of the data that is collected about us and the data that is freely shared by us could form a breathtakingly detailed picture of an individual's life, if it could ever all be collected in one place. Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate that most of this data was historically never correlated and is usually highly anonymized. However, in general, it is becoming easier to correlate and deanonymize data sets.

1. Following Jane Doe's Digital Data Trail

Let us consider a hypothetical “highly tracked” individual [33]. Our Jane Doe leaves for work in the morning, and gets in her Chevrolet Impala, which has OnStar service to monitor her car. OnStar will contact emergency services if Jane has an accident, but will also report to the manufacturer any accident or mechanical failure the car's computer is aware of [34]. Jane commutes along a toll road equipped with electronic toll collection (ETC). The electronic toll system tracks where and at what time Jane enters and leaves the toll road (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. The ERP uses a dedicated short-range radio communication system to deduct ERP charges from CashCards. These are inserted in the in-vehicle units of vehicles before each journey. Each time vehicles pass through a gantry when the system is in operation, the ERP charges are automatically deducted. Courtesy of Katina Michael 2003.

When she gets to work, she uses a transponder ID card to enter the building she works in (Fig. 6), which logs the time she enters and by what door. She also uses her card to log into the company's network for the morning. Her company's Internet firewall software monitors any websites she visits. At lunch, she eats with colleagues at a local restaurant. When she gets there, she “checks in” using a geolocation application on her phone—for doing so, the restaurant rewards her with a free appetizer [35].


Fig. 6. Employee using a contactless smart card to gain entry to her office premises. The card is additionally used to access elevators in the building, rest rooms, and secure store areas, and is the only means of logging into the company intranet. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

She then returns to work for the afternoon, again using her transponder ID badge to enter. After logging back into the network, she posts a review of the restaurant on a restaurant review site, or maybe a social networking site. At the end of the work day, Jane logs out and returns home along the same toll road, stopping to buy groceries at her local supermarket on the way. When she checks out at the supermarket, she uses her customer loyalty card to automatically use the store's coupons on her purchases. The supermarket tracks Jane's purchases so it can alert her when things she buys regularly are on sale.

During Jane's day, her movements were tracked by several different systems. During almost all of the time she spent out of the house, her movements were being followed. But Jane “opted in” to almost all of that tracking; it was her choice as the benefits she received outweighed her perceived costs. The toll collection transponder in her car allows her to spend less time in traffic [36]. She is happy to share her buying habits with various merchants because those merchants reward her for doing so [37]. In this world it is all about building up bonus points and getting rewarded. Sharing her opinions on review and social networking sites lets Jane keep in touch with her friends and lets them know what she is doing.

While many of us might choose to allow ourselves to be monitored for the individual benefits that accrue to us personally, the data being gathered about collective behaviors are much more valuable to business and government agencies. Clarke developed the notion of dataveillance to give a name to the “systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring of the actions or communications of one or more persons” in the 1980s [38]. ETC is used by millions of people in many countries. The more people who use it, as opposed to paying tolls at tollbooths, the faster traffic can flow for everyone. Everyone also benefits when ETC allows engineers to better monitor traffic flows and plan highway construction to avoid the busiest times of traffic. Geolocation applications let businesses reward first-time and frequent customers, and they can follow traffic to their business and see what customers do and do not like. Businesses such as grocery stores or drug stores that use customer loyalty cards are able to monitor buying trends to see what is popular and when. Increasingly shoppers are being introduced to the near-field communication (NFC) capability on their third-generation (3G) smartphone (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Purchasing grocery items effortlessly by using the near-field communication (NFC) capability on your 3G smartphone. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

Some of these constant monitoring tools are truly personal and are controlled by and report back only to the user [39]. for example, there are now several adaptive home thermostat systems that learn a user's temperature preferences over time and allow users to track their energy usage and change settings online. for the health conscious, “sleep monitoring” systems allow users to track not only the hours of sleep they get per night, but also the percentage of time spent in light sleep versus rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and their overall “sleep quality” [40].

Fig. 8. Barcodes printed on individual packaged items on pallets. Order information is shown on the forklift's on-board laptop and the driver scans items that are being prepared for shipping using a handheld gun to update inventory records wirelessly. Courtesy AirData Pty Ltd, Motorola Premier Business Partner, 2009.

Businesses offer and customers use various mobile and customer tracking services because the offer is valued by both parties (Fig. 8). However, serious privacy and legal issues continue to arise [41]. ETC records have been subpoenaed in both criminal and civil cases [42]. Businesses in liquidation have sold their customer databases, violating the privacy agreements they gave to their customers when they were still in business. Geolocation services and social media that show a user's location or allow them to share where they have been or where they are going can be used in court cases to confirm or refute alibis [43].


Near-constant monitoring and reporting of our lives will only grow as our society becomes increasingly comfortable sharing more and more personal details (Fig. 9). In addition to the basic human desire to tell others about ourselves, information about our behavior as a group is hugely valuable to both governments and businesses. The benefits to individuals and to society as a whole are great, but the risks to privacy are also significant [44]. More information about group behaviors can let us allocate resources more efficiently, plan better for future growth, and generate less waste. More information about our individual patterns can allow us to do the same thing on a smaller scale—to waste less fuel heating our homes when there is no one present, or to better understand our patterns of human activity.


Fig. 9. A five step overview of how the Wherify location-based service works. The information retrieved by this service included a breadcrumb of each location (in table and map form), a list of time and date stamps, latitude and longitude coordinates, nearest street address, and location type. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2009.


B. Social Computing

When we think of human evolution, we often think of biological adaptions to better survive disease or digest foods. But our social behaviors are also a product of evolution. Being able to read facial expressions and other nonverbal cues is an evolved trait and an essential part of human communication. In essence, we have evolved as a species to communicate face to face. Our ability to understand verbal and nonverbal cues has been essential to our ability to function in groups and therefore our survival [45].

The emoticon came very early in the life of electronic communication. This is not surprising, given just how necessary using facial expressions to give context to written words was to the casual and humor-filled atmosphere of the Internet precursors. Many other attempts to add context to the quick, casual writing style of the Internet have been made, mostly with less success. Indeed, the problem of communication devolving from normal conversations to meaningless shouting matches has been around almost as long as electronic communication itself. More recently, the “anonymous problem”—the problem of people anonymously harassing others without fear of response or retribution—has come under discussion in online forums and communities. And of course, we have seen the recent tragic consequences of cyberbullying [46]. In general, people will be much crueler to other people online than they would ever be in person; many of our evolved social mechanisms depend on seeing and hearing who we are communicating with.

The question we are faced with is this: Given that we now exist and interact in a world that our social instincts were not evolved to handle, how will we adapt to the technology, or more likely, how will the technology we use to communicate with adapt to us? We are already seeing the beginning of that adaptation: more and more social media sites require a “real” identity tied to a valid e-mail address. And everywhere on the Internet, “reputation” is becoming more and more important [177].

Reference sites, such as Wikipedia, control access based on reputation: users gain more privileges on the site to do things such as editing controversial topics or banning other users based on their contributions to the community—writing and editing articles or contributing to community discussions. On social media and review sites, users that are not anonymous have more credibility, and again reputation is gained with time and contribution to the community.

It is now becoming standard practice for social media of all forms to allow users to control who can contact them and make it very easy to block unwanted contact. In the future, these trends will be extended. Any social media site with a significant amount of traffic will have a way for users to build and maintain a reputation and to control access accordingly. The shift away from anonymity is set to continue and this is also evident in the way search engine giants, like Google, are updating their privacy statements—from numerous policies down to one. Google states: “When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services” [47].

Fig. 10. Wearable high-definition video calling and recording attire. Courtesy of Xybernaut 2002.

When people use technology to socialize, they are often doing it on mobile platforms. Therefore, the futures of social and mobile computing are inevitably intertwined. The biggest change that is coming to the shared mobile/social computing space is the final spread of WiFi and high-density mobile phone networks. There are still huge geographical areas where there is no way of wirelessly connecting to the Internet or where the connection is so slow as to be unusable. As high-speed mobile Internet spreads, extra bandwidth could help the problems inherent in communicating without being able to see the other person. High-definition (HD) video calling on mobile phones will make person-to-person communications easier and more context rich (Fig. 10). HD video calling and conferencing will make everything from business meetings to long-distance relationships easier by allowing the participants to pick up on unspoken cues.


As more and more of our social interactions go online, the online world will be forced to adapt to our evolved human social behaviors. It will become much more like offline communication, with reputation and community standing being deeply important. True anonymity will become harder and harder to come by, as the vast majority of social media will require some proof of identity. for example, this practice is already occurring in countries like South Korea [48].

While we cannot predict all the ways in which our online interactions will become more immersive, we can say for certain that they will. The beauty of all of these changes will be that it will become as easy to maintain or grow a personal relationship on the other side of the world as it would be across town. As countries and regions currently without high-speed data networks come online, they can integrate into a new global community allowing us all to know each other with a diverse array of unknown consequences.

C. Wearable Computing

Fig. 11. The prototype GPS Locator for Children with a built-in pager, a request for 911, GPS technology, and a key fob to manually lock and unlock the locator. This specific device is no longer being marketed, despite the apparent need in some contexts. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2003.

According to Siewiorek [49, p. 82], the first wearable device was prototyped in 1961 but it was not until 1991 that the term “wearable computer” was first used by a research group at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). This coincided with the rise of the laptop computer, early models of which were known as “luggables.” Wearable computing can be defined as “anything that can be put on and adds to the user's awareness of his or her environment …mostly this means wearing electronics which have some computational power” [50, p. 2012]. While the term “wearables” is generally used to describe wearable displays and custom computers in the form of necklaces, tiepins, and eyeglasses, the definition has been broadened to incorporate iPads, iPods, personal digital assistants (PDAs), e-wallets, GPS watches (Fig. 11), and other mobile accessories such as smartphones, smart cards, and electronic passports that require the use of belt buckles or clip-on satchels attached to conventional clothing [51, p. 330]. The iPlant (Internet implant) is probably not far off either [52].


Wearable computing has reinvented the way we work and go about our day-to-day business and is set to make even greater changes in the foreseeable future [53]. In 2001, it was predicted that highly mobile professionals would be taking advantage of smart devices to “check messages, finish a presentation, or browse the Web while sitting on the subway or waiting in line at a bank” [54, p. 44]. This vision has indeed been realized but devices like netbooks are still being lugged around instead of worn in the true sense.

The next phase of wearables will be integrated into our very clothing and accessories, some even pointing to the body itself being used as an input mechanism. Harrison of Carnegie Mellon's Human–Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) produced Skinput with Microsoft researchers that makes the body that travels everywhere with us, one giant touchpad [55]. These are all exciting innovations and few would deny the positives that will come from the application of this cutting-edge research. The challenge will be how to avoid rushing this technology into the marketplace without the commensurate testing of prototypes and the due consideration of function creep. Function or scope creep occurs when a device or application is used for something other than it was originally intended.

Early prototypes of wearable computers throughout the 1980s and 1990s could have been described as outlandish, bizarre, or even weird. for the greater part, wearable computing efforts have focused on head-mounted displays (a visual approach) that unnaturally interfered with human vision and made proximity to others cumbersome [56, p. 171]. But the long-term aim of researchers is to make wearable computing inconspicuous as soon as technical improvements allow for it (Fig. 12). The end user should look as “normal” as possible [57, p. 177].


Fig. 12. Self-portraits of Mann with wearable computing kit from the 1980s to the 1990s. Prof. Mann started working on his WearComp invention as far back as his high school days in the 1970s. Courtesy of Steve Mann.

New technologies like the “Looxcie” [58] wearable recorders have come a long way since the clunky point-of-view head-mounted recording devices of the 1980s, allowing people to effortlessly record and share their life as they experience it in different contexts. Mann has aptly coined the term sousveillance. This is a type of inverse panopticon, sous (below) and veiller (to watch) stemming from the French words. A whole body of literature has emerged around the notion of sousveillance which refers to the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. The online platform demonstrates the great power of sousveillance. But there are still serious challenges, such as privacy concerns, that need to be overcome if wearable computing is to become commonplace [59]. Just like Google has created StreetView, can the individual participate in PersonView without his neighbor's or stranger's consent [7] despite the public versus private space debate? Connected to privacy is also the critical issue of autonomy (and if we were to agree with Kant, human dignity), that is, our right to make informed and uncoerced decisions.

While mass-scale commercial production of wearable clothing is still some time away, some even calling it the unfulfilled pledge [60], shirts with simple memory functions have been developed and tested. Sensors will play a big part in the functionality of the smartware helping to determine the environmental context, and undergarments closest to the body will be used for body functions such as the measurement of temperature, blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. for now, however, the aim is to develop ergonomically astute wearable computing that is actually useful to the end user. Head-mounted displays attached to the head with a headband may be practical for miners carrying out occupational health and safety (OH&S) but are unattractive for everyday consumer users. Displays of the next generation will be mounted or concealed within eyeglasses themselves [61, p. 48].

Mann [57, p. 31] predicts that wearable computing will become so common one day, interwoven into every day clothing-based computing, that “we will no doubt feel naked, confused, and lost without a computer screen hovering in front of our eyes to guide us,” just like we would feel our nakedness without the conventional clothing of today.

1. Wearables in the Medical Domain

Unsurprisingly, wearables have also found a niche market in the medical domain. In the mid-1990s, researchers began to describe a small wearable device that continuously monitored glucose levels so that the right amount of insulin was calculated for the individual reducing the incidence of hypoglycemic episodes [62]. The Glucoday [63] and GlucoChip [64] are just two products demonstrating the potential to go beyond wearables toward in vivo techniques in medical monitoring.

Medical wearables even have the capability to check and monitor products in one's blood [65, p. 88]. Today medical wearable device applications include: “monitoring of myocardial ischemia, epileptic seizure detection, drowsiness detection …physical therapy feedback, such as for stroke victim rehabilitation, sleep apnea monitoring, long-term monitoring for circadian rhythm analysis of heart rate variability (HRV)” [66, p. 44].

Some of the current shortcomings of medical wearables are similar to those of conventional wearables, namely the size and the weight of the device which can be too large and too heavy. In addition, wearing the devices for long periods of time can be irritating due to the number of sensors that may be required to be worn for monitoring. The gel applied for contact resistance between the electrode and the skin can also dry up, which is a nuisance. Other obstacles to the widespread diffusion of medical wearables include government regulations and the manufacturers' requirement for limited liability in the event that an incorrect diagnosis is made by the equipment.

But much has been improved in the products of wearables over the past ten years. Due to commensurate breakthroughs in the miniaturization of computing components, wearable devices are now usually quite small. Consider Toumaz Technology's Digital Plaster invention known as the Sensium Life Pebble TZ203002 (Fig. 13). The Digital Plaster contains a Sensium silicon chip, powered by a tiny battery, which sends data via a cell phone or a PDA to a central computer database. The Life Pebble has the ability to enable continuous, auditable acquisition of physiological data without interfering with the patient's activities. The device can continuously monitor electrocardiogram (ECG), heart rate, physical activity, and skin temperature. In an interview with M. G. Michael in 2006, Toumazou noted how the Digital Plaster had been applied in epilepsy control and depression. He said that by monitoring the electrical and chemical responses they could predict the onset of either a depressive episode or an epileptic fit; and then once predicted the nerve could be stimulated to counter the seizure [67]. He added that this truly signified “personal healthcare.”

Fig. 13. Prof. Christofer Toumazou with a patient wearing the “digital plaster”; a tiny electronic device meant to be embedded in ordinary medical plaster that includes sensors for monitoring health-related metadata such as blood pressure, temperature, and glucose levels. Courtesy of Toumaz Technology 2008.


D. Robots and Unmanned Aerial Systems and Vehicles

Fig. 14. Predator Drone aircraft: this plane comes in the armed and reconnaissance versions and the models are known as RQ-1 and MQ-1.

Autonomous systems are those which are self-governed. In practice, there are many degrees of autonomy ranging from the highly constrained and supervised to unconstrained and intelligent. Some systems are referred to as “semiautonomous” in order to suggest that the machines are tasked or supervised by a human operator. An unmanned vehicle may be a remotely piloted “dumb” vehicle or an autonomous vehicle (Fig. 14). Robots may be designed to perform repetitive tasks in a highly constrained environment or with intelligence and a high level of autonomy to make judgments in a dynamic and unpredictable environment. As technology advancements allow for a high level of autonomy and expansion from industrial applications to caregiving and warfighting, society is coming to grips with the present and the future of increasingly autonomous systems in our homes, workplaces, and battlefields.


Robot ethics, particularly with respect to autonomous weapons systems, has received increasing attention in the last few years [68]. While some call for an outright stop to the development of such technology [69], others seek to shape the technology with ethical and moral implications in mind [6], [70]–[71][72][73]. Driving robotics weapons development underground or refusing to engage in dialog over the ethical issues will not give ethicists an opportunity to participate in shaping the design and use of such weapons. Arkin [6] and Operto [74], among others, argue that engineers must not shy away from these ethical challenges. Furthermore, the technological cat is out of the bag: “Autonomy is subtle in its development—it is occurring in a step-by-step process, rather than through the creation of a disruptive invention. It is far less likely that we will have a sudden development of a ‘positronic brain’ or its equivalent, but rather a continual and gradual relinquishment of authority to machines through the constant progress of science, as we have already seen in automated trains, elevators, and numerous other examples, that have vanished into the background noise of civilization. Autonomy is already here by some definitions” [70].

The evolution of the development and deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and other autonomous or semiautonomous systems has outpaced the analysis of social implications and ethics of their design and use [70], [75]. Sullivan argues that the evolution of unmanned vehicles for military deployment should not be confused with the more general trend of increasing autonomy in military applications [75]. Use of robots often provides a tactical advantage due to sensors, data processing, and physical characteristics that outperform humans. Robots can act without emotion, bias, or self-preservation influencing judgment, which may be a liability or advantage. Risks to robot deployment in the military, healthcare industry, and elsewhere include trust of autonomous systems (a lack of, or too much) and diffusion of blame or moral buffering [6], [72].

for such critical applications in the healthcare domain, and lethal applications in weapons, the emotional and physical distance of operating a remote system (e.g., drone strikes via video-game style interface) may negatively influence the moral decision making of the human operator or supervisor, while also providing some benefit of emotional protection against post-traumatic stress disorder [71], [72]. Human–computer interfaces can promote ethical choices in the human operator through thoughtful or model-based design as suggested by Cummings [71] and Asaro [72].

for ethical behavior of the autonomous system itself, Arkin proposes that robot soldiers could be more humane than humans, if technologically constrained to the laws of war and rules of engagement, which they could follow without the distortions of emotion, bias, or a sense of self-preservation [6], [70]. Asaro argues that such laws are not, in fact, objective and static but rather meant for human interpretation for each case, and therefore could not be implemented in an automated system [72]. More broadly, Operto [74] agrees that a robot (in any application) can only act within the ethics incorporated into its laws, but that a learning robot, in particular, may not behave as its designers anticipate.

Fig. 15. Kotaro, a humanoid roboter created at the University of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan), presented at the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz (Linz, Austra) during the Ars Electronica Festival 2008. Courtesy of Manfred Werner-Tsui.

Robot ethics is just one part of the landscape of social implications for autonomous systems. The field of human–robot interaction explores how robot interfaces and socially adaptive robots influence the social acceptance, usability, and safety of robots [76] (Fig. 15). for example, robots used for social assistance and care, such as for the elderly and small children, introduce a host of new social implications questions. Risks of developing an unhealthy attachment or loss of human social contact are among the concerns raised by Sharkey and Sharkey [77]. Interface design can influence these and other risks of socially assistive robots, such as a dangerous misperception of the robot's capabilities or a compromise of privacy [78].


Autonomous and unmanned systems have related social implication challenges. Clear accountability and enforcing morality are two common themes in the ethical design and deployment of such systems. These themes are not unique to autonomous and unmanned systems, but perhaps the science fiction view of robots run amok raises the question “how can we engineer a future where we can benefit from these technologies while maintaining our humanity?”


SECTION IV. The Future

Great strides are being taken in the field of biomedical engineering: the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field [79]. New technologies such as prospective applications of nanotechnology, microcircuitry (e.g., implantables), and bionics will heal and give hope to many who are suffering from life-debilitating and life-threatening diseases [80]. The lame will walk again. The blind will see just as the deaf have heard. The dumb will sing. Even bionic tongues are on the drawing board. Hearts and kidneys and other organs will be built anew. The fundamental point is that society at large should be able to distinguish between positive and negative applications of technological advancements before we diffuse and integrate such innovations into our day-to-day existence.

The Bionics Institute [81], for instance, is future-focused on the possibilities of bionic hearing, bionic vision, and neurobionics, stating: “Medical bionics is not just a new frontier of medical science, it is revolutionizing what is and isn't possible. Where once there was deafness, there is now the bionic ear. And where there was blindness, there may be a bionic eye.” The Institute reaffirms its commitment to continuing innovative research and leading the way on the proposed “world-changing revolution.”

A. Cochlear Implants—Helping the Deaf to Hear

Fig. 16. Cochlear's Nucleus Freedom implant with Contour Advance electrode which is impervious to magnetic fields up to 1.5 Tesla. Courtesy of Cochlear Australia.

In 2000, more than 32 000 people worldwide already had cochlear implants [82], thanks to the global efforts of people such as Australian Professor Graeme Clark, the founder of Cochlear, Inc. [83]. Clark performed his first transplant in Rod Saunder's left ear at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, on August 1, 1978, when “he placed a box of electronics under Saunders's skin and a bundle of electrodes in his inner ear” [84]. In 2006, that number had grown to about 77 500 for the nucleus implant (Fig. 16) alone which had about 70% of the market share [85]. Today, there are over 110 000 cochlear implant recipients, about 30 000 annually, and their personal stories are testament enough to the ways in which new technologies can change lives dramatically for the better [86]. Cochlear implants can restore hearing to people who have severe hearing loss, a form of diagnosed deafness. Unlike a standard hearing aid that works like an amplifier, the cochlear implant acts like a microphone to change sound into electronic signals. Signals are sent to the microchip implant via radio frequency (RF), stimulating nerve fibers in the inner ear. The brain then interprets the signals that are transmitted via the nerves to be sound.


Today, cochlear implants (which are also commonly known as bionic ears) are being used to overcome deafness; tomorrow, they may be open to the wider public as a performance-enhancing technique [87, pp. 10–11]. Audiologist Steve Otto of the Auditory Brainstem Implant Project at the House Ear Institute (Los Angeles, CA) predicts that one day “implantable devices [will] interface microscopically with parts of the normal system that are still physiologically functional” [88]. He is quoted as saying that this may equate to “ESP for everyone.” Otto's prediction that implants will one day be used by persons who do not require them for remedial purposes has been supported by numerous other high profile scientists. A major question is whether this is the ultimate trajectory of these technologies.

for Christofer Toumazou, however, Executive Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London (London, U.K.), there is a clear distinction between repairing human functions and creating a “Superman.” He said, “trying to give someone that can hear super hearing is not fine.” for Toumazou, the basic ethical paradigm should be that we hope to repair the human and not recreate the human [67].

B. Retina Implants—On a Mission to Help the Blind to See

Fig. 17. Visual cortical implant designed by Prof. Mohamad Sawan, a researcher at Polystim Neurotechnologies Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal (Montreal, QC, Canada). The basic principle of Prof. Sawan's technology consists of stimulating the visual cortex by implanting a silicon microchip on a network of electrodes, made of biocompatible materials, wherein each electrode injects a stimulating electrical current in order to provoke a series of luminous points to appear (an array of pixels) in the field of vision of the blind person. This system is composed of two distinct parts: the implant and an external controller. Courtesy of Mohamad Sawan 2009, made available under Creative Commons License.

The hope is that retina implants will be as successful as cochlear implants in the future [89]. Just as cochlear implants cannot be used for persons suffering from complete deafness, retina implants are not a solution for totally blind persons but rather those suffering from aged macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Retina implants have brought together medical researchers, electronic specialists, and software designers to develop a system that can be implanted inside the eye [90]. A typical retina implant procedure is as follows: “[s]urgeons make a pinpoint opening in the retina to inject fluid in order to lift a portion of the retina from the back of the eye, creating a pocket to accommodate the chip. The retina is resealed over the chip, and doctors inject air into the middle of the eye to force the retina back over the device and close the incisions” [91] (Fig. 17).


Brothers Alan and Vincent Chow, one an engineer, the other an ophthalmologist, developed the artificial silicon retina (ASR) and began the company Optobionics Corporation in 1990. This was a marriage between biology and engineering: “In landmark surgeries at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center …the first artificial retinas made from silicon chips were implanted in the eyes of two blind patients who have lost almost all of their vision because of retinal disease.” In 1993, Branwyn [92, p. 3] reported that a team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Dr. Hambrecht, implanted a 38-electrode array into a blind female's brain. It was reported that she saw simple light patterns and was able to make out crude letters. The following year the same procedure was conducted by another group on a blind male resulting in the man seeing a black dot with a yellow ring around it. Rizzo of Harvard Medical School's Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (Boston, MA) has cautioned that it is better to talk down the possibilities of the retina implant so as not to give false hopes. The professor himself had expressed that they are dealing with “science fiction stuff” and that there are no long-term guarantees that the technology will ever fully restore sight, although significant progress is being made by a number of research institutes [93, p. 5].

Among these pioneers are researchers at The Johns Hopkins University Medical Center (Baltimore, MD). Brooks [94, p. 4] describes how the retina chip developed by the medical center will work: “a kind of miniature digital camera…is placed on the surface of the retina. The camera relays information about the light that hits it to a microchip implanted nearby. This chip then delivers a signal that is fed back to the retina, giving it a big kick that stimulates it into action. Then, as normal, a signal goes down the optic nerve and sight is at least partially restored.” In 2009, at the age of 56, Barbara Campbell had an array of electrodes implanted in each eye [95] and while her sight is nowhere near fully restored, she is able to make out shapes and see shades of light and dark. Experts believe that this approach is still more realistic in restoring sight to those suffering from particular types of blindness, even more than stem cell therapy, gene therapy, or eye transplants [96] where the risks still outweigh the advantages.

C. Tapping Into the Heart and Brain

Fig. 18. An artificial pacemaker from St. Jude Medical (St. Paul, MN), with electrode 2007. Courtesy of Steven Fruitsmaak.

If it was possible as far back as 1958 to successfully implant two transistors the size of an ice hockey puck in the heart of a 43 year old man [97], the things that will become possible by 2020 are constrained by the imagination as much as by technological limitations. Heart pacemakers (Fig. 18) are still being further developed today, but for the greater part, researchers are turning their attention to the possibilities of brain pacemakers. In the foreseeable future brain implants may help sufferers of Parkinson's, paralysis, nervous system problems, speech-impaired persons, and even cancer patients. The research is still in its formative years and the obstacles are great because of the complexity of the brain; but scientists are hopeful of major breakthroughs in the next 20 years.


The brain pacemaker endeavors are bringing together people from a variety of disciplines, headed mainly by neurosurgeons. By using brain implants electrical pulses can be sent directly to nerves via electrodes. The signals can be used to interrupt incoherent messages to nerves that cause uncontrollable movements or tremors. By tapping into the right nerves in the brain, particular reactions can be achieved. Using a technique that was discovered almost accidentally in France in 1987, the following extract describes the procedure of “tapping into” the brain: “Rezai and a team of functional neurosurgeons, neurologists and nurses at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio had spent the next few hours electronically eavesdropping on single cells in Joan's brain attempting to pinpoint the precise trouble spot that caused a persistent, uncontrollable tremor in her right hand. Once confident they had found the spot, the doctors had guided the electrode itself deep into her brain, into a small duchy of nerve cells within the thalamus. The hope was that when sent an electrical current to the electrode, in a technique known as deep-brain stimulation, her tremor would diminish, and perhaps disappear altogether” [98]. Companies such as Medtronic Incorporated of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) now specialize in brain pacemakers [98]. Medtronic's Activa implant has been designed specifically for sufferers of Parkinson's disease [93].

More recently, there has been some success with ameliorating epileptic attacks through closed-loop technology, also known as smart stimulation. The implant devices can detect an onset of epileptiform activity through a demand-driven process. This means that the battery power in the active implant lasts longer because of increased efficiency, i.e., it is not always stimulating in anticipation of an attack, and adverse effects of having to remove and install new implants more frequently are forgone [99]. Similarly, it has been said that technology such as deep brain stimulation, which has physicians implant electrodes in the brain and electrical pacemakers in the patient's clavicle for Parkinson's Disease, may well be used to overcome problems with severely depressed persons [100].

Currently, the technology is being used to treat thousands of people who are severely depressed or suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who have been unable to respond to other forms of treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) [101]. It is estimated that 10% of people suffering from depression do not respond to conventional methods. Although hard figures are difficult to obtain, several thousands of depressed persons worldwide have had brain pacemakers installed that have software which can be updated wirelessly and remotely. The trials have been based on decades of research by Prof. Helen Mayberg, from Emory University School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA), who first began studying the use of subcallosal cingulate gyrus deep brain stimulation (SCG DBS) for depression in 1990.

In her research, Mayberg has used a device that is no larger than a matchbox with a battery-powered generator that sits in the chest and produces electric currents. The currents are sent to an area deep in the brain via tiny wires which are channeled under the skin on either side of the neck. Surprisingly the procedure to have this type of implant installed only requires local anesthetic and is an outpatient procedure. In 2005, Mayberg told a meeting at the Science Media Centre in London: “This is a very new way to think about the nature of depression …We are not just exciting the brain, we are using electricity to retune and remodulate…We can interrupt or switch off an abnormally functioning circuit” [102].

Ongoing trials today continue to show promising results. The outcome of a 20-patient clinical trial of persons with depression treated with SCG DBS published in 2011, showed that: “At 1 year, 11 (55%) responded to surgery with a greater than 50% reduction in 17-item Hamilton Depression Scale scores. Seven patients (35%) achieved or were within 1 point of achieving remission (scores < 8). Of note, patients who responded to surgery had a significant improvement in mood, anxiety, sleep, and somatic complains related to the disease. Also important was the safety of the procedure, with no serious permanent adverse effects or changes in neuropsychological profile recorded” [103].

Despite the early signs that these procedures may offer long-term solutions for hundreds of thousands of people, some research scientists believe that tapping into the human brain is a long shot. The brain is commonly understood to be “wetware” and plugging in hardware into this “wetware” would seem to be a type mismatch, at least according to Steve Potter, a senior research fellow in biology working at the California Institute of Technology's Biological Imaging Center (Pasadena, CA). Instead Potter is pursuing the cranial route as a “digital gateway to the brain” [88]. Others believe that it is impossible to figure out exactly what all the millions of neurons in the brain actually do. Whether we eventually succeed in “reverse-engineering” the human brain, the topic of implants for both therapeutic and enhancement purposes has aroused significant controversy in the past, and promises to do so even more in the future.

D. Attempting to Overcome Paralysis

In more speculative research, surgeons believe that brain implants may be a solution for persons who are suffering from paralysis, such as spinal cord damage. In these instances, the nerves in the legs are still theoretically “working”; it is just that they cannot make contact with the brain which controls their movement. If somehow signals could be sent to the brain, bypassing the lesion point, it could conceivably mean that paralyzed persons regain at least part of their capability to move [104]. In 2000, Reuters [105] reported that a paralyzed Frenchman (Marc Merger) “took his first steps in 10 years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant…Merger walks by pressing buttons on a walking frame which acts as a remote control for the chip, sending impulses through fine wires to stimulate legs muscles…” It should be noted, however, that the system only works for paraplegics whose muscles remain alive despite damage to the nerves. Yet there are promising devices like the Bion that may one day be able to control muscle movement using RF commands [106]. Brooks [94] reports that researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago (Chicago, IL) have “invented a microcomputer system that sends pulses to a patient's legs, causing the muscles to contract. Using a walker for balance, people paralyzed from the waist down can stand up from a sitting position and walk short distances…Another team, based in Europe…enabled a paraplegic to walk using a chip connected to fine wires in his legs.” These techniques are known as functional neuromuscular stimulation systems [107]. In the case of Australian Rob Summers, who became a paraplegic after an accident, doctors implanted an epidural stimulator and electrodes into his spinal cord. “The currents mimic those normally sent by the brain to initiate movement” [108].

Others working to help paraplegics to walk again have invested time in military technology like exoskeletons [109] meant to aid soldiers in lifting greater weights, and also to protect them during battle. Ekso Bionics (Berkeley, CA), formerly Berkeley Bionics, has been conducting trials of an electronic suit in the United States since 2010. The current Ekso model will be fully independent and powered by artificial intelligence in 2012. The Ekso “provides nearly four hours of battery power to its electronic legs, which replicate walking by bending the user's knees and lifting their legs with what the company claims is the most natural gait available today” [110]. This is yet another example of how military technology has been commercialized toward a health solution [111].

E. Granting a Voice to the Speech Impaired

Speech-impairment microchip implants work differently than cochlear and retina implants. Whereas in the latter two, hearing and sight is restored, in implants for speech impairment the voice is not restored, but an outlet for communication is created, possibly with the aid of a voice synthesizer. At Emory University, neurosurgeon Roy E. Bakay and neuroscientist Phillip R. Kennedy were responsible for critical breakthroughs early in the research. In 1998, Versweyveld [112] reported two successful implants of a neurotrophic electrode into the brain of a woman and man who were suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brainstem stroke, respectively. In an incredible process, Bakay and Kennedy's device uses the patient's brain processes—thoughts, if you will—to move a cursor on a computer screen. “The computer chip is directly connected with the cortical nerve cells…The neural signals are transmitted to a receiver and connected to the computer in order to drive the cursor” [112]. This procedure has major implications for brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), especially bionics. Bakay predicted that by 2010 prosthetic devices will grant patients that are immobile the ability to turn on the TV just by thinking about it and by 2030 to grant severely disabled persons the ability to walk independently [112], [113].

F. Biochips for Diagnosis and Smart Pills for Drug Delivery

It is not unlikely that biochips will be implanted in people at birth in the not too distant future. “They will make individual patients aware of any pre-disposition to susceptibility” [114]. That is, biochips will be used for point-of-care diagnostics and also for the identification of needed drugs, even to detect pandemic viruses and biothreats for national security purposes [115]. The way that biosensors work is that they “represent the technological counterpart of our sense organs, coupling the recognition by a biological recognition element with a chemical or physical transducer, transferring the signal to the electrical domain” [116]. Types of biosensors include enzymes antibodies, receptors, nucleic acids, cells (using a biochip configuration), biomimetic sequences of RNA (ribonucleic) or DNA (deoxyribonucleic), and molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs). Biochips, on the other hand, “automate highly repetitive laboratory tasks by replacing cumbersome equipment with miniaturized, microfluidic assay chemistries combined with ultrasensitive detection methodologies. They achieve this at significantly lower costs per assay than traditional methods—and in a significantly smaller amount of space. At present, applications are primarily focused on the analysis of genetic material for defects or sequence variations” [117].

with response to treatment for illness, drug delivery will not require patients to swallow pills or take routine injections; instead chemicals will be stored on a microprocessor and released as prescribed. The idea is known as “pharmacy-on-a-chip” and was originated by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA) in 1999 [118]. The following extract is from The Lab[119]: “Doctors prescribing complicated courses of drugs may soon be able to implant microchips into patients to deliver timed drug doses directly into their bodies.”

Microchips being developed at Ohio State University (OSU, Columbus, OH) can be swathed with chemical substances such as pain medication, insulin, different treatments for heart disease, or gene therapies, allowing physicians to work at a more detailed level [119]. The breakthroughs have major implications for diabetics, especially those who require insulin at regular intervals throughout the day. Researchers at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) are working on “smart” implantable insulin pumps that may relieve people with Type I diabetes [120]. The delivery would be based on a mathematical model stored on a microchip and working in connection with glucose sensors that would instruct the chip when to release the insulin. The goal is for the model to be able to simulate the activity of the pancreas so that the right dosage is delivered at the right time.

Fig. 19. The VeriChip microchip, the first microchip implant to be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for humans, is a passive microchip that contains a 16-digit number, which can be used to retrieve critical medical information on a patient from a secure online database. The company that owns the VeriChip technology is developing a microscopic glucose sensor to put on the end of the chip to eliminate a diabetic's need to draw blood to get a blood glucose reading. Courtesy of PositiveID Corporation.

Beyond insulin pumps, we are now nearing a time where automated closed-loop insulin detection (Fig. 19) and delivery will become a tangible treatment option and may serve as a temporary cure for Type I diabetes until stem cell therapy becomes available. “Closed-loop insulin delivery may revolutionize not only the way diabetes is managed but also patients' perceptions of living with diabetes, by reducing the burden on patients and caregivers, and their fears of complications related to diabetes, including those associated with low and high glucose levels” [121]. It is only a matter of time before these lab-centric results are replicated in real-life conditions in sufferers of Type 1 diabetes.



G. To Implant or Not to Implant, That Is the Question

There are potentially 500 000 hearing impaired persons that could benefit from cochlear implants [122] but not every deaf person wants one [123]. “Some deaf activists…are critical of parents who subject children to such surgery [cochlear implants] because, as one charged, the prosthesis imparts ‘the non-healthy self-concept of having had something wrong with one's body’ rather than the ‘healthy self-concept of [being] a proud Deaf’” [124]. Assistant Professor Scott Bally of Audiology at Gallaudet University (Washington, DC) has said, “Many deaf people feel as though deafness is not a handicap. They are culturally deaf individuals who have successfully adapted themselves to being deaf and feel as though things like cochlear implants would take them out of their deaf culture, a culture which provides a significant degree of support” [92]. Putting this delicate debate aside, it is here that some delineation can be made between implants that are used to treat an ailment or disability (i.e., giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf), and implants that may be used for enhancing human function (i.e., memory). There are some citizens, like Amal Graafstra of the United States [125], who are getting chip implants for convenience-oriented social living solutions that would instantly herald in a world that had keyless entry everywhere (Fig. 20). And there are other citizens who are concerned about the direction of the human species, as credible scientists predict fully functional neural implants. “[Q]uestions are raised as to how society as a whole will relate to people walking around with plugs and wires sprouting out of their heads. And who will decide which segments of the society become the wire-heads” [92]?


Fig. 20. Amal Graafstra demonstrating an RFID-operated door latch application he developed. Over the RFID tag site on his left hand is a single steristrip that remained after implantation for a few days. His right hand is holding the door latch.


SECTION V. Überveillance and Function Creep

Section IV focused on implants that were attempts at “orthopedic replacements”: corrective in nature, required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether. Implants of the future, however, will attempt to add new “functionality” to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Globally acclaimed scientists have pondered on the ultimate trajectory of microchip implants [126]. The literature is admittedly mixed in its viewpoints of what will and will not be possible in the future [127].

for those of us working in the domain of implantables for medical and nonmedical applications, the message is loud and clear: implantables will be the next big thing. At first, it will be “hip to get a chip.” The extreme novelty of the microchip implant will mean that early adopters will race to see how far they can push the limits of the new technology. Convenience solutions will abound [128]. Implantees will not be able to get enough of the new product and the benefits of the technology will be touted to consumers in a myriad of ways, although these perceived benefits will not always be realized. The technology will probably be first tested where there will be the least effective resistance from the community at large, that is, on prison inmates [129], then those suffering from dementia. These incremental steps in pilot trials and deployment are fraught with moral consequences. Prisoners cannot opt out from jails adopting tracking technology, and those suffering from cognitive disorders have not provided and could not provide their consent. from there it will conceivably not take long for it to be used on the elderly and in children and on those suffering from clinical depression.

The functionality of the implants will range from passive ID-only to active multiapplication, and most invasive will be the medical devices that can upon request or algorithmic reasoning release drugs or electrically stimulate the body for mental and physical stability. There will also be a segment of the consumer and business markets who will adopt the technology for no clear reason and without too much thought, save for the fact that the technology is new and seems to be the way advanced societies are heading. This segment will probably not be overly concerned with any discernible abridgement of their human rights or the fine-print “terms and conditions” agreement they have signed, but will take an implant on the promise that they will have greater connectivity to the Internet, for example. These consumers will thrive on ambient intelligence, context-aware pervasive applications, and an augmented reality—ubiquity in every sense.

But it is certain that the new technology will also have consequences far greater than what we can presently envision. Questions about the neutrality of technology are immaterial in this new “plugged-in” order of existence. for Brin [130, p. 334], the question ultimately has to do with the choice between privacy and freedom. In his words, “[t]his is one of the most vile dichotomies of all. And yet, in struggling to maintain some beloved fantasies about the former, we might willingly, even eagerly, cast the latter away.” And thus there are two possibilities, just as Brin [130] writes in his amazingly insightful book, The Transparent Society, of “the tale of two cities.” Either implants embedded in humans which require associated infrastructure will create a utopia where there is built-in intelligence for everything and everyone in every place, or implants embedded in humans will create a dystopia which will be destructive and will diminish one's freedom of choice, individuality, and finally that indefinable essence which is at the core of making one feel “human.” A third possibility—the middle-way between these two alternatives—would seem unlikely, excepting for the “off the grid” dissenter.

In Section V-A, we portray some of the attractions people may feel that will draw them into the future world of implanted technologies. In Section V-B, we portray some of the problems associated with implanting technology under the skin that would drive people away from opting in to such a future.

A. The Positive Possibilities

Bearing a unique implant will make the individual feel special because they bear a unique ID. Each person will have one implant which will coordinate hundreds of smaller nanodevices, but each nanodevice will have the capacity to act on its own accord. The philosophy espoused behind taking an implant will be one of protection: “I bear an implant and I have nothing to hide.” It will feel safe to have an implant because emergency services, for example, will be able to rapidly respond to your calls for help or any unforeseen events that automatically log problems to do with your health.

Fewer errors are also likely to happen if you have an implant, especially with financial systems. Businesses will experience a rise in productivity as they will understand how precisely their business operates to the nearest minute, and companies will be able to introduce significant efficiencies. Losses in back-end operations, such as the effects of product shrinkage, will diminish as goods will be followed down the supply chain from their source to their destination customer, through the distribution center and retailer.

It will take some years for the infrastructure supporting implants to grow and thrive with a substantial consumer base. The function creep will not become apparent until well after the early majority have adopted implants and downloaded and used a number of core applications to do with health, banking, and transport which will all be interlinked. New innovations will allow for a hybrid device and supplementary infrastructure to grow so powerful that living without automated tracking, location finding, and condition monitoring will be almost impossible.

B. The Existential Risks

It will take some years for the negative fallout from microchip implants to be exposed. At first only the victims of the fallout will speak out through formal exception reports on government agency websites. The technical problems associated with implants will pertain to maintenance, updates, viruses, cloning, hacking, radiation shielding, and onboard battery problems. But the greater problems will be the impact on the physiology and mental health of the individual: new manifestations of paranoia and severe depression will lead to people continually wanting reassurance about their implant's functionality. Issues about implant security, virus detection, and a personal database which is error free will be among the biggest issues facing implantees. Despite this, those who believe in the implant singularity (the piece of embedded technology that will give each person ubiquitous access to the Internet) will continue to stack up points and rewards and add to their social network, choosing rather to ignore the warnings of the ultimate technological trajectory of mind control and geoslavery [131]. It will have little to do with survival of the fittest at this point, although most people will buy into the notion of an evolutionary path toward the Homo Electricus [132]: a transhumanist vision [133] that we can do away with the body and become one with the Machine, one with the Cosmos—a “nuts and bolts” Nirvana where one's manufactured individual consciousness connects with the advanced consciousness evolving from the system as a whole. In this instance, it will be the ecstatic experience of being drawn ever deeper into the electric field of the “Network.”

Some of the more advanced implants will be able to capture and validate location-based data, alongside recordings (visual and audio capture). The ability to conduct überveillance via the implant will be linked to a type of blackbox recorder as in an airplane's cockpit. Only in this case the cockpit will be the body, and the recorder will be embedded just beneath the translucent layer of the skin that will be used for memory recollection and dispute resolution. Outwardly ensuring that people are telling the full story at all times, there will be no lies or claims to poor memory. Überveillance is an above and beyond, an exaggerated, an omnipresent 24/7 electronic surveillance (Fig. 21). It is a surveillance that is not only “always on” but “always with you.” It is ubiquitous because the technology that facilitates it, in its ultimate implementation, is embedded within the human body. The problem with this kind of bodily invasive surveillance is that omnipresence in the “material” world will not always equate with omniscience, hence the real concern for misinformation, misinterpretation, and information manipulation [7]. While it might seem like the perfect technology to aid in real-time forensic profiling and criminalization, it will be open to abuse, just like any other technique, and more so because of the preconception that it is infallible.


Fig. 21.The überveillance triquetra as the intersection of surveillance, dataveillance, and sousveillance. Courtesy of Alexander Hayes.


SECTION VI. Technology Roadmapping

According to Andrews cited in [1], a second intellectual current within the IEEE SSIT has begun to emerge which is more closely aligned with most of the IEEE technical societies, as well as economics and business. The proponents of this mode participate in “technology foresight” and “roadmapping” activities, and view technology more optimistically, looking to foster innovation without being too concerned about its possible negative effects [1, p. 14]. Braun [134, p. 133] writes that “[f]orecasts do not state what the future will be…they attempt to glean what it might be.” Thus, one with technology foresight can be trusted insofar as their knowledge and judgment go—they may possess foresight through their grasp of current knowledge, through past experiences which inform their forecasts, and through raw intuition.

Various MIT Labs, such as the Media Lab, have been engaged in visionary research since before 1990, giving society a good glimpse of where technology might be headed some 20–30 years ahead of time. It is from such elite groups that visionaries typically emerge whose main purpose is to envision the technologies that will better our wellbeing and generally make life more productive and convenient in the future. Consider the current activities of the MIT Media Lab's Affective Computing Research Group directed by Prof. Rosalind W. Picard that is working hard on technology aids encapsulating “affect sensing” in response to the growing problem of autism [135]. The Media Lab was founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner to promote research into novel uses of computer technology. The work of Picard's group was made possible by the foundations laid by the Media Lab's predecessor researchers.

On the global technological roadmap we can now point to the following systems which are already under development but have not yet been widely diffused into the market:

  • alternative fuels heralding in innovations like electric cars which are self-driving, and ocean-powered energy, as well as rise of biofuels;

  • the potential for 3-D printing which will revolutionize prototyping and manufacturing practices and possibly reconstruct human tissue;

  • hologram projections for videoconferencing and televisions that respond to gestures as well as pen-sized computing which will do away with keyboards and screens;

  • quantum computing and cryptography;

  • next-generation prosthetics (Fig. 22);

  • cognitive machines such as robot humanoids;

  • carbon nanotubes and nanotech computing which will make our current silicon chips look gargantuan;

  • genetic engineering breakthroughs and regenerative health treatment such as stem cell treatment;

  • electronic banking that will not use physical cash for transactions but the singularity chip (e.g., implant);

  • ubiquitous high-speed wireless networks;

  • crowdsourced surveillance toward real-time forensic profiling and criminalization;

  • autogeneration visual life logs and location chronicles;

  • enhanced batteries that last longer;

  • body power to charge digital equipment [136];

  • brainwave-based technologies in health/gaming;

  • brain-reading technology for interrogation [137].


Fig. 22. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Alfredo De Los Santos displays what the X2 microprocessor knee prosthetic can do by walking up a flight of stairs at the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (Washington, DC), December 8, 2009. Patients at Walter Reed are testing next-generation prosthetics. Courtesy of the U.S. Army.

It is important to note that while these new inventions have the ability to make things faster and better for most living in more developed countries, they can act to increase the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. New technologies will not necessarily aid in eradicating the poverty cycle in parts of Africa and South America. In fact, new technologies can have the opposite effect—they can create an ever greater chasm in equity and access to knowledge.

Technology foresight is commonly held by one who is engaged in the act of prediction. Predictive studies more often than not are based on past and present trends and use this knowledge for providing a roadmap of future possibilities. There is some degree of imagination in prediction, and certainly the creative element is prevalent. Predictions are not meant to be wild, but calculated wisely with evidence that shows a given course or path is likely in the future. However, this does not mean that all predictions come true. Predictive studies can be about new inventions and new form factors, or the recombination of existing innovations in new ways (hybrid architectures, for example), or the mutation of an existing innovation. Some elements of predictive studies have heavy quantitative forecasting components that use complex models to predict the introduction of new innovations, some even based on historical data inputs.

Before an invention has been diffused into the market, scenario planning is conducted to understand how the technology might be used, who might take it up, and what percentage of society will be willing to adopt the product over time (i.e., consumption analysis). “Here the emphasis is on predicting the development of the technology and assessing its potential for adoption, including an analysis of the technology's market” [138, p. 328].

Even the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates [139, p. 274] accepted that his predictions may not come true. But his insights in the Road Ahead are to be commended, even though they were understandably broad. Gates wrote, “[t]he information highway will lead to many destinations. I've enjoyed speculating about some of these. Doubtless I've made some foolish predictions, but I hope not too many.” Allaby [140, p. 206] writes, “[f]orecasts deal in possibilities, not inevitabilities, and this allows forecasters to explore opportunities.”

for the greater part, forecasters raise challenging issues that are thought provoking, about how existing inventions or innovations will impact society. They give scenarios for the technology's projected pervasiveness, how they may affect other technologies, what potential benefits or drawbacks they may introduce, how they will affect the economy, and much more.

Kaku [141, p. 5] has argued, “that predictions about the future made by professional scientists tend to be based much more substantially on the realities of scientific knowledge than those made by social critics, or even those by scientists of the past whose predictions were made before the fundamental scientific laws were completely known.” He believes that among the scientific body today there is a growing concern regarding predictions that for the greater part come from consumers of technology rather than those who shape and create it. Kaku is, of course, correct, insofar that scientists should be consulted since they are the ones actually making things possible after discoveries have occurred. But a balanced view is necessary and extremely important, encompassing various perspectives of different disciplines.

In the 1950s, for instance, when technical experts forecasted improvements in computer technology, they envisaged even larger machines—but science fiction writers predicted microminiaturization. They “[p]redicted marvels such as wrist radios and pocket-sized computers, not because they foresaw the invention of the transistor, but because they instinctively felt that some kind of improvement would come along to shrink the bulky computers and radios of that day” (Bova, 1988, quoted in [142, p. 18]). The methodologies used as vehicles to predict in each discipline should be respected. The question of who is more correct in terms of predicting the future is perhaps the wrong question. for example, some of Kaku's own predictions in Visions can be found in science fiction movies dating back to the 1960s.

In speculating about the next 500 years, Berry [142, p. 1] writes, “[p]rovided the events being predicted are not physically impossible, then the longer the time scale being considered, the more likely they are to come true…if one waits long enough everything that can happen will happen.”



When Ellul [143, p. 432] in 1964 predicted the use of “electronic banks” in his book The Technological Society, he was not referring to the computerization of financial institutions or the use of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Rather it was in the context of the possibility of the dawn of a new entity: the conjoining of man with machine. Ellul was predicting that one day knowledge would be accumulated in electronic banks and “transmitted directly to the human nervous system by means of coded electronic messages…[w]hat is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness…” As unbelievable as this man–machine complex may have sounded at the time, 45 years later visionaries are still predicting that such scenarios will be possible by the turn of the 22nd century. A large proportion of these visionaries are cyberneticists. Cybernetics is the study of nervous system controls in the brain as a basis for developing communications and controls in sociotechnical systems. Parenthetically, in some places writers continue to confuse cybernetics with robotics; they might overlap in some instances, but they are not the same thing.

Kaku [141, pp. 112–116] observes that scientists are working steadily toward a brain–computer interface (Fig. 23). The first step is to show that individual neurons can grow on silicon and then to connect the chip directly to a neuron in an animal. The next step is to mimic this connectivity in a human, and the last is to decode millions of neurons which constitute the spinal cord in order to interface directly with the brain. Cyberpunk science fiction writers like William Gibson [144] refer to this notion as “jacking-in” with the wetware: plugging in a computer cable directly with the central nervous system (i.e., with neurons in the brain analogous to software and hardware) [139, p. 133].


Fig.&nbsp;23.&nbsp; Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

Fig. 23. Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

In terms of the current state of development we can point to the innovation of miniature wearable media, orthopedic replacements (including pacemakers), bionic prosthetic limbs, humanoid robots (i.e., a robot that looks like a human in appearance and is autonomous), and RFID implants. Traditionally, the term cyborg has been used to describe humans who have some mechanical parts or extensions. Today, however, we are on the brink of building a new sentient being, a bearer of electricity, a modern man belonging to a new race, beyond that which can be considered merely part man part machine. We refer here to the absolute fusion of man and machine, where the subject itself becomes the object; where the toolmaker becomes one with his tools [145]. The question at this point of coalescence is how human will the new species be [146], and what are the related ethical, metaphysical, and ontological concerns? Does the evolution of the human race as recorded in history come to an end when technology can be connected to the body in a wired or wireless form?

A. From Prosthetics to Amplification

Fig.&nbsp;24.&nbsp; Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

Fig. 24. Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

While orthopedic replacements corrective in nature have been around since the 1950s [147] and are required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether, implants of the future will attempt to add new functionality to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 project [148], for instance, intended to prove that two persons with respective implants could communicate sensation and movement by thoughts alone. In 2002, the BBC reported that a tiny silicon square with 100 electrodes was connected to the professor's median nerve and linked to a transmitter/receiver in his forearm. Although, “Warwick believe[d] that when he move[d] his own fingers, his brain [would] also be able to move Irena's” [104, p. 1], the outcome of the experiment was described at best as sending “Morse-code” messages (Fig. 24). Warwick [148] is still of the belief that a person's brain could be directly linked to a computer network [149]. Commercial players are also intent on keeping ahead, continually funding projects in this area of research.


If Warwick is right, then terminals like telephones would eventually become obsolete if thought-to-thought communication became possible. Warwick describes this as “putting a plug into the nervous system” [104] to be able to allow thoughts to be transferred not only to another person but to the Internet and other media. While Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 may not have achieved its desired outcomes, it did show that a form of primitive Morse-code-style nervous-system-to-nervous-system communication is realizable [150]. Warwick is bound to keep trying to achieve his project goals given his philosophical perspective. And if Warwick does not succeed, he will have at least left behind a legacy and enough stimuli for someone else to succeed in his place.


B. The Soul Catcher Chip

The Soul Catcher chip was conceived by former Head of British Telecom Research, Peter Cochrane. Cochrane [151, p. 2] believes that the human body is merely a carcass that serves as a transport mechanism just like a vehicle, and that the most important part of our body is our brain (i.e., mind). Similarly, Miriam English has said: “I like my body, but it's going to die, and it's not a choice really I have. If I want to continue, and I want desperately to see what happens in another 100 years, and another 1000 years…I need to duplicate my brain in order to do that” [152]. Soul Catcher is all about the preservation of a human, way beyond the point of physical debilitation. The Soul Catcher chip would be implanted in the brain, and act as an access point to the external world [153]. Consider being able to download the mind onto computer hardware and then creating a global nervous system via wireless Internet [154] (Fig. 25). Cochrane has predicted that by 2050 downloading thoughts and emotions will be commonplace. Billinghurst and Starner [155, p. 64]predict that this kind of arrangement will free up the human intellect to focus on creative rather than computational functions.


Fig. 25. Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2013 supercomputer power will be sufficient for human brain functional simulation and by 2025 for human brain neural simulation for uploading. Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies 2005.

Cochrane's beliefs are shared by many others engaged in the transhumanist movement (especially Extropians like Alexander Chislenko). Transhumanism (sometimes known by the abbreviations “> H” or “H+”) is an international cultural movement that consists of intellectuals who look at ways to extend life through the application of emerging sciences and technologies. Minsky [156] believes that this will be the next stage in human evolution—a way to achieve true immortality “replacing flesh with steel and silicon” [141, p. 94]. Chris Winter of British Telecom has claimed that Soul Catcher will mean “the end of death.” Winter predicts that by 2030, “[i]t would be possible to imbue a newborn baby with a lifetime's experiences by giving him or her the Soul Catcher chip of a dead person” [157]. The philosophical implications behind such movements are gigantic; they reach deep into every branch of traditional philosophy, especially metaphysics with its special concerns over cosmology and ontology.


SECTION VIII. The Next 100 Years: Homo Electricus

A. The Rise of the Electrophorus

Fig.&nbsp;26.&nbsp; Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Fig. 26. Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Microchip implants are integrated circuit devices encased in RFID transponders that can be active or passive and are implantable into animals or humans usually in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. The human who has been implanted with a microchip that can send or receive data is an Electrophorus, a bearer of “electric” technology [158]. The Macquarie Dictionary definition of “electrophorus” is “an instrument for generating static electricity by means of induction,” and refers to an instrument used in the early years of electrostatics (Fig. 26).


We have repurposed the term electrophorus to apply to humans implanted with microchips. One who “bears” is in some way intrinsically or spiritually connected to that which they are bearing, in the same way an expecting mother is to the child in her womb. The root electro comes from the Greek word meaning “amber,” and phorus means to “wear, to put on, to get into” [159, p. 635]. When an Electrophorus passes through an electromagnetic zone, he/she is detected and data can be passed from an implanted microchip (or in the future directly from the brain) to a computer device.

To electronize something is “to furnish it with electronic equipment” and electrotechnology is “the science that deals with practical applications of electricity.” The term “electrophoresis” has been borrowed here, to describe the “electronic” operations that an electrophorus is involved in. McLuhan and Zingrone [160, p. 94] believed that “electricity is in effect an extension of the nervous system as a kind of global membrane.” They argued that “physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology” [161, p. 117].

The term “electrophorus” seems to be much more suitable today for expressing the human-electronic combination than the term “cyborg.” “Electrophorus” distinguishes strictly electrical implants from mechanical devices such as artificial hips. It is not surprising then that these crucial matters of definition raise philosophical and sociological questions of consciousness and identity, which science fiction writers have been addressing creatively. The Electrophorus belongs to the emerging species of Homo Electricus. In its current state, the Electrophorus relies on a device being triggered wirelessly when it enters an electromagnetic field. In the future, the Electrophorus will act like a network element or node, allowing information to pass through him or her, to be stored locally or remotely, and to send out messages and receive them simultaneously and allow some to be processed actively, and others as background tasks.

At the point of becoming an Electrophorus (i.e., a bearer of electricity), Brown [162] makes the observation that “[y]ou are not just a human linked with technology; you are something different and your values and judgment will change.” Some suspect that it will even become possible to alter behavior of people carrying brain implants, whether the individual wills it or not. Maybury [163]believes that “[t]he advent of machine intelligence raises social and ethical issues that may ultimately challenge human existence on earth.”

B. The Prospects of Transhumanism

Fig.&nbsp;27.&nbsp; The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Fig. 27. The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Thought-to-thought communications may seem outlandish today, but it is only one of many futuristic hopes of the movement termed transhumanism. Probably the most representative organization for this movement is the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), which recently adopted the doing-business-as name of “Humanity+” (Fig. 27). The WTA's website [164] carries the following succinct statement of what transhumanism is, penned originally by Max More in 1990: “Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” Whether transhumanism yet qualifies as a philosophy, it cannot be denied that it has produced its share of both proponents and critics.


Proponents of transhumanism claim that the things they want are the things everyone wants: freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from all the limitations of the human body (including mental as well as physical limitations), and ultimately, freedom from death. One of the leading authors in the transhumanist movement is Ray Kurzweil, whose 652-page book The Singularity Is Near [165] prophesies a time in the not-too-distant future when evolution will accelerate exponentially and bring to pass all of the above freedoms as “the matter and energy in our vicinity will become infused with the intelligence, knowledge, creativity, beauty, and emotional intelligence (the ability to love, for example) of our human-machine civilization. Our civilization will then expand outward, turning all the dumb matter and energy we encounter into sublimely intelligent—transcendent—matter and energy” [165, p. 389].

Despite the almost theological tone of the preceding quote, Kurzweil has established a sound track record as a technological forecaster, at least when it comes to Moore's-Law-type predictions of the progress of computing power. But the ambitions of Kurzweil [178] and his allies go far beyond next year's semiconductor roadmap to encompass the future of all humanity. If the fullness of the transhumanist vision is realized, the following achievements will come to pass:

  • human bodies will cease to be the physical instantiation of human minds, replaced by as-yet-unknown hardware with far greater computational powers than the present human brain;

  • human minds will experience, at their option, an essentially eternal existence in a world free from the present restrictions of material embodiment in biological form;

  • limitations on will, intelligence, and communication will all be overcome, so that to desire a thing or experience will be to possess it.

The Transhumanist Declaration, last modified in 2009 [166], recognizes that these plans have potential downsides, and calls for reasoned debate to avoid the risks while realizing the opportunities. The sixth item in the Declaration, for example, declares that “[p]olicy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” The key phrase in this item is “moral vision.” While many self-declared transhumanists may agree on the moral vision which should guide their endeavors, the movement has also inspired some of the most vigorous and categorically critical invective to be found in the technical and public-policy literature.

Possibly the most well known of the vocal critics of transhumanism is Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist who nominated transhumanism as his choice for the world's most dangerous idea [167]. As with most utopian notions, the main problem Fukuyama sees with transhumanism is the transition between our present state and the transhumanists' future vision of completely realized eternal technological bliss (Fig. 28). Will some people be uploaded to become immortal, almost omniscient transhumans while others are left behind in their feeble, mortal, disease-ridden human bodies? Are the human goods that transhumanists say are basically the same for everyone really so? Or are they more complex and subtle than typical transhumanist pronouncements acknowledge? As Fukuyama points out in his foreign Policy essay [167], “Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our bad ones… if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love. Even our mortality plays a critical function in allowing our species as a whole to survive and adapt (and transhumanists are about the last group I would like to see live forever).”


Fig.&nbsp;28.&nbsp; Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Fig. 28. Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Transhumanists themselves admit that their movement performs some of the functions of a religion when it “offers a sense of direction and purpose.” But in contrast to most religions, transhumanists explicitly hope to “make their dreams come true in this world” [168]. Nearly all transhumanist programs and proposals arise from a materialist–reductionist view of the world which assumes that the human mind is at most an epiphenomenon of the brain, all of the human brain's functions will eventually be simulated by hardware (on computers of the future), and that the experience known as consciousness can be realized in artificial hardware in essentially the same form as it is presently realized in the human body. Some of the assumptions of transhumanism are based less on facts and more on faith. Just as Christians take on faith that God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, transhumanists take on faith that machines will inevitably become conscious.

Fig.&nbsp;29.&nbsp; The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

Fig. 29. The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

In keeping with the transhumanists' call for responsible moral vision, the IEEE SSIT has been, and will continue to be, a forum where the implications for society of all sorts of technological developments can be debated and evaluated. In a sense, the transhumanist program is the ultimate technological project: to redesign humanity itself to a set of specifications, determined by us. If the transhumanists succeed, technology will become society, and the question of the social implications of technology will be moot (Fig. 29). Perhaps the best attitude to take toward transhumanism is to pay attention to their prophecies, but, as the Old Testament God advised the Hebrews, “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass…the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously…” [169].



SECTION IX. Ways forward

In sum, identifying and predicting what the social implications of past, present and future technologies might be can lead us to act in one of four ways, which are not mutually exclusive.

First, we can take the “do nothing” approach and meekly accept the risks associated with new techniques. We stop being obsessed by both confirmed and speculative consequences, and instead, try to see how far the new technologies might take us and what we might become or transform into as a result. While humans might not always like change, we are by nature, if we might hijack Heraclitus, in a continual state of flux. We might reach new potentials as a populace, become extremely efficient at doing business with each other, and make a positive impact on our natural environment by doing so. The downside to this approach is that it appears to be an all or nothingapproach with no built-in decision points. for as Jacques Ellul [170] forewarned: “what is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization.”

The second option is that we let case law determine for us what is legal or illegal based on existing laws, or new or amended laws we might introduce as a result of the new technologies. We can take the stance that the courts are in the best position to decide on what we should and should not do with new technologies. If we break the law in a civil or criminal capacity, then there is a penalty and we have civil and criminal codes concerning workplace surveillance, telecommunications interception and access, surveillance devices, data protection and privacy, cybercrime, and so on. There is also the continual review of existing legislation by law-reform commissions and the like. New legislation can also be introduced to curb against other dangers or harms that might eventuate as a result of the new techniques.

The third option is that we can introduce industry regulations that stipulate how advanced applications should be developed (e.g., ensuring privacy impact assessments are done before commercial applications are launched), and that technical expectations on accuracy, reliability, and storage of data are met. It is also important that the right balance be found between regulations and freedom so as not to stifle the high-tech industry at large.

Finally, the fourth option would be to adopt the “Amish method”: complete abandonment of technology that has progressed beyond a certain point of development. This is in some respect “living off the grid” [171].

Although obvious, it is important to underline that none of these options are mutually exclusive or foolproof. The final solution may well be at times to introduce industry regulations or codes, at other times to do nothing, and in other cases to rely on legislative amendments despite the length of time it takes to develop these. In other cases, the safeguards may need to be built into the technology itself.


SECTION X. Conclusion

If we put our trust in Kurzweil's [172] Law of Accelerating Returns, we are likely headed into a great period of discovery unprecedented in any era of history. This being the case, the time for inclusive dialog is now, not after widespread diffusion of such innovations as “always on” cameras, microchip implants, unmanned drones and the like. We stand at a critical moment of decision, as the mythological Pandora did as she was about to open her box. There are many lessons to be learned from history, especially from such radical developments as the atomic bomb and the resulting arms race. Joy [173] has raised serious fears about continuing unfettered research into “spiritual machines.” Will humans have the foresight to say “no” or “stop” to new innovations that could potentially be a means to a socially destructive scenario? Implants that may prolong life expectancy by hundreds if not thousands of years may appeal at first glance, but they could well create unforeseen devastation in the form of technological viruses, plagues, or a grim escalation in the levels of crime and violence.

To many scientists of the positivist tradition anchored solely to an empirical world view, the notion of whether something is right or wrong is in a way irrelevant. for these researchers, a moral stance has little or nothing to do with technological advancement but is really an ideological position. The extreme of this view is exemplified by an attitude of “let's see how far we can go”, not “is what we are doing the best thing for humanity?” and certainly not by the thought of “what are the long-term implications of what we are doing here?” As an example, one need only consider the mad race to clone the first animal, and many have long suspected an “underground” scientific race continues to clone the first human.

In the current climate of innovation, precisely since the proliferation of the desktop computer and birth of new digital knowledge systems, some observers believe that engineers, and professionals more broadly, lack accountability for the tangible and intangible costs of their actions [174, p. 288]. Because science-enabled engineering has proved so profitable for multinational corporations, they have gone to great lengths to persuade the world that science should not be stopped, for the simple reason that it will always make things better. This ignores the possibility that even seemingly small advancements into the realm of the Electrophorus for any purpose other than medical prostheses will have dire consequences for humanity [175]. According to Kuhns, “Once man has given technique its entry into society, there can be no curbing of its gathering influence, no possible way of forcing it to relinquish its power. Man can only witness and serve as the ironic beneficiary-victim of its power” [176, p. 94].

Clearly, none of the authors of this paper desire to stop technological advance in its tracks. But we believe that considering the social implications of past, present, and future technologies is more than an academic exercise. As custodians of the technical means by which modern society exists and develops, engineers have a unique responsibility to act with forethought and insight. The time when following orders of a superior was all that an engineer had to do is long past. with great power comes great responsibility. Our hope is that the IEEE SSIT will help and encourage engineers worldwide to consider the consequences of their actions throughout the next century.


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Technology forecasting, Social implications of technology, History, Social factors, Human factors, social aspects of automation, human-robot interaction, mobile computing, pervasive computing, IEEE society, social implications of technology, SSIT, society founding, social impacts, military technologies, security technologies, cyborgs, human-machine hybrids, human mind, transhumanist future, humanity redesigns, mobile computing, wearable computing, Überveillance, Corporate activities, engineering education, ethics, future of technology, history,social implications of technology, sociotechnical systems

Citation: Karl D. Stephan, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Laura Jacob, Emily P. Anesta, 2012, "Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future", Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume: 100, Issue: Special Centennial Issue, May 13 2012, 1752-1781. 10.1109/JPROC.2012.2189919

Toward the regulation of ubiquitous mobile government


Mobile alerts, notifications and location-based emergency warning systems are now an established part of mobile government strategies in an increasing number of countries worldwide. In Australia the national emergency warning system (NEWS) was instituted after the tragic Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires of February 2009. NEWS has enabled the provision of public information from the government to the citizen during emergencies anywhere and any time. Moving on from traditional short message service (SMS) notifications and cell broadcasting to more advanced location-based services, this paper explores the major issues faced by government, business and society at large, toward the realization of a fully fledged emergency system for personal mobile devices. This qualitative study contains two phases: phase 1 gathered issues from the general public via an open-ended survey question, and phase 2 gathered issues from key informant interviews. The data was analyzed using qualitative content analysis techniques. The results are presented in a narrative form granting detailed insight into the main challenges faced in the deployment of a mobile government application. The complex interplay between government agencies, telecommunications carriers and the Australian public is presented, ultimately leading down a path of regulation. By using a qualitative approach it is hoped that the intimate lessons learnt in the Australian landscape can be applied to other nations considering mobile government applications. The outcome of the paper is predominantly practical providing a series of recommendations toward the successful deployment of mobile government applications.

1 Introduction

On February 7, 2009, the Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires claimed 173 lives, the worst peace-time disaster in Australia’s history. Citizenry looked on in disbelief that in such a modern society equipped with advanced technologies, so many lives were lost and a multitude more people injured given the force of the 400 raging fires. The Australian federal government responded swiftly to the tragedy by enacting an emergency declaration as an amendment to the Privacy Act 1988 on February 11, 2009. The emergency declaration now means that some government agencies, and emergency service organizations (ESOs), have access to Australia-wide consumer telecommunications details in the likely event of an emergency or during an actual emergency. Maintained by one commercial operator, the integrated public number database (IPND) is an industry-wide, commonwealth-owned database that contains all the residential and business telephone numbers, both listed and unlisted, and other subscriber information such as name, address, and the type of service delivered by each number (i.e. landline, fax, mobile, pager, etc.). During an emergency the IPND may be accessed by more than one commercial entity to assist citizens.

The Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission (VBRC) commenced on February 16, 2009 and about five months into the proceedings, the Government released a tender document to Australia’s telecommunications carriers for the supply of ubiquitous mobile technologies, infrastructure and applications that could be used during emergencies. The National Emergency Warning System (NEWS) tender was released on July 15, 2009 and following this, the request for information (RFI) for Location Based Identification of Active Mobile Handsets for Emergency Notification Purposes (phase II of NEWS) was issued on August 5, 2009. Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications carrier was awarded the contract on September 24, 2009. The NEWS applications have the ability to deliver personalized information direct to the mobile phone subscriber during an emergency, providing both warning notifications and alerts and specific directions, complementing traditional broadcasting mediums like radio and television. Despite the call for the deployment of ubiquitous mobile government applications in the Australian emergency management sector since as early as 2005, it took the tragic loss of life in Victoria for the Federal and State governments to make a decision to go forward with a homogeneous national emergency warning system (NEWS) with location-based features entering in phase II of deployment.

Only than two months before the Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires, the authors began to collect qualitative data on the potential deployment of location-based services in emergency management in Australia by calling on key informants to share their experiences and insights about the future prospects of location-based emergency warnings. On November 25, 2008 an in depth semi-structured interview was conducted with an official from the Victorian State Government. It was quickly realized that no matter how innovative the business model, that the complexity of a national emergency warning system with location-based service capabilities meant that operational and non-operational stakeholders would have to work together closely toward a long-term mobile solution that could be utilized by relevant government authorities to communicate with people in affected zones of natural and human-made hazards. The government official interviewed described the need for a ubiquitous emergency warning system with a degree of urgency that was to play out in that summer. So what went wrong, especially when the need for such a system was evident? Why did it take so long for such a mobile government application to be deployed? What were the barriers that needed to be overcome for such a practical solution to be instituted? The interplay between government agencies, telecommunications carriers and supporting value chain members, and the Australian people would ultimately lead down a path of regulation. This paper explores the most important issues faced by government, business and society at large, toward the realization of a fully fledged location-based emergency warning system for personal mobile devices. By using a qualitative approach it is hoped that the lessons learnt in the Australian landscape can be applied to other nations as a foundation model towards deployment of mobile government applications in related contexts.

This paper is divided into five sections. Section 1 describes the methodology that was adopted, the main sources of data, and how data was collected and analyzed. Section 2 describes the need for location-based emergency warnings and Sect. 3 describes the legislative impact of these services being utilized and liability related issues such as responsibility and accountability with respect to the government itself and telecommunications carriers. Section 4 is about the prospective barriers facing governments and carriers who wish to roll out a national emergency warning system and the fifth and final section provides recommendations toward successful deployment.

2 Methodology

2.1 Case study: Australia’s National Emergency Warning System

A case study of mobile government applications in the context of emergency management was conducted in Australia with a focus on the utilization of location-based services for emergency warning and notification systems. Figure 1 depicts a timeline of important events leading up to the deployment of NEWS. The study was conducted between 2008 and 2009 and captures sentiment in Australia both before and after the Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires. Data for this case study was collected in a two phased approach.

Fig. 1 Australia’s Path toward a National Emergency Warning System: a timeline of events

2.2 Phase 1: open-ended survey question to general public

In Phase 1, a ten page questionnaire which contained a single open-ended question was administered in 2008 to the general public providing an opportunity for written responses which were digitized, collated into a database and then analyzed.

The primary goal of the open-ended question technique was to understand the issues pertaining to the utilization of the location-based emergency service as perceived by the general public. This technique is particularly useful when there is a need to start with a broader exploration of a little-known phenomenon [1]. The comments included personal opinions, remarks, concerns and real life experiences that about 60 of the 300 respondents were willing to share.

2.3 Phase 2: operational and non-operational stakeholder interviewees

In Phase 2, nine full-length semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants who were members of operational and non-operational stakeholder entities and highly regarded within the Australian landscape of mobile government for emergency management. The interviews were transcribed, edited, and qualitatively analyzed. The use of qualitative methods, such as interviews, has been suggested for exploratory research when little is known about the area of study and when there is a need to identify unanticipated or new issues [2, 3]. Independent experts with a wealth of knowledge and expertise, officials from Australian emergency service organizations, policy makers from Australian government departments pertinent to emergency management arrangements and policies, and representatives from the Australian mobile telecommunications industry were approached to participate in the study. The main criterion for approaching each potential interviewee was their expertise. Several government departments and organizations related to emergency management were also approached. The intention was to end up with a good cross section of diverse profiles in the location-based services (LBS) value chain that could give a holistic view of Australia’s national emergency warning system.

2.3.1 Description of key informants

Nine interviews were conducted with key informants coming from both operational and non-operational stakeholders. Interviewee 1 [Vic-Gov] was a member of the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner in the Department of Justice in the state of Victoria. The Office provides leadership in emergency management for Victoria, with specific responsibility for ensuring the delivery of efficient, equitable and integrated emergency services. The Office oversees more effective utilization of the common resources of the emergency services and encouraging and facilitating cooperation between all agencies before, during and after an emergency [4]. It is important to note that this interview took place only a few months prior to Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. Interviewee 2 [expert A] is an independent expert with more than 40 years of experience over several domains including teaching in emergency management and being an emergency service officer with the State Emergency Services (SES). Interviewee 3 [SES] is employed by the State Emergency Service in New South Wales. The SES is an emergency and rescue service dedicated to assisting the community in times of crisis. It is made up almost entirely of volunteers, with 226 units located throughout the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone. Its main responsibilities are for flood and storm operations [5]. Interviewee 4, [Whispir-Rep] was a representative of the Whispir company, an Australian company providing a high availability messaging platform that enables the instant and automatic invocation of communications across web, email, SMS and voice channels, from any location including from a mobile handset [6]. Interviewee 5 [expert B] is an independent consultant from the Australian Capital Territory. He is a well-known consultant who has a professional background working as an advisor on large-scale systems for the Australian Government including the formulation of national internet ICT polices.

Interviewee 6 [expert C] is an independent expert from the state of New South Wales with a telecommunications engineering career spanning more than 30 years. His work has contributed to the development of service creation environments for Intelligent Networks (IN) with British Telecom Research Laboratories, and later with Telstra. He has also worked on several worldwide projects developing a range of solutions with a focus on wireless IN services and the development of various cellular location systems for emergency and commercial services. In addition, he was amongst the scientists who were responsible for shaping, initiating and launching E911 in the United States. Interviewee 7 [expert D] is an independent expert from the state of Queensland. His current work involves the development of new innovative technologies. He has extensive experience in Research and Development (R&D) of internet and mobile technologies. He has research interests in emergency messaging standards, new technologies and applications for emergency messaging and national emergency warning systems. Interviewee 8 [expert E] is a consultant who works for a large law firm in Australia. He is a communications specialist with more than 25 years of experience in technology, regulatory and business strategy in telecommunications and broadcasting. He has been involved with a number of significant commercial regulatory projects in the telecommunications sector in Australia and abroad. He has provided advice to Telstra, Bell Canada, the GSM Association, State and Federal Government and international organizations such as the World Bank. The final interviewee is a representative from the Redcoal Company. Redcoal is Australia’s leading SMS messaging and mobile phone tracking solutions provider, delivering services across different industry sectors and government. Redcoal’s SMS and mobile phone tracking solutions are rebranded and resold by the Optus Network. The Optus operator is the second largest telecommunications carrier and information services company in Australia [7]. A summary of the nine interviews and their background is presented in Table 1.

Table 1 List of interviewees used in the data collection phase

ID Interviewee/ Pseudonym Full title Interview date

1 Vic-Gov The Department of Justice—Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner (The State of Victoria)* Nov 25, 2008

2 Expert A Independent expert (The State of New South Wales) July 13, 2009

3 SES State Emergency Services (The State of New South Wales)* Aug 4, 2009

4 Whispir-Rep A representative from the Whispir Company (The State of Victoria)* Aug 12, 2009

5 Expert B Independent expert (The Australian Capital Territory) Aug 28, 2009

6 Expert C Independent expert (The State of New South Wales) Sept 23, 2009

7 Expert D Independent expert (The State of Queensland) Sept 29, 2009

8 Expert E Independent expert (The State of Queensland) Oct 14, 2009

9 Redcoal-Rep A representative from the Redcoal Company (The State of New South Wales)* Oct 22, 2009 *Views obtained here are those of the representatives and are not necessarily expressing those of their respective offices, departments or companies

2.4 The qualitative analysis strategy

Qualitative analysis refers to the process that requires the identification of recurring ideas, patterns of beliefs and salient themes from collected data and the attempt to demonstrate support for them [8]. Patton [9] defines qualitative analysis as the challenging process of transforming data into findings, but more importantly, for it to make sense. Patton described the transformation process as “reducing the volume of raw information, sifting trivia from significance, identifying significant patterns and constructing a framework for communicating the essence of what the data reveal” [9]. Similarly, Marshall and Rossman [1] regard qualitative analysis as the process of bringing structure and meaning to the mass of the collected data, and accordingly, postulate that the best approach to the analysis of the data is “reading, reading, and reading once more through the data, forcing the researcher to become familiar with those data in intimate ways. People, events, and quotes sift constantly through the researcher’s mind” [1]. However, in order to guide the qualitative analysis to ensure validity in the presentation of results, the transcribed interviews were parsed together through an automated content analysis tool. Figure 2 shows the main themes as determined by the Leximancer tool [10] after several interactive manual interventions to: (i) clean the auto-generated thesaurus list of words (e.g. singular vs. plural, merging synonyms or like terms, and the merging together of words into short phrases like “location based services”); (ii) delete irrelevant terms that may have been used frequently but in essence detracted from the main themes of the study (e.g. “should”, “think”); (iii) add words to the visual concept map from the auto-generated thesaurus that were considered significant in meaning by the researchers but may not have featured in the most highly ranked concepts; and (iv) consider at which level of granularity to view the concept map to best understand the inner forces at play between the major actors in the network. These themes were used to provide core issues that were explored in the narrative thematically. Issues raised in the open-ended response in the survey were manually grouped into themes and supporting literature found to validate their inclusion in the narrative (Table 2).

2.4.1 Interactive model of analysis

In Miles and Huberman’s [8] interactive model of analysis, the qualitative analysis is an iterative step that consists of a set of activities, including data collection, data reduction, data display and conclusion drawing. The textual data of the interviews went through preparation processes to make it ready for the analysis. The audio-recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim and each transcription was kept in a separate word document for easy reference. The hand-written interview notes, which were taken by the researchers themselves in each interview, were used as an additional source of information. In a similar fashion, all the comments from the open-ended survey question were typed and then aggregated and kept in one document, as all comments represented the perspective of a single distinct stakeholder of the locationbased mobile phone emergency service (i.e. the prospective user of the service). Initial data coding, including preliminary data reduction processes were performed to prepare the data for analysis. Developing concepts is regarded a way of data reduction [25] and enlisting the support of Leximancer was very helpful in reducing the volume of interview data to displaying correlated concepts into more focused themes.

Fig. 2 Leximancer concept map showing important issues forthcoming from interviews. The larger the concept the greater its importance to the study

Displaying data is one of the major ways to validate the qualitative analysis [8]. This activity is concerned with organizing, compressing and assembling information into a more readable format from the data’s voluminous, bulky and dispersed original state [25]. The qualitative data can be displayed in different forms such as charts, diagrams or concept maps. The aim of the final stage which is drawing and verifying conclusions is required to generate a meaningful and coherent picture of the data [25]. Miles and Huberman [8] noted that conclusions take place, more or less, concurrently with other stages in the content analysis and can be discerned early in the analysis, although at that time they are vague and not truly developed. In all cases, drawing conclusions is typically regarded the most difficult stage to perform amongst all the stages of the analysis since it involves developing propositions, verifying these propositions, drawing solid conclusions and confirming the obtained findings [8, 25].

3 The need to introduce location-based emergency services in Australia

Australia’s future need to utilize the location-based mobile phone service within its national emergency warning system fundamentally stems from the practical characteristics of the service, which complement other channels of safety information. As stipulated by Expert A, the broadcast media do a very good job of communicating emergency information to the public but there is no guarantee that information is received by individual persons, especially if they have no desire to keep informed at any given time period. Expert C pointed out that everybody does not listen to the radio. The Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires, more than any other single event in Australia’s modern history can be used to illustrate the need for advanced communication services. As Expert A reflected, Australians questioned where the notifications were and why so many people had to die: “[t]he notifications were being [sent] out in the normal fashion by radio, television, but because people were outside, it [did] not necessarily mean that they tuned in to those radio stations, or the television ...” It took the deaths of 173 Australians during a tragic event for the government to consider more innovative ways to communicate with the community before, after and during an event. There is now an “expectation by the community to be informed [in a] timely [fashion], rather than in a haphazard way” (Expert A). One way forward is to make use of the mobile phone, available technology already in the hands of the majority of Australian adults, which can provide crucial emergency information dependent on where the mobile phone is located. While you cannot guarantee that people will receive time-critical information via their mobile phone (e.g. it may be turned off), at least authorities are making “use of available technology to reduce the likelihood of people not knowing and increasing the likelihood of them being informed” (Expert A).

Other interviewees also acknowledged the shortcomings of the current information warning channels in Australia and the need to utilize location-based public warning notifications. Expert D was categorical in his assessment: “I definitely think we do need location-based warnings. There is no doubt about that.” While making use of landline billing address details for emergency notifications was one possible way forward using the legacy Integrated Public Number Database (IPND), Expert D preferred a warning system that could detect people roaming and provide customized location-based information. Vic-Gov also noted that they ultimately wanted a system that could be deployed during the largest and most troubling types of emergencies.


Table 2 Public acceptance issues raised in the questionnaire and supported by literature

Factor identified in open-ended response

Academic description

Sourced in the literature

Attitude. The individual positive or negative feelings toward using the location-based emergency service. Fishbein and Ajzen [11] Behavioral intention The individual decision to engage or not to engage in using the location-based emergency service. Fishbein and Ajzen [11] Trust The belief that allows a potential user of the location-based emergency service to willingly become vulnerable to the use-case outcome of the service, having taken the characteristics of the service into consideration, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control the service or the service provider. Mayer et al. [12], McKnight and Chervany [13] Perceived risks The individual belief of the potential loss and the adverse consequences of using the location-based emergency service, and the probability that these consequences may occur if the service is used. Pavlou and Gefen [14], Heijden et al. [15] Perceived usefulness The individual perception that using the location-based emergency service is useful. Davis et al. [16] Perceived ease of use The degree to which the prospective user expects the location-based emergency service to be free of effort in terms of usage. Davis et al. [16] Visibility The extent to which the actual use of the location-based mobile phone emergency service is observed to its potential user. Agarwal and Prasad [17] Perceived service quality The individual global judgment relating to the superiority of the location-based emergency service. Parasuraman et al. [18] Perceived currency The prospective user perception of receiving up-to-the-minute service information during emergencies. Zeithaml et al. [19], Yang et al. [20] Perceived accuracy The prospective user perception about the conformity of the location-based emergency service with its actual attributes of content, location, and timing. Zeithaml et al. [19], Yang et al. [20] Perceived responsiveness The prospective user perception of receiving a prompt service in the case of an emergency. Parasuraman et al. [18], Liljander et al. [21], Yang et al. [20] Privacy concerns as perceived by the prospective user The individual concerns regarding the level of control by others over personal identifiable information. Stone et al. [22] Collection The concern that extensive amounts of location information or other personal identifiable data will be collected when using the location-based emergency service. Smith et al. [23], Junglas and Spitzmuller [24] Unauthorized use The concern that the location-based emergency service information is collected for emergency purposes but will be used for other purposes without explicit consent from the individual. Smith et al. [23], Junglas and Spitzmuller [24]


Three months prior to the Victorian Bushfires, a Vic-Gov representative contacted the authors, desperately seeking to put in place a system that could be used to notify individuals anywhere they were during large-scale emergencies in order to save more lives. For Vic-Gov, traditional forms of media were passive. From their assessment of a range of technologies that were nationally consistent, Vic-Gov was convinced by the power of the mobile phone and especially its ubiquity, not requiring an individual to be anchored anywhere to receive the given information. Vic-Gov stated: “People have, invariably, got their mobile phones with them. Usually, they are turned on. And so, if that individual with an active handset is within an area that has been affected by something there is a very high likelihood that we will get a message to them, informing them that we know that they are in the area and we can point them to other sources of information. So, they do not need to be anchored to anything. It is the closest [thing] to somebody’s eyes and ears.” For the State Emergency Services (SES) the location-based mobile phone service can be considered yet another telephony-based channel to get a message to the public. SES highlighted the potential of the mobile phone to get people’s attention, especially if a disaster was to hit late at night when people were asleep.

Written comments from the survey respondents also reflected the community’s expectation toward the introduction of the location-based mobile phone emergency service in Australia in the near future. For the greater part comments focused around the need to have the location of an emergency caller automatically identified and tracked. One respondent noted that when calling emergency services 15–30 seconds “are wasted in providing the patient/caller location/address. It would be a great time/life saver technique if LBS is properly implemented by service providers as the police, hospitals and car-service providers as NRMA.” Numerous respondents thought that implementing such capability would be a good idea, practical, and very beneficial given Australia’s history of natural disasters. Some were even prepared to subscribe to such a service for up-to-the-minute information. Beyond the obvious advantages of location-based notifications via mobile phones, there is one segment of the community that would particularly benefit from the introduction of such warning systems. Vic-Gov noted that such a system would be highly beneficial to the profoundly deaf and hearing impaired which affect one in six Australians: “[i]f these people were in an area where they had been affected, they would receive a text message ... So, by default, I guess, we have addressed a section of the population who struggle to receive [comprehensible] notifications ...” Expert A showed his disappointment at the lack of urgency shown by some stakeholders, especially government, when he said: “[i]t is about time we had these systems in place. We see money being wasted in a lot of areas that are not as important as providing safety to our communities. And for a long, long time, disaster management and all those type of activities have not been at the forefront of government action. They tend to wait until after something happens.” The Redcoal-Rep echoed similar sentiments when he noted that it generally takes tragedies for a reaction to come from government, and only then when it is a vote winning issue.

4 Legislative grounds for location-based emergency systems

The introduction of a comprehensive legislative framework which would regulate the utilization of location-based mobile phone emergency services was a recurring theme which emerged from the expert interviews. In Australia at least, it was found that without a legislative framework in place the introduction of a location-enabled emergency system would be somewhat unlikely. The lag between the introduction of new enabling technology and the establishment of legislation to support that technology’s capabilities can be stifling to the development of any new product or process. SES identified the government as lagging behind in clearly providing protection around the governance and use of location-based emergency notifications to all Australians. The emphasis is on the deployment of “blanket coverage” technology which is where the government needs to get started on legislating, according to the SES. But rather than the view that legislation comes first, and then the technology can be rolled out, in this particular mobile government case study society is evolving hand-in-hand with the technology. “Location-based services can be protected by legislation and need to be protected by legislation... You have to evolve your legal framework along with the technological underpinnings of the society it involves” (Expert C).

One suggestion by Expert C was to draft legislation associated with the emergency warning system under Emergency Management Australia, via consultations through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). “Whether it is an emergency warning system under a federal agency’s control or whether it is a social networking site under a commercial operator’s control, those entities, to the extent that they are governed by our jurisdiction’s legislation, should be constrained in terms of what they can do with that location information” (Expert C). And it is here that location-based emergency warnings differ from traditional carrier-based LBS solutions. In the government context, we are not referring to a subset of consumers who opt-in to using a paid subscriber service but to all people who may be in an affected zone, including citizens and non-citizens alike. Expert E also noted the importance of an agreement between the individual to whom location information applies and the provider of that application. The agreement should be protected by law and should clearly identify “what that location information can and cannot be used for”, ensuring that the location data “not be used for any other purpose.”

The introduction of early warning systems by their very nature cannot be put in place without some kind of a legislative or regulatory imperative. For Expert E, the fact that location based early warning systems would need to be deployed unilaterally—that is across the whole population—a liability risk would be incurred as part of any set of legislative regulations or responsibilities. The actual scope of risks and responsibilities would need to be defined but in this open-ended environmental context there would be an arbitrary amount of potential liability. “There has to be a fundamental foundation from a regulatory and a policy perspective before any of this can happen”, reaffirmed Expert E.

Numerous survey respondents also confirmed Australia’s need for a legal framework to support the possible utilization of the location-based mobile phone emergency service, with clear rules and penalties to effectively control the utilization. One respondent noted that there should be “strict guidelines and rules for how and when the [location] information should be used, and significant penalties for companies that break these rules as well as appropriate compensation for the affected people.” Another respondent wrote that strict laws should govern what information is kept, how it is kept, and who has access to it. The idea of penalties for misuse of location information was also raised.

Respondents were divided on whether or not to introduce completely new legislation or amending existing legislation so that the immediate use of location-based mobile phone emergency services could begin. One respondent was concerned that quick “fixes” might open a door for potential gaps in the implementation of the amended legal framework in a way that could be employed by third parties for purposes other than emergencies. Another respondent was circumspect about the law in general: “[e]ven with policies or laws which are created, I am worried about quick laws being passed to authorities to allow them to use our data for surveillance without us wanting to.” This respondent was more concerned about the authorized use by external parties than unauthorized use.

5 The liability of the location-based emergency service providers

There can never be any absolute guarantee that an error will never occur when location-based mobile phone solutions are utilized under the national warning system in Australia. Different types of errors could originate such as, unintentional human mistakes and sudden faults in underlying technologies or infrastructure. However, several issues arise, especially if there is the likelihood of loss of life due to an error. Expert D maintains that there must be the ability to identify where the error occurred in order to take the appropriate action against an entity and that someone is held liable for that mistake, especially in the event that there is loss of life as a result of that error. Consider the complexity of the LBS value chain and the scenario whereby the Bureau of Meteorology sends out a cyclone watch message via a third party provider, who for some reason downgrades the message eventually misinforming the public. Thus, “defining the source of the error is a condition to defining the accountability of each party involved in these solutions” (Expert D).

5.1 Government accountability

It may be difficult to understand how a government can be held accountable for its actions (or inactions) but Royal Commissions in Australia are common, providing a platform for major governmental public inquiries into a given issue. For example, there was a 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) which handed down its final report on July 31, 2010. In the context of LBS for emergency services, the interviewees were not in agreement on who for instance would be held accountable if a person did not receive a warning message at a crucial time. The SES pondered on such a scenario: “[i]f I do not get that warning message that I have been promised that I am going to get on my mobile phone and my family or I am hurt as a result of that, my question to government is going to be: ‘Well you promised you were going to tell me and you have not and I have suffered this damage from it.’ I would be heading down the road to one of those barristers and I reckon I would have a pretty good case.” Realistically, however, another interviewee noted that no technology or system is fool proof, and that given LBS solutions rely on technology, the government cannot be to blame for system errors which are squarely outside their control. There is nothing to say that at any given point in time, something could go unintentionally wrong with the technology.

Expert A believed that the government should not be liable for any problems surrounding location-based services that negatively impact people, given that early warning systems are just one method among many available during disasters. But despite this, the government still needs to define, through an explicit legal framework, its exact responsibilities and obligations under location-based mobile phone emergency solutions. According to the SES: “[t]he government needs to have a look and make sure they have all the legal ends tied up to protect themselves so that whatever legislation they will bring in to place to cover this, it will provide appropriate protection for them to be able to provide the service.”

5.2 The telecommunications carriers’ accountability

Among the issues that should also be regarded in future legislation, or within amendments into existing Acts, is a reference to the possible inaccuracies in the delivered information disseminated by the telecommunications carriers to the people in the case of an emergency. Consider a scenario where a warning notifies the wrong group of people about a pending natural disaster, or provides the wrong list of directions on what to do (based on the location of a mobile), during and immediately after the emergency. Expert C advised that while it was good to have accuracy requirements, he believed it was a “very dangerous game to play to say that anybody has to be absolutely correct. And this is actually particularly true of location-based services with specific reference to things like the value of the location as determined ... It is actually a statistical game and it is actually not possible to be one hundred percent correct.” A notable practical example to support this can be found in the U.S. Government E-911 initiative, as the interviewee added “for a handset-based location determination technology like GPS, the operator has to be within 50 meters, 67th percent. So, in other words, you have to be within 50 meters of accuracy at a twothirds confidence. So, two out of three of those locations you provide you need to be correct within that 50 meters. And then they also said further that you need to be within 100 meters of accuracy at the 95th percentile. So, in other words, 19 out of 20 times you had to be correct within 100 meters. But, they quite reasonably said that 5 percent of the time, you may be well, completely wrong. But, there are basically two levels of confidence that are specified as part of the regulation.”

Accordingly, what is needed in the Australian context is to set comparable accuracy requirements that practically define the responsibilities of the telecommunication carriers and/or the government when location-based services are utilized nationally for emergency management. It is the operators who need to be held responsible for achieving those levels of performance, not so much the Australian Government. Expert C said, “[y]ou can use that mechanism to ensure that the operators are applying all the due diligence that they should be doing, that their network is as optimized as effectively can be on any kind of reasonable cost analysis basis, but at the same time it means that you are not going to hold liable that operator for an individual event where in fact the location information was not correct with respect to that location determination. And with respect to the performance of location systems generally, I think you have to have that realistic underpinning within the requirements of the government legislation.” Further consideration of the accuracy issue reveals that there needs to be a fine balance. The operator needs to be doing everything they can based on a given set of performance metrics without putting themselves in a liable situation so that any given individual at any given period can claim arbitrary large dollar amounts for damages (Expert C).

Service level agreements or defined contracts are the most logical and practical of options to define and regulate the relationship between the government and the telecommunications carriers. These contracts can also serve the purpose of defining the responsibilities when and if something goes wrong. Expert E complemented the views held by Expert C, looking at the dilemma surrounding accuracy of location information as a contractual issue. He said that ultimately it had to do with the contract between the service provider and the acquirer of that service. The acquirer in this instance is the Government (at the State or Commonwealth level) and they would have agreed on a series of service levels pertaining to location-based services for the emergency context. This is distinctly a jointly developed government and business model. This is a very important observation, that mobile government applications by their very nature are not, and cannot be, models exclusively built by a single stakeholder, but rather a collaborative effort between stakeholders (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Toward the regulation of location based emergency warning systems

Expert E played out a possible scenario based on the contractual relationship. “If somebody sued the service provider [for inaccurate location information], the service provider would say: ‘Well, I do not have a contractual relationship with you. My contractual relationship is with the state, so go sue the state. And if the state has a problem, then they will join me in that action [as a party] anyway.’ ” As Expert E’s scenario further developed, an individual who had been adversely affected might then sue the state for damages and to the extent that the state attempts to file an action against the service provider, that action will be limited by the formal contractual agreement. In this instance there are legal limitations on being able to underwrite against loss of life—“your indemnity for loss of life and the warranty on loss of life would end up being incredibly specific” (Expert E). The agreement would most probably say something like- the responsibility for life lies with the contractor, not the service provider. Expert E role plays in the shoes of the service provider: “[w]e will, of course, look after a death that occurs, for example, in the installation of the equipment that is going to be used to provide the service but not as something that occurs as a consequence of the service not being available or not working the way that you expected, except to the extent that we said it will work that way.” It quickly becomes apparent from the interviews that not a single stakeholder type, especially Government, will commit to one hundred percent availability of such services.

5.3 Roles and responsibilities under location-based emergency systems

A national location-based emergency system is yet to be fully realized in Australia, although members of the Australian public can now receive emergency alerts on their mobile phones. Among the surveyed population, most respondents said that the government had a responsibility to control the legal and operational aspects of such systems. One respondent highlighted that it was a great idea (especially if it was instituted free of charge to the consumer), but that it must be controlled by government regulation in order to protect the personal information and privacy of the individual. Another respondent noted that such services should only exist if service providers had first obtained the explicit permission of a given government organization. People generally found the idea of location-based services for emergency warnings to increase their personal security but most also noted the importance of implementing “strict laws” to prevent excessive intrusion on personal privacy. One respondent said that “it would be necessary to create government agencies that monitor the transactions by service providers, and make sure that service providers act under strict laws and government supervision.”

Expert A argued that the responsibility of the location-based warning system should be added to the existing list of responsibilities that are executed by the disaster management committee in each State and Territory in Australia. “Each state already has a committee for disaster communications. That is part of their roles and responsibilities. I see this as being very simple, easily linked into that. It should not take any additional bureaucracy to be involved.” Expert C perceived the responsibility to be a multi-dimensional role that should be distributed according to the specific function each party is fulfilling under the utilization of the location-based warning system. These parties include different government emergency services agencies, in addition to the telecommunications carriers. Responsibility is distributed across agencies that are best equipped with maintaining different aspects. Expert C stipulated that network operators should be responsible for location determination systems, the ultimate reliability of the location information, and the performance and capacity of the location determination mechanisms. Network operators would also be responsible for the integrity of the location information itself, but how that location information is used must be the responsibility of the agency and not the network operator.

Expert D held the position that the responsibility of warning messages be assigned with the most relevant department pertaining to that emergency. Expert D identified that the government agency would then outsource the requirement to send the message to one of the mobile telecommunications carriers. What is important here to note, is that it is likely that authorization for sending out specific warning messages still remains with the relevant authority, such as the Bureau of Meteorology for weather warnings, etc. Accordingly, a very important point is to clearly define the control authority, which is allowed to initiate the use of the location-based mobile phone warning system, assign the responsibility of the emergency situation to the proper government emergency agency (ies), and control the sending of the warning message to the public. The control authority should also aim to prevent the overlapping of jurisdictions between different government emergency service organizations over the responsibility of managing a specific emergency situation. Expert B provided an example from the VBRC when it was revealed that the Fire Authority wanted to issue warnings but they did not think they were authorized to do it, so they did not. Expert B identified an administrative problem rather than a technical one and noted: “I think that is what is missing and we need that worked out.”

At the time of the interviews, which government department would be granted the role of the control authority under the national location-based mobile phone emergency system was still unknown. The Victorian government official believed that it should, at least, exist at the jurisdiction level. “Who is going to run this thing? Who is going to own this thing? I do not have a clear answer for you because it is still a question that I keep asking. I think it should certainly rest on a jurisdiction level because the emergency management arrangements exist at that level” (Vic-Gov). But more importantly, a control authority at the federal level should also exist to ensure consistent quality levels of the location-based mobile phone emergency services anywhere in Australia. “Every Australian citizen is entitled to receive a message if they are potentially in an emergency situation. Now, if I was traveling throughout the Northern Territory, Queensland or Western Australia, I would dearly hope that the quality of the service provided to me was equal to that which I received in any other State or Territory. So, from a federal perspective, there would need to be guidelines around what that meant... ensuring that [each state] was delivering that same quality of service countrywide” (Vic-Gov).

Expert C identified Emergency Management Australia (EMA), which belongs to the Attorney-General’s Department, as a good candidate for the role of the control authority over the location-based mobile phone emergency system on the national level in Australia. It was the opinion of a number of experts interviewed that a common approach and platform within a consolidated agency was required for the successful implementation of a national warning system, alerting people of diverse emergencies as they occurred. Among the responsibilities that the EMA might enjoy include: maintaining the reliability of the national emergency warning system platform, maintaining the privacy of any personalized location information gathered according to the Privacy Act, the structure and contents of distributed warnings, the management of the geographic boundaries and the integrity of the interfaces to the networks for getting the location information (Expert C).

6 Opt in and opt out system design issues

In regard to the opt in/opt out design aspects, a number of interviewees agreed that every person in Australia should receive the warning message without having the opt-in option built into the location-based mobile phone warning system. In addition, most viewpoints concurred that the system should not have an opt-out option. In other words, each individual in Australia is obliged to receive the warning notification if they are located in a defined emergency area (see Fig. 3). The role of the government is to provide societal securitization to protect citizens and non-residents from harm. As the SES representative pointed out, if you make it an opt-in system does that mean you let all those who opt-out just die? There is something inherently unethical about such a systems design. Expert B emphasizes that during an emergency there is no opt-out, “[i]t is compulsory to receive the warning message.”

Implementing an opt-out feature in a national emergency warning system complicates the network design. Expert E plainly concurred with other interviewees, “I cannot see that working.” Opting-out is fraught with a number of concerns. For instance, what if two people share the same phone, and one wishes to opt-in and the other opt-out? Taking the possibility further Expert E developed the scenario: “[i]f one opts-out and the other dies because they did not get an emergency warning because of the opt-out, I would not like to be representing, for our firm, the people who are sued because of that.” Thus opting-out just does not make sense. The official from the Victorian Government also shared a similar opinion: “[i]f they opt-out and they did not receive the message and then the unfortunate event occurred where they lost their life, it would not be well received within the Coroners Court as to why they did not get the message and why we could not have, when provided everybody else, with a means of maintaining their safety.” For Vic-Gov the national warning system should neither be opt-in nor opt-out.

However, the following are some interesting points of view on why there is a need to enable the opt-in and opt-out options in the location-based mobile phone warning system. Expert C in particular voiced his bewilderment at why the Government placed such constraints on the solution, without allowing people to opt-in or opt-out, instead automatically applying the solution to everyone. Expert C correctly identified the usefulness of opting-in to emergency warnings, because one might have an interest in a given area despite not actually being there during a disaster, and want to be kept informed about the latest developments. For Expert D, the facility to opt-out should be an option, independent of why someone does not wish to receive messages that might aid their survival. He noted that there are five levels of threats, and that one could build a warning system that was dependent on the severity of the warning. Level four and five warnings, for instance, may not provide an opt-out feature due to the severity of the emergency, simply if one is in that geo-location then they will receive a warning message. But for lower level warnings that do not have an impact on one’s life, an opt-out option should be offered.

“Some people will be interested in certain things for different reasons. I think it should be recipient driven because you cannot make too many assumptions about the communications people want to receive”, said the Whispir-Rep. There are some complex use-cases surrounding the deployment of such warning systems but providing people with the choice is very important and not difficult. The Whispir-Rep considered that such a choice could be made by providing an interface whereby people could manage and maintain their own profile. For instance, what happens to people who have several mobile phones for different reasons, should all their phones ring at the same time to let them know a single message has arrived in their inbox.

The perspective of the survey respondents who specifically wrote comments pertaining to the issue of a opt in/opt out system design as a means to maintain the individual privacy and as a mechanism to control the use of the service under the utilization of the location-based mobile phone warning system is somewhat divided in opinion. One respondent wrote: “[t]his service should be regulated by the government and made compulsory in all phones and the choice would be to the individual to use or not.” Another wrote: “LBS should be an opt-in service. In regard to emergencies, in a triple zero call, the first question should be ‘can we access your location information?’ Some people might be deterred from calling for help in an OD [Over Dose] situation if they do not want authorities knowing where the OD happened (someone’s house).”

A number of respondents stipulated an opt-in service to ensure they had more control of their own privacy. The ability to switch off the LBS functionality to protect privacy was prevalent in numerous responses. “Obviously, people are going to be concerned about data being used inappropriately, so measures to put users’ minds at ease would be the biggest thing,” wrote one individual. Some respondents had clear concerns about the possibility they would be constantly tracked in the name of “emergencies.” There seemed to be a constant struggle in individuals who wrote about the usefulness of LBS in emergency situations, only to follow up with a statement that was seemingly contradictory. Most people wanted to use LBS only at a time that was necessary during an emergency but definitely not when engaged in personal errands. Others were still suspicious over where their personal location data might end up, such as in the case of targeted advertising campaigns. “I would stop using LBS the moment information was used for targeted advertising, even if it meant not having the service available in an emergency. I would also not use the LBS if it had no government “anti terrorism” opt out option. I do not need be told the “threat level” of any area I visit, nor do I want to know about riots, etc. as the decision is mine to make without government influence.”

7 Location-based emergency service quality dimensions

Survey respondents from the general public did identify factors related to accuracy, currency and responsiveness of location-based mobile phone emergency services. Most prominent in their remarks was the need for acceptable quality levels. A recurring theme amongst respondents was that for such a warning system to work, the information provided by the service must be accurate and timely and reliable. In this manner it would lead to personal safety but otherwise fail. Respondents did not expect a service that was always accurate as they did not consider technology to be perfect per se, but they did emphasize the need for only a very small margin of error. One respondent wrote: “I have some concerns about the accuracy. Sometimes it may not direct you to the right position in the shortest available path.” A number of respondents distinctly discussed “quality” and others “product reliability” but emphasized that without quality and reliability the LBS warning service would be useless. Other conditions the general public identified included that the service should be heavily regulated, controlled, optional, and free to use. Some respondents were also very concerned about how personal information might be misused but when it came to safety were concerned about the possibility that incorrect information would be dispersed or late data arrival would only add to the confusion during an emergency. People also highlighted the pitfalls of late data arrival via SMS which if not timely could cause panic and chaos amongst the general community which would be even more hazardous during an emergency situation.

8 People’s trust in location-based services

When Expert C was asked about the impact of trust on location-based services for emergency warnings, he replied “[u]sing the telecommunications network channels as a mechanism for warning people in emergency services is something I would trust to the extent of it being better to have it than to not have it.” It is perceived that most people who received an emergency alert from an emergency authority would consider it to be beneficial. Expert C explained further: “the information that I received by that alert I would trust to the extent that I trust emergency services to get it right, but that is not the technology’s problem, that is just the general perspective on how reliable and trustworthy public authorities are in any case.” Similarly, Expert B commented that people trust firemen more than they trust politicians, so trust in a location-based emergency warning alert system for tsunamis, fires, earthquakes and so on, should be accepted by the general public, if not highly favored.

A close examination of the responses by the expert panel implies that people’s trust in the location-based mobile phone emergency service would actually reflect their trust in the actual services, in addition to their trust in the authority that controls and provides the services. The Redcoal-Rep preferred to rephrase the question reflecting: “Will people trust it? I think the question should be will they trust it more than the existing modes of communication, which is the media? I would imagine, to a large extent.” However, building people’s trust in these advanced services may require educating the general public about the specific benefits of these services for emergency management and also on the limitations of the capabilities. For Vic-Gov awareness was very important where trust in services and the authorities who offered them was a concern. “Once we have educated them [the public] on the fact that this technology exists and that, potentially, at any time they could receive such a message, a large percentage of the public would trust the message they will be receiving.” In general, people’s trust in location-based services is a key element to the success of the services within the national arrangements of emergency management in Australia. One respondent commented that while the service was good, that her only concern was whether LBS would be a trusted product for emergencies. This respondent also drew a close tie between trust and privacy. Another respondent rightly commented that if LBS became a highly trusted service that could be used for emergencies, only then would it be possible to prevent many deaths and other losses.

9 Risks associated with using location-based services

The risks associated with the use of location-based services as emergency services were considered to be just like any other technology (Expert C). Nonetheless, one of the social risks that could be specifically associated with using location-based services is the possibility of not informing or instructing individuals properly in the case of an emergency. According to Vic-Gov the risk was not so much with the LBS technology but rather how people might react when receiving a message.

Another risk that is not related to the characteristics of location-based services but in the way they might be utilized within emergency management activities is to rely entirely on these services in emergencies. Expert D described the risks with an over-reliance on any one technology or communication channel. There are inherent risks with using just a mobile phone to keep updated on the latest emergency news, without some kind of backup secondary outlet like television so that information could be reconciled in more precarious situations. Expert D noted: “I suppose that would be the biggest risk if their sole information source was their mobile handset and were not getting any sort of secondary information from television or radio, then there would sort of be that risk because it is always useful and very important to have ... secondary sources to make sure that they are consistent with each other.”

However, one of the experts argued that it is more important to think beyond the risks that are associated with LBS technical failures and to consider the risks associated with LBS in relation to the surrounding political environment in which these services are utilized by the governing forces in power. With regard to the social risk, Expert C claimed that LBS was just like any other technology, that it could be used for a variety of purposes: “[i]t is not the technology itself that is fundamental actually. The fundamental control that people have with respect to how much surveillance they are under, what controls they are under, to what extent their freedoms are constrained, is more fundamentally linked to the strength of their democracy than it is to any one or other technology that exists within their daily lives.” Accordingly, it is the political environment that can introduce concerns for people in the way location-based services might be utilized. Thus, Expert C was adamant about any social risk that could arise from LBS in emergency management: “[it] has more to do with the extent to which their society and the strength of their democracy protect them [the general public] than it does anything to do with the technology itself.”

In all the interviews with the expert panel it was found that any potential risk that may be associated with location-based services utilization for emergency management in Australia will be far less than the risk of not introducing these services at all. The Redcoal-Rep spoke about the difference between perceived risk and actual risk. For him, the perceived risk from the public is that the LBS infrastructure might be used for other applications other than for emergencies, heralding a type of function creep. But in terms of the actual risk, the Redcoal-Rep was circumspect in saying that “you need to consider the fact that any business technology may fail. That risk is common for any new service or even existing service that is in place.” The Redcoal-Rep also discussed the notion of relative risk, in this case, the risk of not implementing a nationwide emergency service. Quite often the perceived risk far outweighs the actual risk. Indeed, the risks of not introducing location-based services for emergency management in Australia have been manifested in the recent trend of the Australian Government which followed the tragic 2009 Victorian Bushfires in identifying the compelling need for utilizing location-based mobile phone technologies for emergency management purposes on the national level [26, 27].

10 Privacy issues

Emergencies, as unique usage contexts of LBS, should by their very nature be enough to alleviate any concerns people could have about privacy and the way these services are utilized. That is, it is generally hard to believe why someone might wish to exploit others during a time of crisis. SES were very honest in their appraisal: “I think there are privacy issues, but it is probably in our best interest to waive those privacy concerns, and it is more about people keeping safe. And to keep people safe you need to be able to tell people they are in the path of danger, and I think that waives those privacy issues.” A similar sentiment was echoed by Expert E, “[m]y personal opinion is that there would be a general expectation that, perhaps, privacy should fall away when there is a threat, particularly when the individual is threatened.”

The position of Vic-Gov on the matter of privacy was quite straightforward: “[i]t is not something that we are going to use to even identify the name of the person necessarily. All we are interested in is that phone number within the emergency area at the time of the event.” For Vic-Gov it has more to do with making the individual more resilient and providing them with information which helps them to make informed decisions. If people can call triple zero in Australia without any expectation of privacy, then the privacy associated with this [LBS] should similarly not be an issue reasoned Vic-Gov. It will be the same organizations which will handle the information, save for the potential for evidence to be used in exceptional circumstances like in a Coroners Court.

In the case of an emergency the essential identification of personal information, such as the mobile phone number, should never be perceived as a threat. This sort of identification might be the only approach for the government to provide locationbased mobile phone emergency services to people, thus the needed safety information to counter or deal with that emergency. The only difference here is that in triple zero calls, an individual volunteers their personal information for safety purposes, while in an emergency warning setting the Government makes a judgment regarding the safety and well-being of their citizens. Vic-Gov again reiterates: “[t]he only aspect that we are interested in is the number. If there was another way we could send a notification to that handset whether to the IMEI [International Mobile Equipment Identity], or something like it, that would do us as well. It is whatever will allow us to get the message to that handset in the most efficient manner.” The Vic-Gov official insisted that this mode of identification for emergency purposes cannot be labeled as collection of personal information and, therefore no privacy concerns should be perceived. She said: “[i]t depends ...on what your definition of collection is. I would prefer to talk about it as being purely identifying active handsets at a point in time because a particular event has occurred and we feel an obligation to notify those handsets that an event has occurred and there is the likelihood that they could be impacted by it. We are not collecting anything. We are identifying the handsets that were there at that point of time and that is the extent of it.” There needs to be a clear distinction between the possibilities of a breach in privacy in government applications like the national warning system, and those pertaining to commercial entities. In a commercial context it is expected that consumers might have grave reservations about LBS, even though carriers have been storing this information since the inception of their networks.

The identification process of individuals cannot trigger any privacy concerns since there is basically no breach to people’s privacy. Vic-Gov further explained that from the emergency management perspective, the Government will not have visibility of even who the individual is; they simply require a mechanism to notify a person that they may be in a potentially dangerous situation. Whether it is the handset ID or a handset phone number is irrelevant. Nonetheless, while the majority of people would most likely overweigh the potential benefits of LBS over any associated concerns, the benefits alone may not stop some individuals from continuing to perceive the use of LBS as an invasion to their privacy even during emergencies. “There are people in the community that would actually find that an invasion of their privacy. Strange as it may seem, there are people like that out there, but I think the majority of people would not be too concerned about receiving a message if it was aimed at helping them to survive a threatening situation” said Expert A.

It is argued that privacy in today’s society has been augmented as an issue of concern due to the political climate that has been progressively characterized by the introduction of unprecedented security measures forcefully attempting to counter all identifiable human- and natural-caused security risks. These measures, such as the CCTV Ring of Steel initiatives in New York and London, and body scanners in many airports around the world were introduced by several governments, including the Australian, as indispensable to the general public’s safety. They are however perceived by many as the beginning of the “total surveillance society” [28, 29]. As a result, new security initiatives such as the national location-based mobile phone emergency system, with the ability of its underlying technologies to locate and track mobile handsets almost everywhere, could easily trigger genuine concerns about privacy. For Expert E, things became a lot greyer once the extent of an emergency becomes drawn out, in a similar way to the issues surrounding Homeland Security in the United States. In this instance, the national security threat has lasted for eight years and is not about to go away any time soon, so privacy is curtailed for the public good. Now ask someone in the general community whether they would like to use such a warning system for a one off event like a Tsunami, versus some kind of terrorist threat and you might end up with some quite different results to what you expect. Expert E summarized his position as follows: “[s]o, would I mind if personally identifying information, which I have not given permission to use, was used by the police to warn me that there was a burglar in the street? Then no, I would not, and I do not think most people would. Would I mind if that information was used for something, which was generally for the good of police operations in Sydney? Yes, I would. I would be much more upset about it.”

Although there was an overwhelming appreciation for LBS utilization as an additional useful emergency tool by the survey respondents, nonetheless several comments heavily expressed the concerns people had about the privacy of the individual in Australia if and when LBS were utilized for emergency management. One respondent wrote: “I am very concerned about the impact this technology would have against civil rights, including lack of privacy.” Numerous individuals were concerned about the misuse or abuse of individual location data: “[m]y concern is what happens if government abuses the use of LBS?” and again, “there must be limits on the access of the services”, and another “I would be concerned with the negative aspects that may arise, specifically if the data is misused.” Now in all of these instances, individuals did point out that they saw an emergency warning system facilitated through their mobile as a good, beneficial, and positive idea that they would support, but individuals also were not devoid of thinking about the “what if” scenarios. One respondent listed his concerns as follows: “1. Loss of control over personal data, including location data. My privacy would be compromised. 2. The potential for my data to be misused by unauthorized individuals. 3. Anxiety relating to other parties knowing my location at any given time and making inaccurate assumptions about me/my family. Safety concerns are also relevant here.” On the latter issue of personal safety, one respondent raised the point of the potential for private information collected about geolocation to be distributed or shared amongst the third parties affiliations of telecommunications carriers. This issue was not just about sharing data but also that the data collected by the carrier could in no way be guaranteed in terms of integrity. The risk of unauthorized access of an individual’s location data would in fact be a breach to personal privacy, said another respondent.

Privacy issues associated with utilizing location-based mobile phone emergency services were perceived as a problem and a real source of concern to the people who had responded to the survey, and who were likely to consider themselves amongst the prospective users of these government emergency services. This is despite people’s critical appraisal of the significant benefits of the services for emergency management purposes (Table 3).

Interestingly enough, one explanation of why people might perceive the use of location-based services as an invasion to their privacy, even during emergency situations, is given by an emergency management expert who believed that individuals who had never been in a serious emergency before would still outweigh his or her privacy over anything else. The expert from SES who works in emergency services has experienced situations where people can be caught up in danger very quickly. While he did not mind receiving an SMS if he was found to be in the area, to assist others out of harm’s way, he commented that a citizen who had probably never seen a lot of these situations, might find himself/herself thinking that access to sensitive location data was an invasion of their privacy.


Table 3 People’s perceptions of privacy: representative responses

Table 3 People’s perceptions of privacy: representative responses ID Representative privacy related comments from the survey response 1 I agree that there are many advantages in using LBS. But, I also note that my location information can easily be misused as well. Tough laws need to be passed prohibiting unauthorized use of personal information (location) without user’s consent/authorization. But, even with the existence of tough laws, the possibility remains for others to use information about one’s location. 2 I like the idea that LBS should be used in case of emergencies. However, with recent events ... that law enforcement here ignored the rights to privacy, the conflict of rights to privacy and the importance of security need to be addressed. 3 I would be concerned about my location information being used without my permission. If part of using LBS included my location information being used by third parties e.g. advertisers, I would not use it at all. 4 I strongly support the use of location-based services for emergency management as I believe that it could really help save lives. At the same time, I hope it is used only for these purposes so that people’s privacy could be retained. 5 I would like the telecommunications firms to use LBS but only for emergency situations ... But, the problem these days is that our privacy is violated by these companies, and would you believe these companies would treat our privacy in full confidence? These days we all supervised by the government, security cameras on the streets, and even sometimes these reach our rooms and houses. Moreover, spy satellites can identify and get us even in our own places. Would you accept that LBS violates our freedom? These technologies are pretty nice but only if we use them right. 6 It is a good idea, but can be very intrusive and annoying if advertising companies get access to it. 7 LBS sounds like a good service for emergencies. However, if a person can be located constantly wherever they are this may cause concerns about being ethical to know where someone is 24/7. While many would use it for good, some may use it to benefit their own behavior. 8 Whilst I can see the benefits of using LBS, I have major concerns over the fact that these mechanisms can be used to track my location. I understand that my mobile phone can easily give a rough location as this is just a by product of the technology of mobile phone towers. I do not want my exact location to be known 24x7. I believe the technology should exist where with 100% certainty the feature can be turned off. 9 Although I have a few concerns of being tracked by the service provider, if it does not impinge on rights of personal freedom too much, I think that it is valuable and definitely beneficial. 10 This is an interesting idea as long as it does not affect people’s privacy or personal life in any way. 11 LBS would be a great help in emergencies as long as it is not used to interfere with the privacy of people using it in daily activities. 12 Something like LBS would be exceptionally useful if the privacy concerns are looked at; then the advantages will outweigh the concerns. 13 For me, I am totally on board with the use of LBS for emergency management. The only concern that I have is the potential abuse of personal information. Organizations must handle personal information properly when no emergency exists.

In addition to the lack of awareness about the seriousness of emergencies, and accordingly the possible benefits of LBS in such situations, people might also be unaware about the fact that providing mobile location information to the government in the case of an emergency is actually part of the service agreement package with all mobile service providers in Australia. Although these agreements only cover citizen-to-government (C2G) types of services, without any explicit mention to the government-to-citizen (G2C) service type. The possibility of provisioning such information is nonetheless consented by each person once he or she enters into a mobile phone service in Australia. Expert A reiterated the importance of this fact and emphasized that emergency warnings were an “information service” supported through service providers and definitely not a breach in privacy. It is a public service announcement and thus it cannot be opt-in or opt-out, “it is there permanently and you just have to accept it as being part of your acceptance of a service provision” (Expert A).

In regard to privacy and location information, one of the key experts who has long worked with location-based technologies argued that the pervasiveness of mobile phones and the abundance of technologies and applications that successfully integrate location information as part of the regular service offerings have all helped to positively change the social attitude towards the use of the personal locational information. As the expert discerned, location information has become a “common topic” amongst the general public that does not raise high sensitivity today as it used to about a decade ago. According to Expert C, much of this has to do with time. At the turn of the millennium when 911 happened there was a lot of talk about new location-based applications like friend finders, child finders, local information, navigation and the reaction of the people was “ ‘Oh, I don’t like the sound of that’. There were the big brother implications. There were the surveillance implications. There were the government control implications ... [but] come forward ten years and the last few years in particular, and the proliferation of personal navigation devices, there is an increasing amount of comfort with things like GPS and knowing where you are.” Indeed the introduction of “free” services like Google Maps (e.g. StreetView and Latitude) has somewhat desensitized users on the one hand, and educated them on the potential application on the other hand. For Expert C, location-based emergency services are a “social service” that he could not believe would be a controversial or contentious issue with the general public, and definitely not an election winning issue.

Expert C stressed the need to acknowledge the technical and physical limitations of the current telecommunications networks and positioning technologies in Australia, as these limitations would ultimately provide a rationale for the public to eliminate any misconceptions about possible infringements in privacy. It is worth quoting him in full: “[f]or a system like an authority to citizen warning service, there is that implication associated with the whole concept that you have to know where everybody is, and that actually ... is a significant technical challenge, practical challenge. A network operator cannot actually know moment to moment where everybody is. The actual determination and specific geographic location in a mobile network context requires resources, requires network signaling resources, it requires device resources if the device is contributing to the location determination. To be continually doing it moment by moment, to know where everything is actually is not a practical proposition. It is not a practical proposition with today’s technology. It is not even a practical proposition with foreseeable technologies because you have got to acknowledge that you are actually going to be consuming resources, and if it is moment by moment at arbitrarily small intervals that you are going to be consuming resources, it is something approaching infinity.” While Expert C raises some very important points to do with the feasibility of tracking citizenry moment by moment, the granularity of tracking still remains a relevant discussion point. Most people would agree that you do not require such fine granularity to understand the location profile of an individual. And as humans are creatures of habit, predictions are usually accurate to an established margin of error.

What is perhaps irrational, beyond the technical feasibility of tracking and monitoring citizenry is why a government would actually wish to track everyone anyway. The Vic-Gov representative dismissed the idea completely: “... the things not going to be on all day long just monitoring who is moving in and out of a network all around the country.” She concurred with Expert C regarding the load such a scenario would have on a carrier’s network. She also believed that a carrier would not want the government probing and monitoring to that extent. Expert E also pointed out that no carrier would want to risk damage to its brand or reputation by using the available locational information potentially for purposes other than emergencies. “The carriers themselves are terribly concerned to make sure that they do not abuse... personally identifying information ... in a way that could result in almost any criticism” (Expert E). Expert B emphasizes that the community will accept that some of their normal rights will be limited or waived in the event of a state of emergency. In this instance, people might not only accept, but expect to be ordered around for their own good and survival.


Fig. 4 Trust, privacy and risk

Nevertheless, there is still a need to clearly reflect the potential invasion of privacy in future government legislative amendments. The Whispir-Rep asserted: “I would like to see a recipient controlled system. That is the most respectful and appropriate way to engage communications. But that might not be practical. If there is a political will to or a desire to communicate to every handset, then all you are talking about is overriding people’s preferences and sending them a message regardless ... There are privacy issues to be dealt with. I am not saying that it is a reason not to provide a service but certainly the legislation needs to be changed to send a message to those people whether or not they have asked for them. My understanding of the legislative framework is that it needs to be changed to this use case.” Finally, as there shall always be concerns from some individuals and associations about infringements in privacy, even if the intended purpose of location-based mobile phone service utilization is for emergency management, the government of Australia can genuinely help to alleviate such concerns through communicating a set of guarantees about the use, collection, and storage of the location information under location-based mobile phone emergency solutions. As the Redcoal-Rep insisted, a large part of it had to do with how the government communicates the need for such services in case of emergencies. Expert D puts it all in perspective by saying that there are always going to be privacy issues concerning the general public. “You have always got to have a sector of the community who will be concerned about whether that information is somehow leaked out or made available or used for other purposes. So, the community-related determinant matters between stakeholders would have to be assured that the collection of location [information] would only be for the specific purpose of warning you of a quite threatening emergency. And even in that case, any information collected by the agencies about your current location would then, somehow, be de-identified if the information needs to be stored.” A summary of trust, privacy and risk-related matters between stakeholders can be found in Fig. 4. It should be noted that the union between two stakeholders indicates the dominant matter at hand. For example, the dominant theme found in the analysis between “government” and “customers” is “Trust”.

11 Potential barriers in the national utilization of location-based services for emergency management

11.1 Lack of national coordination

Had it not been for interstate disagreements, Australia would have already had a realized national location-based mobile phone warning system [30], some believe even as far back as 2006. Expert B discusses the problem as a lack of national coordination. A possible reason for this lack of coordination could be the lack of viable attractive business propositions of location-based mobile phone solutions through which emergency services can be successfully utilized on the national level in Australia. Expert B blamed the professionals involved who failed to come up with viable proposals for a national emergency warning system, and not due to a lack of political will. “I think it is partly that emergency experts need to get together with the technology computer experts and work out what to do because I cannot imagine the politicians are going to say: ‘No, we do not want a reliable integrated emergency warning system’. I think the problem is politicians will naturally react at short term. That is normal for them. So, you have to know how to cope with that when you are proposing something to them.” However, the lack of an inclusive national coordination to emergency management between the different States and Territories of Australia can possibly still be manifested in the decision of the government of Western Australia to keep its StateAlert emergency system instead of adopting the recently deployed national emergency warning system (NEWS). Under the COAG agreement, each state or territory retains full autonomy about the warning system it chooses to implement [31]. This provides an impetus for the future need of an extensive collaboration between the government of Western Australia and other governments of Australia to resolve certain issues related to systems integration, regulations and legislative jurisdictions.

11.2 Lack of a common approach for emergency warning in Australia

Another potential barrier in the plight towards the realization of a national location based mobile phone emergency solution in Australia is the lack of a common approach for the warning notification between different emergency organizations in the same State or Territory. This is despite the fact that comparable government emergency organizations from different states or territories in Australia have developed equivalent warning notification arrangements to the general public in the case of a specific emergency event [32]. This issue has also been noted by Expert B in the perceived need to get the relevant emergency authorities to agree on a common approach for emergency alerts before even talking technology. “[I]f you magically built a system to send everybody a message tomorrow, we still would not be able to send them messages because we do not have a coordinated decision-making process as to what message you should send.” This just further demonstrates that it is not merely a technology problem.

11.3 Financial issues

Some of the financial implications of utilizing location-based mobile phone services within the national emergency warning system were identified by expert interviewees and survey respondents alike. Expert A said that the cost of such a system was a “huge impediment” to progress. The two options to overcome the cost barrier included waiting until things got cheaper to build, or waiting until the pressure from the public was so great that cost no longer was a factor because it was overtaken by need. “I think lots of people will have considered it but they probably were reluctant on the cost of it and how often it will be used”, commented Expert D. If we ponder that an early warning system of this nature will rarely be utilized yet has to be available 24/7, it is a hard sell. Indeed, several comments from the survey respondents actually raised people’s concern about the financial burden of these services once they are utilized. Some respondents were concerned that the service would be fee/tariff-based and that only those who could afford it could opt-in which would raise significant equity issues. “As long as there is no extra cost to users, it is alright”, noted one individual. And another said categorically, “[i]t should be cheap or free.” Nonetheless, all interviewees basically agreed that the responsibility lay with the federal, state and territory governments in financing location-based mobile phone emergency solutions under the national emergency warning system. Vic-Gov said, “[e]very Australian citizen has the right to be advised if they are likely to be life threatened ... it probably rests at both a Commonwealth and a Jurisdiction level, the funding of such a solution.” A complementary remark by a citizen was that the additional cost should be borne/ supplied by government and that part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) should be allotted to the scheme.

One of the interviewees suggested that part of the financial burden could be carried by the telecommunications carriers and mobile service providers in Australia as a condition of their operating license. Expert B pondered, “I think it has to be directly government funded and partly industry funded. So, for example, in the case of television and radio broadcasting, the radio and television broadcasters pay the cost themselves already. They do not charge the government a fee when they issue an emergency broadcast. It is a condition of their license and I think similarly with telephones you would do the same thing.” However, the Victorian Government official who was interviewed entirely dismissed the idea of the participation of the private sector in financing such systems: “[w]hen you dial triple zero you do not get an ad while on hold waiting a call taker. It has never been our intention that a system like this would be ever financed through any kind of advertising or support or a sponsorship.”

In all cases, the cost of funding these systems must be clearly justified to the public. Expert A reflected, “[i]t costs a lot of money to put these things into process and a government has to justify to the people and also to the opposition why that money has to be expended. And with the economic situation at the moment I think they are under more pressure to cut costs and when they look at the impact of a disaster it is only when we get impacts like the Black Saturday disaster, where a lot of people died in very small communities in our heartland, that we start to take notice.” Finally, the cost factor should never stand as a barrier in the face of realizing locationbased warning systems in Australia, although realistically there would be some kind of return on investment (ROI) figure that would need to be calculated somewhere. The Vic-Gov representative was not naïve about this, stating that it would potentially depend on a cost per message figure. But she also said, “[it] would break my heart that somebody might hover over that “cent button” thinking there is enough money in the budget to save those lives.”

11.4 Australia’s small emergency management budgets prevent the use of new technologies such as location-based services

Australia does not invest much in technology to counter the effects of natural events compared to the country’s investments on counter-terrorism technologies and programs. This is despite the fact that terrorism attacks are very rare in Australia [33]. Australia’s Federal Government cumulative investments on counter-terrorism programs, including public campaigns, has exceeded Aus$10 billion since the September 11, 2001 attacks, compared to only Aus$500 million in managing the potential consequences of a large-scale natural disaster occurring in Australia [33]. Expert A argued that such small budgets have prevented Australia from exploiting or investing heavily in technology, including location-based technologies, specifically in countering natural emergency events. As he argued, the main reason for keeping these budgets small is Australia’s great reliance on voluntary manpower during these types of emergencies. Expert A said: “... although we follow best practice [in emergency management] ... the use of technology has been a little bit overlooked or not been as embraced as it could have been.” Expert A points to the fact that Australia has a great reliance upon volunteerism. So to an extent we are already dealing with emergency services that are heavily restricted by budget constraints. To start discussing the potential for a technology-based system that would require a significant outlay to begin with and then to operate and maintain is probably being exorbitant.

11.5 Population distribution in Australia prevent effective mobile location-based emergency service

The use of location-based mobile phone services implies the government’s commitment and need to adequately reach and effectively target all mobile handsets within a defined emergency area of all carriers in Australia [27]. However, covering all of Australia with functioning mobile phone services would require massive investment in networking and underlying infrastructure, something that is not economically viable or practically feasible today or even in the near future, despite the notion of universal service obligation (USO) being so pronounced in Australia. For one respondent the vision of Australian-wide coverage was good but the reality was that the reception of signals was unreliable in some non-urban locales, and that things would remain the same until some major spending occurred. Expert A believed that this type of technology worked well in cities but for those who lived in smaller regional and rural communities the technology was not always reliable. He said, there was the potential for individuals to miss out on timely and valuable data. Expert A identified an issue of equity, when some members in the community would receive a timely message, and others would not. For looming emergencies that could be predicted 24–48 hours prior to enactment, timeliness was not such a great issue, but for those that needed more imminent warning, messaging to those greatest at risk was a problem. “We have a responsibility to all the communities and we should provide that equally. So, I think focusing on people that live in the urban areas because there are more of them is not actually doing what is best for the communities as a whole. And we should not go that way because we then start separating rural and urban. It becomes an equity issue as well and everyone is equally threatened by hazards in a place where hazards exist” (Expert A). To date the focus has been on providing communication services to Australia’s coastal strip but there is now a need to offer all Australians the same access to services.

11.6 Technology constraints and limitations

As one of its core obligations toward people, the Australian Government needs to seek a technology that is accessible by all mobile handsets in the case of an emergency. Constraints may be forced on location-based mobile phone emergency solutions if no such technology exists. The Redcoal-Rep advised: “[w]hatever service is developed, it has to be accessible by everyone. There is no point in having an emergency alert system that sends out emails when not everyone has an email address.” Unfortunately, none of the currently available technologies can fulfill the prime requirement of reaching every handset in the event of an emergency. In addition, the very few technologies that are accessible by most handsets working today do not represent an attractive solution to the Australian Government due to their coarse coverage definition and inaccuracies. These issues were clearly reflected in the comments of the official from the Victorian Government who specified the State’s thorough but unsuccessful efforts researching a technology that can be effectively utilized in location-based emergency systems on mobile handsets. The main issue is the existence of a mix of mobile technologies in Australia, and that 3G technology is not as straightforward as 2G. “I am not quite sure whether anything might even pop its head up, still on the 3G network that looks something like cell broadcast, but we will still have issues with the very large reach cells that are in more regional and remote locations. I do not have a good answer yet on how we would narrow that down when using something like cell broadcast. Where these things have been deployed elsewhere in the world, they are all based on cell broadcast. It is still a bit unknown even how well received or accepted they are” (Vic-Gov). So the geo-demographics of a given country have a great deal of impact on the success of location-based emergency solutions. A summary of the barriers that held back the Australian government’s introduction of the national emergency warning system are depicted in Fig. 5, juxtaposed against the mechanisms that supported their ultimate deployment.

Fig. 5 Toward the successful deployment of a National Emergency Warning System

12 Recommendations and road ahead

12.1 Towards a solution that evolves

Viable location-based emergency solutions should be capable of evolving over time by adapting to new technologies while not entirely relying on one specific technology. Expert C said it was imperative to look for a scalable and evolvable technical solution that would cater needs well into the future, at least ten years. For example, a focus on using SMS as a key or only warning channel would be concerning as it is an old technology. Expert C explained further, that while SMS had a high penetration, it was in the words of Peter Drucker: The future that has already happened. SMS is a switch circuit, public switch telephone network technology, and not a broadband internet technology. Expert C predicted the disappearance of SMS in the future. “If you look at LTE [Long Term Evolution] which is the next generation of 3G or 4G networks from the standards, they do not even support circuit service. There is no SMS in LTE. There is no SMS in WiMAX. There is certainly no SMS in DSL [Digital Subscriber Line] or cable connectivity. And yet, they are all telecommunications and network channels by which, if you are making a plan to have a national system for alerting people about emergency situations, they are the kinds of technologies that you should actually have at the forefront of your mind, to know how you are going to address that” (Expert C). In summary Expert C warned against going down a “blind alley” or “dead end” with SMS, and called any investment into it as “sunk capital.”

Other concerns about a SMS solution have also been voiced by other interviewees, specifically the scalability of its underlying technologies for mass public warning purposes. This concern was, particularly, expressed in response to recent trials in Australia in which several State governments used SMS to disseminate safety information to the people. Expert B was clear that neither the fixed landline solution nor the SMS solution was workable or would scale. Expert D supported this opinion, “[t]hey need a system that is definitely scalable from sending ten messages a minute to 100,000 messages in seconds or whatever. The scalability is a major issue.” In addition to SMS, concerns about cell broadcasting technologies have also been expressed since these technologies do not represent an attractive option for emergency management purposes. Expert B admitted to liking cell broadcast technology in mobile phones but added that it was not well supported by carrier or handset manufacturers. Expert D acknowledged that while cell broadcast was a feature that some ninety percent of mobile phones had set to default, that some handsets would have it turned off, leading to major issues after an emergency. One advantage of SMS over cell broadcast is that SMS was usually carrier independent, but from a performance point of view it is quite smart to get the cell tower to broadcast a message to all mobile phones in range (Expert D). However, most people are not familiar with cell broadcast or have not knowingly used it before, so “[f]rom a public acceptance point of view there would need to be some form of public awareness campaign because you do not just simply want someone right now to simply receive all these cell broadcasts and not knowing where they are from and what they all really mean” (Expert D).

Similar concerns about the cell broadcasting technology have also been shared by the Victorian Government official. She stated, “we have pretty much discounted it as the means by which we would move forward, because it is too coarse and it is too broad in its reach. And we are very specific, as good emergency management practices would say that you only notify the individuals that are within the area of the likely impact.” In Australia, going down the path of cell broadcasting for emergency warnings would probably mean that people who should not be contacted for a given warning are, due to the large cell size. As a result, you might have people who are completely disconnected to a warning, preparing as if they would be impacted, only to find the message is entirely irrelevant to them. This could have the effect of desensitizing the individuals from future warning alerts, like the boy who cried wolf. Such a message, depending on the directions given by the authorities, bring people closer together to an epicenter of a problem, rather than keeping people who are not connected with the emergency out of the affected zone. As an example, the Vic-Gov official spoke of a certain cell within Australia that had up to 18 kilometers of reach. She then went on to provide a scenario of an emergency that only needed to notify persons within a one kilometer radius from where the centroid of the cell was located. It quickly became apparent in this scenario that by using cell broadcast, there would have been “over-notifications” and the target segment of persons affected “over saturated.” Who knows what the effects of advising people 17 kilometers away from the epicenter of the problem would be, beyond the obvious issue that people would begin to feel that warnings were just irrelevant or unreliable to them in the future.

While there is a need to build a solution that evolves over time, by embracing newer technologies, a careful consideration should nonetheless be given to enable backward compatibility, allowing the solution to reach every handset still in service, including legacy devices. While evolvability is a key, as Expert A put it, “technology is always changing.” What is important is that the chosen technology is “equitable to everyone ... So, the service has to be at the lowest common denominator rather than the highest. It has got to be able to go out to the person who has the oldest machine rather than the latest.” One must not be at a disadvantage because of the device they use, and people with smart phones should not be in an exclusive club any more deserved of receiving warning messages than anyone else.

12.2 Creating a resilient solution

There is a need to build a solution that can withstand the severe effects of extreme events and be resilient enough to be ‘self-healing’ if disrupted for any reason. Expert D considered technical issues which would need to be resolved if mobile services were used near hazards like fires. Fires might, for instance, affect the actual channels of communication, and as a result reduce the ability to get messages out to the people who need them most. According to Expert D, these issues have yet to be resolved, despite their seeming simplicity. There is also the fundamental problem of extreme conditions that would render cell towers inoperable which are all part of the deployment issues that need to be considered when rolling out a national emergency service based on mobiles. “Even in a flood or a cyclone, if all your cell towers get blown over or lose power then your messages going out to location-based devices are going to be affected” (Expert D). Carriers in Australia, in cooperation with government authorities, have demonstrated that networks can be quite resilient even under the worst conditions (e.g. Cyclone Larry) and are particularly prepared to get business customers back up and running after a disaster within 24 hours wherever possible. One survey respondent said that “fail-safe’ technological systems need to be introduced as far as that is possible ...” So, from a deployment point of view the chosen system needs allow for the rapid set up of mobile phone towers to get the message out to people.

12.3 Avoid the ad-hoc system design approach

There is a need to avoid the ad-hoc uncoordinated approach in designing location based emergency solutions. Expert B was clear that if the government, the emergency agencies and the IT professional did not design the national warning system properly, that “lives [would] be lost and they [would] be held legally and criminally liable as a result.” Expert B was worried by this haphazard approach, examples of which emerged from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

12.4 Communicating with the public using mobile platforms

The content of the location-based warning message has to be crafted with great care, lest individuals receiving the message misinterpret warnings and directions. It cannot be complex. Expert A spent some time discussing the issues around mobile communications from the Government. He said the information sent out to the public had to be accurate and well intended, effective, correct at the time of delivery and from the very beginning well thought out and structured. There need to be clear guidelines that in the event of a problem in communications or interpretation that the next time a message is sent out the authorities get it right, so that the public do not become complacent or lose faith in the medium. The public need to understand that every personalized message they receive is urgent and is not just being sent out as a matter of course. It must not be treated as just another piece of junk mail. It has to be both professional and appropriate.

In addition, the dissemination of location-based mobile phone warning notification should adhere to well-defined protocols to assure the correctness of the message content and its intended destination. Misinformation or even disinformation would just add to the woes of an emergency response. Expert A insisted that there must be strict protocols for the dissemination of information and they must be adhered to, just like the processes that are presently in place with communicating emergencies to inform the media who then in turn inform the general public through traditional channels. “Currently, we have processes in place for informing the media, and it goes through a series of checks, certain people are only allowed to inform the media of things. They have special training in media management, they provide media releases, they are written in a certain way, they are vetted and then it goes out and it is put out” (Expert A). However, if we liken the correspondence on mobile phones to that more attuned to email communications, rather than television or radio, we begin to see the risks more clearly. “When it is instantaneous, you tap something on a computer screen and it is gone. You cannot retract it. So, the protocols have to be in place to ensure that only the right information goes out” (Expert A).

Moreover, the content of the message must be carefully chosen to match the exact intended purpose of the warning. And this, all within the context of a warning which needs to be sent out not hurriedly but in a timely fashion. A warning that does not arrive on time to avert disaster, is not a warning at all. And yet, despite the urgency “[t]here needs to be some hard thought and consideration to the content of the message depending on what the event is” (Vic-Gov). Some events will be easier to determine content for than others while other events might require multiple messages to be sent in succession as the nature of the disaster unfolds hour by hour. In the latter instance a “close-out message” would be advisable as you do not wish to have people waiting in anticipation and with some level of anxiety over next steps. Vic-Gov provided the following example of a chemical spill situation. “[T]he initial message maybe to inform the people who have been potentially affected by that chemical spill to go indoors, shut their door, turn off their air-conditioning. So, we have given them the message to keep them safe, depending on how long the impact of that chemical spill remains for. We need to also keep those people updated, I believe, and that might be an hour later, two hours later. We certainly also need to provide those people with a close-out message to tell them that it is now safe to open their door and open their windows” (Vic-Gov).

But, in addition to the content of the warning message the way the message is conveyed, being in text or voice, should be carefully considered, taking into account the timing of the emergency event. Vic-Gov demonstrated their advanced understanding on the topic when they pondered on the time-of-day issue. “If the event is occurring at night particularly, or in the very early hours of the morning a text message may not wake somebody up. And we are also pretty certain that there is a technology which will allow us to over the air, kind of, send an update to particular handsets before the messages got sent, and that could be an over the air distinctive type of siren, or it could be something more like a ringing of the phone and then deliver a text message.” It was also noted that unified messaging would be at play. A message sent between midnight and 4.30 a.m. would be in the form of a voice message, but otherwise text-based.

Finally, with the right technological advances the message designers should consider at some stage the rich ethnic diversity of Australia and the need to provide an option for the message recipient to choose the language of the location-based mobile phone warning message like most other electronic government services currently available to the public in Australia today. These issues are already within the interest of the Australian Government. While Vic-Gov was only considering the message content to be in English, they were open to the idea of—way down the track—to send the message in a translated form. Vic-Gov said this would be the only case in point for an add-on opt-in channel feature.

12.5 Trialing location-based emergency systems

Conducting trials and exercises on the chosen location-based mobile phone warning system before the national implementation is a point that has been explicitly expressed by SES representatives, who are on the frontline of emergencies almost on a daily basis. Trials and exercises should, however be dealt with great care so as not to cause any adverse outcomes on the public (e.g. panic or false alarms). The SES could not underscore this enough: “[y]ou have got to practice this sort of stuff and you have got to be very careful of the wolf business ...”

12.6 Use the location-based warning system for major events only

The location-based mobile phone warning system should only be used in case of a large-scale emergency or imminent disaster. As the SES pointed out: “[a]m I going to go and wake up a million people at 2 am in the morning to tell them there is a thunder storm coming through?” Expert A agreed with SES when he said: “[i]t cannot be something that is used on a daily basis for minor things, because we will end up causing grief to ourselves. It should only be used in situations that are deemed, where it is the only means of getting information out quickly.” For Expert A, other existing channels of communication could be used in situations where information did not have to go out immediately, such as in news reports on television and radio, etc. What you do not want is a system in place that people actually complain about as opposed to appreciate.

An optimum level of notifications needs to be achieved, as the frequency of receiving a notification may be a determining factor of the system’s usefulness by the general public. This issue has been recorded before in other emergency warning systems, as the representative of the State Emergency Services explained in more detail. “They [the Government] put these big signs on top of big sticks and they test them every day. And so, if the dam goes over the siren goes and after a couple of years the people got so sick of the thing going off. They go up and cut the wires. They did not want to know and it was becoming painful. That is a reality. That is another part of it, people’s perception. Do I want to be warned? People do not want to know about disasters, until they go wrong, and this is precisely what happened in Victoria” (SES). The Whispir-Rep reiterated the comments of the SES: “[t]he introduction of these technologies should be managed carefully so as not to lose face with the public.” The Whispir-Rep recounted that shortly after the Victorian Bushfires, every person in Victoria and Tasmania were sent messages by their carrier which “broke all the rules in terms of communication management.” Such messages actually have the propensity to harm mobile government communications. By their very nature they are disregarded by people because they are not real: “[s]o, the whole idea of this is the context of the boy who cried wolf too many times. What we want to see is fewer communications sent but those communications sent are targeted, well structured communications that people would be anticipating” (Whispir-Rep).

12.7 Acknowledge the limitations of location-based services

Just like any solution on the market, location-based mobile phone emergency solutions also have their limitations that need to be acknowledged by all parties from the outset. The first reality is that no matter how hard the government tries, they are never going to get 100 per cent coverage because people will have their phones turned off. “So, it is really important to understand the operational context in terms of what you are trying to achieve and what is a realistic outcome” (Whispir-Rep). At a more practical level, the SES emphasize the limitations of human comprehension, despite the brevity of the message, content can be misinterpreted. “Based on work we have done we know factoring in evacuations you need to provide time for message assimilation. I think when you are looking at a telephony-based warning system or an SMS one, some of the limitations is that you can only have a very small message. It is more about how to get somebody’s attention to then go and do something else, to go and get more information” (SES). The short message sent to the mobile phone can be likened to a siren. If nothing else, the siren gets your attention, so that you can listen to the radio, turn on the television, or pay closer attention to the directions given by in-person emergency services staff in the vicinity of the emergency. It is certainly not straightforward, and at times utterly complex when you are trying to tell people what to do or not to do based on their given circumstances. According to the SES there would be a specific notification sequence so that evacuation routes are not congested, causing even greater problems in surrounding areas. This would be extremely difficult to implement using a SMS system.

In addition, some extreme events could impose a challenge that cannot be met or is basically beyond the capabilities of LBS solutions due to the speed or high level of unpredictability of these events. This fact would require careful consideration from the government to plan for only a narrow selection of emergency event types that can be effectively managed under location-based mobile phone emergency solutions. Therefore, an early assessment of location-based mobile phone capabilities for Australia’s specific requirements and characteristics is highly necessary before the implementation of the services. For this reason, the system should be designed to deliver what is actually possible within the current capabilities of the extant technologies of location-based services. Plainly, as spoken by Expert B, “[w]e should avoid trying to build more than is technically possible at the moment, and we should limit the expectations of the community, because the information we can give via the warning system is going to be limited in its accuracy and timeliness. We have to limit the expectations people will get. They are not going to get much information. They are not going to get very precise information in most cases.”

12.8 Build a wide partnership and share responsibility of location-based emergency systems with non-government organizations

Toward a comprehensive national approach for location-based mobile phone emergency systems, there is a need to involve not only all levels of government in Australia but also to effectively acquire the participation of every voluntary and nongovernment organization (NGO) in Australia that has a close relation, one way or another, to emergencies. For Expert A, there needs to be an inclusive participation from all areas of government. Government agencies are ultimately responsible for communities. And if a Government notifies people to “evacuate”, there needs to be some explanation of the best method of evacuation. Not everyone who receives a message to evacuate is physically mobile. And what you do not want is a state of panic and to be flooded with calls coming back questioning directions. Some members of the community will need assistance in acting on directions. Expert A suggests that early warning systems are actually a “partnership between the system being put in place and the types of activities required for those notifications to be planned for and more effectively carried out. You may end up having to use local service groups, volunteer organizations to assist in doing some of the actions that are required, for example, the evacuation or the management or the leading of people to safe areas.” It will most certainly be a partnership between government agencies, local community groups and welfare and support groups that are called upon in normal emergency management practices. These are the groups that will especially have to embrace location-based mobile phone emergency notifications as they continue to provide their services on a voluntary basis. Expert D also identified a consultative stakeholder group that was as wide a group as possible to ensure acceptance. Expert D reflected, “I think that it is very critical that you incorporate as much consultation with a wide group as possible, because it is relatively fragmented in terms of the different federal, state and local levels, all have their own sort of emergency management groups and strategies, and it is always quite important that everyone be involved in any type of new system being developed or evolving. Otherwise, your acceptance level will be very low. If you do not do that, then you will find people saying: ‘Well, we were not involved in that consultation so we are not going to accept whatever the outcome is of that consultation’ ” (Expert D).

12.9 Educate the people of Australia about emergencies and emergency solutions

All levels of government in Australia need to start preparing the public on how to cope and how to deal with the potential threats of human and man-made emergencies and disasters, towards creating resilient communities that are capable of withstanding these extreme events until further professional assistance from different government emergency organizations arrives. Building resilient communities would greatly assist the objectives of the national emergency warning system in Australia including the future LBS component of the system, where these systems could truly be utilized as initial safety information channels. The SES contend that psychology should play a vital role independent of the technology used. They provide a plausible scenario that hits home the importance of having a community ready. “[Imagine] you have got people standing up there at the doors at Bondi [a well-known beach in Sydney] and the word says ‘There has been a 9.7 earthquake, just north of New Zealand and you have got exactly 45 minutes, you have got 2.5 meters of water coming up Sydney Harbour.’ You know what is going to happen? Absolute panic. All of the plans we have in place of orderly evacuation routes, of you go here, you go there, it is not going to happen.”

How best to avoid such panic is to work on building resilient communities. In a severe event, the SES or other emergency services personnel will probably not be able to reach individuals given the amount of infrastructure that has been damaged. During this time, individuals, families, business owners, need to work together to overcome hardship. This has very little to do with location-based services per se and more to do with social networking. In fact, what might eventuate is that support groups begin to post messages online to help people share vital information and provide feedback to government authorities of the situation on the ground, if a disaster is to continue for some time. While the SES acknowledged there might be some problem with the cultural mix in Australia, education was a key to breaking the barriers when it came to people in the community helping one another. “What we need to be moving to is to that preparedness mitigating mindset, where we are educating our children and our communities how to prepare for a natural disaster. You have got to take it back to the beginning. The preventive side of things. You have got to stop people being in situations and then of course if they are going to be in those situations prepare them for what needs to be done” (SES).

Part of this public preparation should be spent towards educating the people on what to do when they receive the location-based warning message on their mobile handsets. The Whispir-Rep agreed with SES that the challenges of introducing such a warning system were not going to be technical, as so much as cultural and how best to educate people on how to respond to the messages they are receiving. “So, it [location based mobile emergency warning system] needs to be going hand-inhand with an education program and people need to be made aware of that they may from time to time receive those messages. So, I think those hurdles need to be addressed as part of the solution.” While the preparation could target the vast majority of people in Australia, there will be still some people that need the help of the local government service groups or volunteer organizations. The Whispir-Rep gives two scenarios—the aged person who is a little deaf and is sent a tsunami alert on their mobile phone, and the bus loaded with Japanese tourists. “What are those two communities of people going to do in those circumstances and how do you manage the fall out of just broadcasting these types of communications?”

Fortunately, educating the public is a concern that is already on the agenda of the Australian Government. Vic-Gov confirmed that they had always planned to deploy this type of technology with a substantial education campaign. “It is not simply education to the public, it is education within the various emergency service agencies. It is education through all layers of other interested parties as well” (Vic-Gov). These would include, among others, principals or authority figures of schools who have hundreds of children under their care on a daily basis. Education would be necessary wherever there was a large concentrated gathering of people. Vic-Gov followed up by providing the following examples: major places of interest, building managers, shopping centre managers but added that she was unsure whether she had yet considered all the layers and levels that would go into a substantial education campaign.

12.10 Real collaboration between the telecommunications carriers mobile and service providers

Realizing location-based mobile phone emergency services on the national level in Australia requires the effective collaboration between all the telecommunications carriers of Australia, not just the incumbent operator. The Redcoal-Rep imagined a better collaboration between the major carriers was needed, and noted that this relationship would be significant if the service was to be successful. Indeed there is a need not just for carriers and service providers to better collaborate but for the business side to be more in tune with the government mandate(s). In the context of emergency services, one cannot solely talk about an innovative business model but about the jointly developed government and business model that is required to get such a service off the ground.

12.11 A solution the telecommunications carriers can also gain from

The participation of the mobile telecommunications carriers in Australia is central in location-based emergency systems. The Whispir-Rep stated categorically, “[n]othing is going to happen without the support of the carriers.” This was also expressed by the Victorian Government official: “[t]o collect the data, we need the cooperation of the carriers.” The carriers are able to provide a fundamental piece of the puzzle in that they know the make-up of their infrastructure better than anyone else, and they can provide details of their assets, their sites, their cells and even their customers, if required. Vic-Gov noted the need for this data would be to purely know to whom they should send out the message to the active handsets that have been identified.

There has been some contention over whether or not a carrier should charge for such a service during an emergency to the general public but the overwhelming consensus in Australia’s case, is that the cost should be borne by the government. This does not mean that the carrier does not receive any revenue. On the contrary, by the mere fact they are sending a message to a handset, the revenue must go back to them (Vic-Gov). Accordingly, utilizing the carrier networks to provide location based mobile phone emergency services strongly imposes the cost factor as one of the possible determinants of their participation. The Whispir-Rep is clear that the government must engage the carriers with respect to emergency service messaging of this nature, as such a system would place a heavy load on the infrastructure of any mobile network provider. In addition, more infrastructure would be required to enable the government the capability to speak to everyone’s mobile handset in a given area. Unless carriers receive some type of subsidy or have an interest in the solution or outcome, they would be unlikely to make such a significant outlay for little in return.

13 Conclusion

This paper presented the results of a qualitative study into the issues surrounding the national utilization of location-based mobile phone emergency services in Australia, as articulated by the stakeholders of the services. The results of the analysis showed Australia’s need for the application of location-based mobile phone services within the country’s national emergency management arrangements, and the need to regulate and control the services under a well-defined legal framework. Several disagreements between stakeholders were recorded in the analysis over some of the issues pertaining to the utilization of the location-based mobile phone service within the national emergency warning system, specifically in relation to some of the design aspects of the location-based emergency system, the privacy of location information under the system implementation, and the administrative structure needed to deploy the services. Other issues of importance were also revealed. These included the government and telecommunications carrier potential liabilities under the utilization of the national location-based mobile phone emergency system, the expected responsibilities and roles of the government and other stakeholders in the utilization, and some of the social implications of the location-based government emergency services, such as people’s trust in the services and in the government, and the risks perceived as associated by utilizing the services. Potential barriers to the national utilization of the services and recommendations toward setting realistic objectives for the services in Australia are also presented. What is clear from the study is that future mobile government applications will require a greater interplay between stakeholders, including telecommunications carriers and supporting value chain members and the general public who are the ultimate end users of such a system. Such personalized communications between government entities and citizens has begun to occur on electronic commerce systems related to taxation and social security but the introduction of personalized communications based on the location of a mobile device is heralding in a new breed of adaptive solutions that will revolutionize the manner in which people respond to their context.


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Anas Aloudat is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information Systems and Technology, at the Faculty of Informatics, at the University of Wollongong. His thesis is investigating the utilization of nationwide location-based services for emergency management within Australia from social and behavioral perspectives. Mr. Aloudat holds a Master of Science in Computing from the University of Technology, Sydney (’03), and a Bachelor of Science in Computing from the Faculty of Science at Mu’tah University in Karak, Jordan (’93). He is presently a sessional lecturer/tutor and research assistant at the University of Wollongong. He is a member of the Civil Emergency Alert Services Association (’07), a member of the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Association (’09), a member of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (’09) and has been a member of the Research Network for a Secure Australia since 2006.

Katina Michael (MIEE’04, SMIEEE’06) holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) from the Faculty of Informatics at the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia (’03); a Master of Transnational Crime Prevention from the Faculty of Law at the University of Wollongong (’09) and a Bachelor of Information Technology from the School of Mathematical and Computing Science, NSW, Australia at the University of Technology, Sydney (’96). She is presently an Associate Professor at the University of Wollongong in the School of Information Systems and Technology (’02–‘10) in Australia, and has previously been employed as a Senior Business and Network Planner at Nortel Networks (’96–‘01). She has also worked as a Systems Analyst at Andersen Consulting and OTIS Elevator Company. Michael has published several edited books, but more recently co-authored a 500 page reference volume: Innovative Automatic Identification and Location Based Services: from Bar Codes to Chip Implants (Hershey, PA: IGI, 2009). She has published over 90 peer reviewed papers including in Proceedings of the IEEE, IBM Journal of Research and Development, and Computer Communications. Michael researches predominantly in the area of emerging technologies, and has secondary interests in technologies used for national security and their corresponding social implications. In 2007, Michael was a recipient of a substantial Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP0881191 entitled: “Toward the Regulation of the Location-Based Services Industry: Influencing Australian Government Telecommunications Policy


The authors dedicate this paper to the 173 people who lost their lives in the Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires in Australia on February 7, 2009.


The authors wish to acknowledge the substantial funding support of the Australian Research Council—Discovery Grant DP0881191 entitled “Toward the Regulation of the Location-Based Services Industry: Influencing Australian Government Telecommunications Policy.”


Location-based services, Emergency management, Mobile government, Regulation 


  • COAG: Council of Australian Governments
  • EMA: Emergency Management Australia
  • ESO: Emergency Service Organizations
  • GPS: Global Positioning System
  • GST: Goods and Services Tax
  • IPND: Integrated Public Number Database
  • IN: Intelligent Networks
  • IMEI: International Mobile Equipment Identity
  • LBS: Location-Based Services
  • LTE: Long Term Evolution
  • NEWS: National Emergency Warning System
  • NGO: Non-government organization
  • R&D: Research and Development
  • RFI: Request for Information
  • ROI: Return on Investment
  • SES: State Emergency Service
  • SMS: Short Messaging Service
  • USO: Universal Service Obligation
  • VBRC: Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission
  • WiMAX: Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access

Citation: Anas Aloduat, Katina Michael, Toward the regulation of ubiquitous mobile government: a case study on location-based emergency services in Australia

The Social, Cultural, Religious and Ethical Implications of Automatic Identification

Katina Michael, School of Information Technology & Computer Science, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia 2500,

M.G. Michael, American Academy of Religion, PO Box U184, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia 2500,

Full Citation: Katina Michael, M.G. Michael, 2004, The Social, Cultural, Religious and Ethical Implications of Automatic Identification, Seventh International Conference on Electronic Commerce Research (ICER-7), University of Texas, Dallas, Texas, USA, June 10-13. Sponsored by ATSMA, IFIP Working Group 7.3, INFORMS Information Society.


The number of automatic identification (auto-ID) technologies being utilized in eBusiness applications is growing rapidly. With an increasing trend toward miniaturization and wireless capabilities, auto-ID technologies are becoming more and more pervasive. The pace at which new product innovations are being introduced far outweighs the ability for citizens to absorb what these changes actually mean, and what their likely impact will be upon future generations. This paper attempts to cover a broad spectrum of issues ranging from the social, cultural, religious and ethical implications of auto-ID with an emphasis on human transponder implants. Previous work is brought together and presented in a way that offers a holistic view of the current state of proceedings, granting an up-to-date bibliography on the topic. The concluding point of this paper is that the long-term side effects of new auto-ID technologies should be considered at the outset and not after it has enjoyed widespread diffusion.

1.  Introduction

Automatic identification is the process of identifying a living or nonliving object without direct human intervention. Before auto-ID only manual identification techniques existed, such as tattoos [[i]] and fingerprints, which did not allow for the automatic capture of data (see exhibit 1.1). Auto-ID becomes an e-business application enabler when authorization or verification is required before a transaction can take place. Many researchers credit the vision of a cashless society to the capabilities of auto-ID. Since the 1960s automatic identification has proliferated especially for mass-market applications such as electronic banking and citizen ID. Together with increases in computer processing power, storage equipment and networking capabilities, miniaturization and mobility have heightened the significance of auto-ID to e-business, especially mobile commerce. Citizens are now carrying multiple devices with multiple IDs, including ATM cards, credit cards, private and public health insurance cards, retail loyalty cards, school student cards, library cards, gym cards, licenses to drive automobiles, passports to travel by air and ship, voting cards etc. More sophisticated auto-ID devices like smart card and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders that house unique lifetime identifiers (ULI) or biometric templates are increasingly being considered for business-to-consumer (B2C) and government-to-citizen (G2C) transactions. For example, the United States (US) is enforcing the use of biometrics on passports due to the increasing threats of terrorism, and Britain has openly announced plans to begin implanting illegal immigrants with RFID transponders. Internationally, countries are also taking measures to decrease the multi-million dollar costs of fraudulent claims made to social security by updating their citizen identification systems.

Exhibit 1.1 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Manual versus Automatic Identification Techniques

Exhibit 1.1     Manual versus Automatic Identification Techniques

2.  Literature Review

The relative ease of performing electronic transactions by using auto-ID has raised a number of social, cultural, religious and ethical issues. Among others, civil libertarians, religious advocates and conspiracy theorists have long cast doubts on the technology and the ultimate use of the information gathered by it. Claims that auto-ID technology impinges on human rights, the right to privacy, and that eventually it will lead to totalitarian control of the populace have been put forward since the 1970s. This paper aims to explore these themes with a particular emphasis on emerging human transponder implant technology. At present, several US companies are marketing e-business services that allow for the tracking and monitoring of individuals using RFID implants in the subcutaneous layer of the skin or Global Positioning System (GPS) wristwatches worn by enrollees. To date previous literature has not consistently addressed philosophical issues related to chip implants for humans in the context of e-business. In fact, popular online news sources like CNN [[ii]] and the BBC [[iii]] are among the few mainline publishers discussing the topic seriously, albeit in a fragmented manner. The credible articles on implanting humans are mostly interviews conducted with proponents of the technology, such as Applied Digital Solutions (ADSX) [[iv]] representatives who are makers of the VeriChip system solution [[v]]; Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading who is known for his Cyborg 1.0 and 2.0 projects [[vi]]; and implantees like the Jacobs family in the US who bear RF/ID transponder implants [[vii]]. Block passages from these interviews are quoted throughout this paper to bring some of the major issues to the fore using a holistic approach.

More recently academic papers on human transponder implants covering various perspectives have surfaced on the following topics: legal and privacy [[viii], [ix]], ethics and culture [[x]], technological problems and health concerns [[xi]], technological progress [[xii]], trajectories [[xiii], [xiv]]. While there is a considerable amount of other popular material available especially on the Internet related to human chip implants, much of it is subjective and not properly sourced. One major criticism of these reports is that the reader is left pondering as to the authenticity of the accounts provided with little evidence to support respective claims and conclusions. Authorship of this literature is another problem. Often these articles are contributed anonymously, and when they do cite an author’s name, the level of technical understanding portrayed by the individual is severely lacking to the detriment of what he/she is trying to convey, even if there is a case to be argued. Thus, the gap this paper seeks to fill is to provide a sober presentation of cross-disciplinary perspectives on topical auto-ID issues with an emphasis on human transponder implants, and second to document some of the more thought-provoking discussion which has already taken place on the topic, complemented by a complete introductory bibliography.

3.  Method

Articles on auto-ID in general have failed to address the major philosophical issues using a holistic approach. For instance, Woodward [[xv]] is one of the few authors to have mentioned anything overly substantial about religious issues, with respect to biometric technology in a recognized journal. Previously the focus has basically been on privacy concerns and Big Brother fears. While such themes are discussed in this paper as well, the goal is to cover a broader list of issues than the commonplace. This is the very reason why two researchers with two very different backgrounds, one in science and the other in humanities, have collaborated to write this paper. A qualitative strategy is employed in this investigation to explore the major themes identified in the literature review. It should be noted however that legal, regulatory, economic and related policy issues such as standards, have been omitted because the aim of this paper is not to inform a purely technical audience or an audience which is strictly concerned with policy. It is aimed rather at the potential end-user of auto-ID devices and at technology companies who are continually involved in the process of auto-ID innovation.

Original material is quoted extensively to ensure that the facts are presented “as is.” There is nothing lost in simplified translations and the full weight of argument is retained, raw and uncut. The authors therefore cannot be accused of bias or misrepresentation. The sheer breadth of literature used for this investigation ensures reliability and validity in the findings. The narrative reporting style helps to guide readers through the paper, allowing individuals to form their own opinions and interpretations of what is being presented. Evidence for the issues discussed has been gathered from a wide variety of sources including offline and online documentation. High level content analysis has been performed to aid in the grouping of categories of discussion including social, cultural, religious and ethical issues that form the skeleton of the main body of the article as a way to identify emerging trends and patterns. Subcategories are also useful in identifying the second tier themes covered, helping to reduce complexity in analysis. The subcategories also allow for links to be made between themes. A highly intricate thread runs through the whole paper telling the story of not just auto-ID but the impacts of the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) revolution [[xvi]]. There is therefore a predictive element to the paper as well which is meant to confront the reader with some present and future scenarios. The ‘what if’ questions are important as it is hoped they will generate public debate on the major social, cultural, religious and ethical implications of RFID implants in humans.

4. Towards Ubiquitous Computing

Section 4 is wholly dedicated to providing a background in which to understand auto-ID innovation; it will also grant some perspective to the tremendous pace of change in IT&T; and note some of the more grounded predictions about the future of computing. The focus is on wearable and ubiquitous computing within which auto-ID will play a crucial role. This section will help the reader place the evidence presented in the main body of the article into an appropriate context. The reader will thus be able to interpret the findings more precisely once the basic setting has been established, allowing each individual to form their own opinions about the issues being presented.

From personal computers (PCs) to laptops to personal digital assistants (PDAs) and from landline phones to cellular phones to wireless wristwatches, miniaturization and mobility have acted to shift the way in which computing is perceived by humans. Lemonick [[xvii]] captures this pace of change well in the following excerpt:

[i]t took humanity more than 2 million years to invent wheels but only about 5,000 years more to drive those wheels with a steam engine. The first computers filled entire rooms, and it took 35 years to make the machines fit on a desk- but the leap from desktop to laptop took less than a decade… What will the next decade bring, as we move into a new millennium? That’s getting harder and harder to predict.

Once a stationary medium, computers are now portable, they go wherever humans go [[xviii]]. This can be described as technology becoming more human-centric, “where products are designed to work for us, and not us for them” [[xix]]. Thus, the paradigm shift is from desktop computing to wearable computing [[xx]]. Quite remarkably in the pursuit of miniaturization, little has been lost in terms of processing power. “The enormous progress in electronic miniaturization make it possible to fit many components and complex interconnection structures into an extremely small area using high-density printed circuit and multichip substrates” [[xxi]]. We now have so-named Matchbox PCs that are no larger than a box of matches with the ability to house fully functional operating systems [[xxii]]. “The development of wearable computer systems has been rapid. Salonen [[xxiii]], among others [[xxiv]] are of the belief that “quite soon we will see a wide range of unobtrusive wearable and ubiquitous computing equipment integrated into our everyday wear”. The next ten years will see wearable computing devices become an integral part of our daily lives, especially as the price for devices keeps falling. Whether noticeable or not by users, the change has already begun. Technology is increasingly becoming an extension of the human body, whether it is by carrying smart cards or electronic tags [[xxv]] or even PDAs and mobile phones. Furui [[xxvi]] predicts that “[p]eople will actually walk through their day-to-day lives wearing several computers at a time.” Cochrane described this phenomenon as technology being an omnipresent part of our lives. Not only will devices become small and compact but they will be embedded in our bodies, invisible to anyone else [[xxvii]]. For the time being however, we are witnessing the transition period in which auto-ID devices especially are being trialled upon those who either i) desperately require their use for medical purposes or ii) who cannot challenge their application, such as in the case of armed forces or prison inmates. Eventually, the new technology will be opened to the wider market in a voluntary nature but will most likely become a de facto compulsory standard (i.e. such as in the case of the mobile phone today), and inevitably mandatory as it is linked to some kind of requirement for survival. Upon reflection, this is the pattern that most successful high-tech innovations throughout history have followed.

Mark Weiser first conceived the term “ubiquitous computing” to espouse all those small information systems (IS) devices, including calculators, electronic calendars and communicators that users would carry with them every day [[xxviii]]. It is important to make the distinction between ubiquitous and wearable computing. They “have been posed as polar opposites even though they are often applied in very similar applications” [[xxix]]. Kaku [[xxx]] stated that ubiquitous computing, is the time “when computers are all connected to each other and the ratio of computers to people flips the other way, with as many as one hundred computers for every person.” This latter definition implies a ubiquitous environment that allows the user to seamlessly interface with computer systems around them. Environments of the future are predicted to be context-aware so that users are not disturbed in every context, save for when it is suitable [[xxxi]]. Kortuem [[xxxii]] stated that “[s]uch environments might be found at the home, at the office, at factory floors, or even vehicles.” There is some debate however of where to place sensors in these environments. For example, should they be located around the room or should they be located on the individual. Locating sensors around the room enforces certain conditions on an individual, while locating sensors on an individual means that that person is actually in control of their context. The latter case also requires less localized infrastructure and a greater degree of freedom. Rhodes et al. [29] argue that by “properly combining wearable computing and ubiquitous computing, a system can have the advantages of both.”

5.  Social Issues

5.1 Privacy Concerns and Big Brother Fears

Starner [[xxxiii]] makes the distinction between privacy and security concerns. “Security involves the protection of information from unauthorized users; privacy is the individual’s right to control the collection and use of personal information.” Mills [[xxxiv]] is of the opinion that some technology, like communications, is not non-neutral but totalitarian in nature and that it can make citizens passive. “These glamorous technologies extend and integrate cradle-to-grave surveillance, annihilating all concept of a right to personal privacy, and help consolidate the power of the national security state… every technology, being a form of power, has implicit values and politics…” Over the years terms like Big Brother [[xxxv], [xxxvi]] and function creep [[xxxvii]] have proliferated to correspond to the all-seeing eyes of government and to the misuse and abuse of data. In most western countries data matching programs were constructed, linked to a unique citizen ID, to cross-check details provided by citizens, claims made, and benefits distributed [[xxxviii], [xxxix]]. More recently however, the trend has tended towards information centralization between government agencies based around the auspices of a national ID to reduce fraud [[xl]] and to combat terrorism [[xli]]. Currently computers allow for the storage and searching of data gathered like never before [[xlii]]. The range of automated data collection devices continues to increase to include systems such as bar codes (with RF capabilities), magnetic-stripe card, smart card and a variety of biometric techniques, increasing the rapidity and ease at which information is gathered. RFID transponders especially have added a greater granularity of precision in in-building and campus-wide solutions, given the wireless edge, allowing information to be gathered within a closed environment, anywhere/ anytime, transparent to the individual carrying the RFID badge or tag.

Now, while auto-ID itself is supposed to ensure privacy, it is the ease with which data can be collected that has some advocates concerned about the ultimate use of personal information. While the devices are secure, breaches in privacy can happen at any level- especially at the database level where information is ultimately stored after it is collected [[xliii]]. How this information is used, how it is matched with other data, who has access to it, is what has caused many citizens to be cautious about auto-ID in general [[xliv]]. Data mining also has altered how data is filtered, sifted and utilized all in the name of customer relationship management (CRM). It is not difficult to obtain telemarketing lists, census information aggregated to a granular level, and mapping tools to represent market segments visually. Rothfeder [[xlv]] states:

[m]edical files, financial and personnel records, Social Security numbers, and telephone call histories- as well as information about our lifestyle preferences, where we shop, and even what car we drive- are available quickly and cheaply.

Looking forward, the potential for privacy issues linked to chip implants is something that has been considered but mostly granted attention by the media. Privacy advocates warn that such a chip would impact civil liberties in a disastrous way [[xlvi]]. Even Warwick, himself, is aware that chip implants do not promote an air of assurance:

Looking back, Warwick admits that the whole experiment [Cyborg 1.0] “smacked of Big Brother.” He insists, however, that it’s important to raise awareness of what’s already technically possible so that we can remain in the driver’s seat. “I have a sneaking suspicion,” he says, “that as long as we’re gaining things, we’ll yell ‘Let’s have Big Brother now!’ It’s when we’re locked in and the lights start going off- then Big Brother is a problem.” [[xlvii]]

In this instance, Warwick has made an important observation. So long as individuals are “gaining” they generally will voluntarily part with a little more information. It is when they stop gaining and blatantly start being taken advantage of that the idea of Big Brother is raised. On that point, chip implants promise the convenience of not having to carry a multitude of auto-ID devices, perhaps not even a wallet or purse.

According to McGinity [18] “[e]xperts say it [the chip] could carry all your personal information, medical background, insurance, banking information, passport information, address, phone number, social security number, birth certificate, marriage license.” This kind of data collection is considered by civil libertarians to be “crypto-fascism or high-tech slavery” [[xlviii]]. The potential for abuse cannot be overstated [[xlix]]. Salkowski agrees pointing to the ADSX VeriChip system, stating that police, parents and ADSX employees could abuse their power. “It might even be possible for estranged spouses, employers and anyone else with a grudge to get their hands on tracking data through a civil subpoena” [[l]]. Hackers too, could try their hand at collecting data without the knowledge of the individual, given that wireless transmission is susceptible to interception. At the same time, the chip implant may become a prerequisite to health insurance and other services. “You could have a scenario where insurance companies refuse to insure you unless you agree to have a chip implant to monitor the level of physical activity you do” says Pearson of British Telecom [[li]]. This should not be surprising given that insurance companies already ask individuals for a medical history of illnesses upon joining a new plan. Proponents say the chip would just contain this information more accurately [7]. Furthermore, “[c]ost-conscious insurance companies are sure to be impressed, because the portability of biomems [i.e., a type of medical chip implant] would allow even a seriously ill patient to be monitored after surgery or treatment on an outpatient basis” [[lii]]. Now a chip storing personal information is quite different to one used to monitor health 24x7x365 and then to relay diagnoses to relevant stakeholders. As Chris Hoofnagle, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington, D.C., pointed out, “[y]ou always have to think about what the device will be used for tomorrow” [[liii]]. In its essential aspect, this is exactly the void this paper has tried to fill.

5.2 Mandatory Proof of Identification

In the US in 2001 several bills were passed in Congress to allow for the creation of three new Acts related to biometric identification of citizens and aliens, including the Patriot Act, Aviation and Transport Security Act, and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. If terrorism attacks continue to increase in frequency, there is a growing prospect in the use of chip implants for identification purposes and GPS for tracking and monitoring. It is not an impossible scenario to consider that one day these devices may be incorporated into national identification schemes. During the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, Singapore [[liv]] and Taiwan [[lv]] considered going as far as tagging their whole population with RFID devices to monitor automatically the spread of the virus. Yet, independent of such random and sporadic events, governments worldwide are already moving toward the introduction of a single unique ID to cater for a diversity of citizen applications. Opinions on the possibility of widespread chip implants in humans range from “it would be a good idea,” to “it would be a good idea, but only for commercial applications not government applications,” to “this should never be allowed to happen”. Leslie Jacobs, who was one of the first to receive a VeriChip told Scheeres [[lvi]], “[t]he world would be a safer place if authorities had a tamper-proof way of identifying people… I have nothing to hide, so I wouldn’t mind having the chip for verification… I already have an ID card, so why not have a chip?” It should be noted that some tracking and monitoring systems can be turned off and on by the wearer, making monitoring theoretically voluntary [[lvii]]. Sullivan a spokesperson for ADSX, said: “[i]t will not intrude on personal privacy except in applications applied to the tracking of criminals” [49]. ADSX have claimed on a number of occasions that it has received more than two thousand emails from teenagers volunteering to be the next to be “chipped” [[lviii]]. There are others like McClimans [[lix]] that believe that everyone should get chipped. Cunha Lima, a Brazilian politician who also has a chip implant is not ignorant of the potential for invasion of privacy but believes the benefits outweigh the costs and that so long as the new technology is voluntary and not mandatory there is nothing to worry about. He has said, “[i]f one chooses to ‘be chipped,’ then one has considered the consequences of that action” [[lx]]. Lima argues that he feels more secure with an implant given the number of kidnappings in South America of high profile people each year- at least this way his location is always known.

Professor Brad Meyers of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University believes that the chip implant technology has a place but should not be used by governments. Yet the overriding sentiment is that chip implants will be used by government before too long. Salkowski [50] has said, “[i]f you doubt there are governments that would force at least some of their citizens to carry tracking implants, you need to start reading the news a little more often.” Black [53] echoes these sentiments: “Strictly voluntary? So far so good. But now imagine that same chip being used by a totalitarian government to keep track of or round up political activists or others who are considered enemies of the state. In the wrong hands, the VeriChip could empower the wrong people.” In a report written by Ramesh [[lxi]] for the Franklin Pierce Law Centre the prediction is made that: 

[a] national identification system via microchip implants could be achieved in two stages: Upon introduction as a voluntary system, the microchip implantation will appear to be palatable. After there is a familiarity with the procedure and a knowledge of its benefits, implantation would be mandatory.

Bob Gellman, a Washington privacy consultant, likens this to “a sort of modern version of tattooing people, something that for obvious reasons- the Nazis tattooed numbers of people- no one proposes” [49, [lxii], [lxiii]]. The real issue at hand as Gellman sees it is “who will be able to demand that a chip be implanted in another person.” Mieszkowski supports Gray by observing how quickly a new technological “option” can become a requirement. Resistance after the voluntary adoption stage can be rather futile if momentum is leading the device towards a mandatory role.

McMurchie [[lxiv]] reveals the subtle progression toward embedded devices:

[a]s we look at wearable computers, it’s not a big jump to say, ‘OK, you have a wearable, why not just embed the device?’… And no one can rule out the possibility that employees might one day be asked to sport embedded chips for ultimate access control and security…

Professor Chris Hables Gray uses the example of prospective military chip implant applications. How can a marine, for instance, resist implantation? Timothy McVeigh, convicted Oklahoma bomber, claimed that during the Gulf War, he was implanted with a microchip against his will. The claims have been denied by the U.S. military [[lxv]], however the British Army is supposedly considering projects such as APRIL (Army Personnel Rationalization Individual Listings) [51]. Some cyberpunks have attempted to counteract the possibility of enforced implantation. One punk known by the name of “Z.L” is an avid reader of MIT specialist publications like open|DOOR MIT magazine on bioengineering and beyond. Z.L.’s research has indicated that:

[i]t is only a matter of time… before technology is integrated within the body. Anticipating the revolution, he has already taught himself how to do surgical implants and other operations. “The state uses technology to strengthen its control over us,” he says. “By opposing this control, I remain a punk. When the first electronic tags are implanted in the bodies of criminals, maybe in the next five years, I’ll know how to remove them, deactivate them and spread viruses to roll over Big Brother” [25].

5.3 Health Risks

Public concern about electromagnetic fields from cellular phones was a contentious issue in the late 1990s. Now it seems that the majority of people in More Developing Countries (MDCs) have become so dependent on mobile phones that they are disregarding the potential health risks associated with the technology [[lxvi]]. Though very little has been proven concretely, most terminal manufacturers do include a warning with their packaging, encouraging users not to touch the antenna of the phone during transmission [[lxvii]]. Covacio [11] is among the few authors to discuss the potential technological problems associated with microchips for human ID from a health perspective. In his paper he provides evidence why implants may impact humans adversely, categorizing these into thermal (i.e. whole/partial rise in body heating), stimulation (i.e. excitation of nerves and muscles) and other effects most of which are currently unknown. He states that research into RFID and mobile telephone technology [11]:

...has revealed a growing concern with the effects of radio frequency and non-ionizing radiation on organic matter. It has been revealed a number of low-level, and possible high-level risks are associated with the use of radio-frequency technology. Effects of X-rays and gamma rays have been well documented in medical and electronic journals…

In considering future wearable devices, Salonen [[lxviii]] puts forward the idea of directing antenna away from the head where “there may be either a thermal insult produced by power deposition in tissue (acute effects) or other (long-term) effects” to midway between the shoulder and elbow where radiation can be pushed outward from the body. Yet chip implants may also pose problems, particularly if they are active implants that contain batteries and are prone to leakage if transponders are accidentally broken. Geers et al. [[lxix]] write the following regarding animal implants.

Another important aspect is the potential toxic effect of the battery when using active transponders. Although it should be clear that pieces of glass or copper from passive tags are not allowed to enter the food chain. When using electronic monitoring with the current available technology, a battery is necessary to guarantee correct functioning of sensors when the transponder is outside the antenna field. If the transponder should break in the animal’s body, battery fluid may escape, and the question of toxological effects has to be answered.

In fact, we need only consider the very real problems that women with failed silicon breast implants have had to suffer. Will individuals with chip implants, twenty years down the track, be tied up in similar court battles and with severe medical problems? Surgical implantation, it must also be stated, causes some degree of stress in an animal and it takes between four to seven days for the animal to return to equilibrium [69]. Most certainly some discomfort must be felt by humans as well. In the Cyborg 1.0 project, Warwick was advised to leave the implant under his skin for only ten days. According to Trull [[lxx]], Warwick was taking antibiotics to fight the possibility of infection. Warwick also reportedly told his son while playing squash during Cyborg 1.0: “Whatever you do, don’t hit my arm. The implant could just shatter, and you’ll have ruined your father’s arm for life” [[lxxi]]. It is also worthwhile noting Warwick’s appearance after the Cyborg 2.0 experiment. He looked pale and weary in press release photographs, like someone who had undergone a major operation. Covacio [11] believes ultimately that widespread implantation of microchips in humans will lead to detrimental effects to them and the environment at large. Satellite technology (i.e. the use of GPS to locate individuals), microwave RF and related technological gadgetry will ultimately “increase health problems and consequentially increase pressure on health services already under economic duress.”

6. Cultural Issues

6.1 The Net Generation

When the ENIAC was first made known to the public in February of 1946 reporters used “anthropomorphic” and “awesome characterizations” to describe the computer. The news was received with skepticism by citizens who feared the unknown. In an article titled “The Myth of the Awesome Thinking Machine”, Martin [[lxxii]] stated that the ENIAC was referred to in headlines as “a child, a Frankenstein, a whiz kid, a predictor and controller of weather, and a wizard”. Photographs of the ENIAC used in publications usually depicted the computer to completely fill a small room, from wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. People are usually shown interacting with the machine, feeding it with instructions, waiting for results and monitoring its behavior. One could almost imagine that the persons in the photographs are ‘inside the body’ of the ENIAC [[lxxiii]]. Sweeping changes have taken place since that time, particularly since the mid 1980s. Consumers now own personal computers (PCs) in their homes- these are increasingly being networked- they carry laptop computers and mobile phones and chip cards, and closely interact with public automated kiosks. Relatively speaking, it has not taken long for people to adapt to the changes that this new technology has heralded. Today we speak of a Net Generation (N-Geners) who never knew a world without computers or the Internet [[lxxiv]]; for them the digital world is as ubiquitous as the air that they breathe. What is important to N-Geners is not how they got to where they are today but what digital prospects the future holds.

“[O]ur increasing cultural acceptance of high-tech gadgetry has led to a new way of thinking: robotic implants could be so advantageous that people might actually want to become cybernetic organisms, by choice. The popularization of the cyberpunk genre has demonstrated that it can be hip to have a chip in your head” [70].

6.2 Science Fiction Genre

The predictions of science fiction writers have often been promoted through the use of print, sound and visual mediums. Below is a list of sci-fi novels, films and television series that undoubtedly have influenced and are still influencing the trajectory of auto-ID. Chris Hables Gray tells his students “…that a lot of the best cyborgology has been done in the mass media and in fiction by science fiction writers, and science fiction movie producers, because they’re thinking through these things” [[lxxv]]. The popular 1970s series of Six Million Dollar Man, for instance, began as follows: “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first Bionic man.” Today bionic limbs are a reality and no longer science fiction [[lxxvi]]. More recently AT&T’s Wireless mMode magazine alluded to Start Trek [[lxxvii]]:

They also talked about their expectations- one media executive summed it up best, saying, “Remember that little box that Mr. Spock had on Star Trek? The one that did everything? That’s what I’d like my phone to be…”

Beyond auto-ID we find a continuing legacy in sci-fi genre toward the electrification of humans- from Frankenstein to Davros in Dr Who, and from Total Recall to Johnny Mnemonic (see exhibit 1.2). While all this is indeed ‘merely’ sci-fi, it is giving some form to the word, allowing the imagination to be captured in powerful images, sounds and models. What next? A vision of a mechanized misery [[lxxviii]] as portrayed in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cult film classic Metropolis? Only this time instead of being at the mercy of the Machine, we have gone one step further and invited the Machine to reside inside the body, and marked it as a ‘technological breakthrough’ as well. As several commentators have noted, “[w]e live in an era that… itself often seems like science fiction, and Metropolis has contributed powerfully to that seeming” [[lxxix]].

Exhibit 1.2 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Sci-Fi Film Genre Pointing to the Electrification of Humans

Exhibit 1.2     Sci-Fi Film Genre Pointing to the Electrification of Humans

Some of the more notable predictions and social critiques are contained within the following novels: Frankenstein (Shelley 1818), Paris in the 20th Century (Verne 1863), Looking Backward (Bellamy 1888), The Time Machine (Wells 1895), R.U.R. (Kapek 1917), Brave New World (Huxley 1932), 1984 (Orwell 1949), I, Robot (Asimov 1950), Foundation (Asimov 1951-53, 1982), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Clarke 1968), Blade Runner (Dick 1968), Neuromancer (Gibson 1984), The Marked Man (Ingrid 1989), The Silicon Man (Platt 1991), Silicon Karma (Easton 1997). The effects of film have been even more substantial on the individual as they have put some form to the predictions. These include: Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927), Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox 1956), Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet 1964), THX-1138 (George Lucas 1971), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968), The Terminal Man (George Lucas 1974), Zardoz (John Boorman 1974), Star Wars (George Lucas 1977), Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert II 1979), Star Trek (Robert Wise 1979), For Your Eyes Only (John Glen II 1981), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1982), War Games (John Badham 1983), 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Peter Hyams 1984), RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987), Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven 1990), The Terminator Series, Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson 1992), Patriot Games (Phillip Noyce 1992), The Lawnmower Man (Brett Leonard 1992), Demolition Man (Marco Brambilla 1993), Jurassic Park (Steven Speilberg 1993), Hackers (Iain Softley 1995), Johnny Mnemonic (Robert Longo 1995), The NET (Irwin Winkler 1995) [[lxxx]], Gattaca (Andrew Niccol 1997) Enemy of the State (Tony Scott 1998), Fortress 2 (Geoff Murphy 1999), The Matrix (L. Wachowski & A. Wachowski 1999), Mission Impossible 2 (John Woo 2000), The 6th Day (Roger Spottiswoode 2000). Other notable television series include: Dr Who, Lost in Space, Dick Tracy, The Jetsons, Star Trek, Batman, Get Smart, Six Million Dollar Man, Andromeda, Babylon 5, Gasaraki, Stargate SG-1, Neon Genesis Evangelion, FarScape, and X-Files.  

6.3 Shifting Cultural Values

Auto-ID and more generally computer and network systems have influenced changes in language, art [[lxxxi]], music and film. An article by Branwyn [[lxxxii]] summarizes these changes well.

Language [[lxxxiii]]: “Computer network and hacker slang is filled with references to “being wired” or “jacking in” (to a computer network), “wetware” (the brain), and “meat” the body”.
Music: “Recent albums by digital artists Brian Eno, Clock DVA, and Frontline Assembly sport names like Nerve Net, Man Amplified and Tactical Neural Implant.” See also the 1978 album by Kraftwerk titled “The Man Machine”.
Film: “Science fiction films, from Robocop to the recent Japanese cult film Tetsuo: The Iron Man, imprint our imaginations with images of the new.”

Apart from the plethora of new terms that have been born from the widespread use of IT&T and more specifically from extropians (much of which have religious connotations or allusions [[lxxxiv]]), it is art, especially body art that is being heavily influenced by chip implant technology. Mieszkowski [49] believes that “chipification” will be the next big wave in place of tattoos, piercing and scarification (see exhibit 1.3). In the U.S. it was estimated in 2001 that about two hundred Americans had permanently changed their bodies at around nine hundred dollars per implant, following a method developed by Steve Hayworth and Jon Cobb [25].

Exhibit 1.3 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;The New Fashion: Bar Code Tattoos, Piercing &amp; Chips

Exhibit 1.3     The New Fashion: Bar Code Tattoos, Piercing & Chips

Canadian artist Nancy Nisbet has implanted microchips in her hands to better understand how implant technology may affect the human identity. The artist told Scheeres [[lxxxv]], “I am expecting the merger between human and machines to proceed whether we want it to or not…” As far back as 1997, Eduardo Kac “inserted a chip into his ankle during a live performance in Sao Paulo, then registered himself in an online pet database as both owner and animal” [86]. Perhaps the actual implant ceremony was not Kac’s main contribution but the subsequent registration onto a pet database. Other artists like Natasha Vita More and Stelarc have ventured beyond localized chip implants. Their vision is of a complete prosthetic body that will comprise of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics, cloning, and even nanobots [75]. More calls her future body design Primo 3M Plus. Stelarc’s live performances however, have been heralded as the closest thing there is to imagining a world where the human body will become obsolete [[lxxxvi]].

A Stelarc performance… usually involves a disturbing mix of amplified sounds of human organs and techno beats, an internal camera projecting images of his innards, perhaps a set of robotic legs or an extra arm, or maybe tubes and wires connecting the performer’s body to the internet with people in another country manipulating the sensors, jerking him into a spastic dance. It’s a dark vision, but it definitely makes you think [75].

Warwick [[lxxxvii]] believes that the new technologies “will dramatically change [art], but not destroy it.”

6.4 Medical Marvels or Human Evolution

As Sacleman wrote in 1967 “...the impact of automation on the individual involve[d] a reconstruction of his values, his outlook and his way of life” [[lxxxviii]]. Marshall McLuhan [[lxxxix], [xc]] was one of the first explorers to probe how the psycho-social complex was influenced by electricity. “Electricity continually transforms everything, especially the way people think, and confirms the power of uncertainty in the quest for absolute knowledge.” [[xci]]. Numerous examples can be given to illustrate these major cultural changes- from the use of electricity for household warmth, to wide area networks (WAN) enabling voice and data communications across long distances, to magnetic-stripe cards used for credit transactions [[xcii], [xciii], [xciv], [xcv]]. But what of the direct unification of humans and technology, i.e., the fusion between flesh and electronic circuitry [[xcvi], [xcvii], [xcviii]]? Consider for a moment the impact that chip implants have had on the estimated 23,000 cochlear recipients in the US. A medical marvel perhaps but it too, not without controversy. There are potentially 500,000 hearing impaired persons that could benefit from cochlear implants [[xcix]] but not every deaf person wants one.

Some deaf activists… are critical of parents who subject children to such surgery [cochlear implants] because, as one charged, the prosthesis imparts “the nonhealthy self-concept of having had something wrong with one’s body” rather than the “healthy self-concept of [being] a proud Deaf” [[c]].

Assistant Professor Scott Bally of Audiology at Gallaudet University has said: “Many deaf people feel as though deafness is not a handicap. They are culturally deaf individuals who have successfully adapted themselves to being deaf and feel as though things like cochlear implants would take them out of their deaf culture, a culture which provides a significant degree of support” [82].

Putting this delicate debate aside it is here that some delineation can be made between implants that are used to treat an ailment or disability (i.e. giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf), and implants that may be used for enhancing human function (i.e. memory). Some citizens are concerned about the direction of the human species as future predictions of fully functional neural implants are being made by credible scientists. “[Q]uestions are raised as to how society as a whole will relate to people walking around with plugs and wires sprouting out of their heads. And who will decide which segments of the society become the wire-heads” [82]? Those who can afford the procedures perhaps? And what of the possibility of brain viruses that could be fatal and technological obsolescence that may require people to undergo frequent operations? Maybury [[ci]] believes that humans are already beginning to suffer from a type of “mental atrophy” worse than that that occurred during the industrial revolution and that the only way to fight it is to hang on to those essential skills that are required for human survival. The question remains whether indeed it is society that shapes technology [[cii]] or technology that shapes society [[ciii]]. Inevitably it is a dynamic process of push and pull that causes cultural transformations over time.

7 Religious Issues

7.1 The Mark of the Beast

Ever since the bar code symbology UPC (Universal Product Code) became widespread some Christian groups have linked auto-ID to the “mark” in the Book of Revelation (13:18): “the number of the beast… is 666” [[civ], [cv], [cvi]]. Coincidentally, the left (101), centre (01010) and right (101) border codes of the UPC bars are encoded 6, 6, 6 (see exhibit 1.4). As it is now an established standard for every non-perishable item to be bar coded there was a close association with the prophecy: “so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark” (Rev 13:17). In full, verses 16-18 of chapter 13 of Revelation read as follows:

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. [[cvii]]

According to some Christians, this reference would appear to be alluding to a mark on or in the human body, the prediction being made that the UPC would eventually end up on or under human skin [[cviii]]. As the selection environment of auto-ID devices grew, the interpretation of the prophecy further developed as to the actual guise of the mark. It was no longer interpreted to be ‘just’ the bar code (see exhibit 1.4). Some of the more prominent religious web sites that discuss auto-ID and the number of the beast include: (2003), (2003), (2003), (2003), (2003) and (1996). At first the sites focused on bar code technology, now they have grown to encompass a plethora of auto-ID technologies, especially biometrics and looming chip implants. For a thorough analysis of the background, sources and interpretation of the “number of the beast” see M.G. Michael’s thesis [[cix]].

Card technology such as magnetic-stripe and smart cards became the next focus as devices that would gradually pave the way for a permanent ID for all citizens globally: “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark…” (Rev 13:16). Biometrics was then introduced and immediately the association was made that the “mark” [charagma] would appear on the “right hand” (i.e. palmprint or fingerprint) or on the “forehead” (facial/ iris recognition) as was supposedly prophesied (Rev. 13:16). For the uses of charagma in early Christian literature see Arndt and Gingrich [[cx]]. Short of calling this group of people fundamentalists, as Woodward [15] refers to one prominent leader, Davies is more circumspect [[cxi]]:

“I think they’re legitimate [claims]. People have always rejected certain information practices for a variety of reasons: personal, cultural, ethical, religious and legal. And I think it has to be said that if a person feels bad for whatever reason, about the use of a body part then that’s entirely legitimate and has to be respected”.

Finally RF/ID transponders made their way into pets and livestock for identification, and that is when some Christian groups announced that the ‘authentic’ mark was now possible, and that it was only a matter of time before it would find its way into citizen applications [[cxii]]. Terry Cook [[cxiii]], for instance, an outspoken religious commentator and popular author, “worries the identification chip could be the ‘mark of the beast’, an identifying mark that all people will be forced to wear just before the end times, according to the Bible” [[cxiv]]. The description of an implant procedure for sows that Geers et al. [69] gives, especially the section about an incision being made on the skin, is what some religious advocates fear may happen to humans as well in the future.

When the thermistor was implanted the sows were restrained with a lasso. The implantation site was locally anaesthetized with a procaine (2%) injection, shaved and disinfected. After making a small incision in the skin, the thermistor was implanted subcutaneously, and the incision was closed by sewing. The position of the thermistor (accuracy 0.1C) was wire-connected to a data acquisition system linked to a personal computer.

“Religious advocates say it [i.e. transponder implants] represents ‘the mark of the Beast’, or the anti-Christ” [[cxv]]. Christians who take this mark, for whatever reason, are said to be denouncing the seal of baptism, and accepting the Antichrist in place of Christ [[cxvi], [cxvii], [cxviii]]. Horn [[cxix]] explains:

[m]any Christians believe that, before long, an antichrist system will appear. It will be a New World Order, under which national boundaries dissolve, and ethnic groups, ideologies, religions, and economics from around the world, orchestrate a single and dominant sovereignty… According to popular Biblical interpretation, a single personality will surface at the head of the utopian administration… With imperious decree the Antichrist will facilitate a one-world government, universal religion, and globally monitored socialism. Those who refuse his New World Order will inevitably be imprisoned or destroyed.

References discussing the New World Order include Barnet and Cavanagh [[cxx]], Wilshire [[cxxi]], and Smith [[cxxii]].

Exhibit 1.4 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;The Mark of the Beast as Shown on

Exhibit 1.4     The Mark of the Beast as Shown on

Companies that specialize in the manufacture of chip implant solutions, whether for animals or for humans, have been targeted by some religious advocates. The bad publicity has not been welcomed by these companies- some have even notably “toned down” the graphic visuals on their web sites so that they do not attract the wrong ‘type’ of web surfers. While they are trying to promote an image of safety and security, some advocates have associated company brands and products with apocalyptic labels. Some of the company and product names include: Biomark, BioWare, BRANDERS, MARC, Soul Catcher, Digital Angel and Therion Corporation. Perhaps the interesting thing to note is that religious advocates and civil libertarians agree that ultimately the chip implant technology will be used by governments to control citizens. ADSX is one of the companies that have publicly stated that they do not want adverse publicity after pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into research and development and the multi-million dollar purchase of the Destron Fearing company. So concerned were they that they even appeared on the Christian talk show The 700 Club, emphasizing that the device would create a lot of benefits and was not meant to fulfill prophecy [60]. A spokesperson for ADSX said: “[w]e don’t want the adverse publicity. There are a number of privacy concerns and religious implications- fundamentalist Christian groups regard [i.e., implanting computer chips] as the Devil’s work” [51].  According to Gary Wohlscheid, the president of The Last Day Ministries, the VeriChip could well be the mark.  Wohlscheid believes that out of all the auto-ID technologies with the potential to be the mark, the VeriChip is the closest. About the VeriChip he says however, “[i]t’s definitely not the final product, but it’s a step toward it. Within three to four years, people will be required to use it. Those that reject it will be put to death” [56]. These are, of course, the positions of those who have entered the debate from the so-called fundamentalist literalist perspective and represent the more vocal and visible spectrum of contemporary “apocalyptic” Christianity. In this context the idea of fundamentalism seems to be a common label today, for anyone within the Christian community who questions the trajectory of technological advancement.

With respect to the potential of brain chips in the perceived quest for “immortality” [13, 14], many Christians across the denominational confession see this as an attempt to usurp the Eternal Life promised by God, in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the case of human cloning, where specialist geneticists are accused of trying to play God by usurping the Creator’s role. However, the area is notoriously grey here; when for instance, do implants for medical breakthroughs become acceptable versus those required for purposes of clear identification? In the future the technology in question could end up merging the two functions onto the single device. This is a real and very possible outcome, when all factors, both market and ethical, are taken on board by the relevant stakeholders. Ultimately, for most members of a believing religious community, this subject revolves around the most important question of individual freedom and the right to choose [[cxxiii], [cxxiv]].

8. Ethical Issues

In an attempt to make our world a safer place we have inadvertently infringed on our privacy and our freedom through the use of surveillance cameras and all other ancillary. We equip our children with mobile phones, attach tracking devices to them or make them carry them [[cxxv]] in their bags and soon we might even be implanting them with microchips [[cxxvi]]. This all comes at a price- yet it seems more and more people are willing to pay this price as heinous crimes become common events in a society that should know better. Take the example of 11-year old Danielle Duval who is about to have an active chip (i.e. containing a rechargeable battery) implanted in her. Her mother believes that it is no different to tracking a stolen car, simply that it is being used for another more important application. Mrs Duvall is considering implanting her younger daughter age 7 as well but will wait until the child is a bit older: “so that she fully understands what’s happening” [[cxxvii]]. One could be excused for asking whether Danielle at the age of 11 actually can fully comprehend the implications of the procedure she is about to undergo. It seems that the age of consent would be a more appropriate age.

Warwick has said that an urgent debate is required on this matter (i.e. whether every child should be implanted by law), and whether or not signals from the chips should be emitted on a 24x7 basis or just triggered during emergencies. Warwick holds the position that “we cannot prejudge ethics” [87]. He believes that ethics can only be debated and conclusions reached only after people become aware of the technical possibilities when they have been demonstrated. He admits that ethics may differ between countries and cultures [[cxxviii]]. The main ethical problem related to chip implants seems to be that they are under the skin [70] and cannot just be removed by the user at their convenience. In fact there is nothing to stop anyone from getting multiple implants all over their body rendering some applications useless. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is convinced that if a technology is there to be abused, whether it is chip implants or national ID cards, then it will because that is just human nature [[cxxix]]. Similarly, Kidscape, a charity that is aimed at reducing the incidence of sexual abuse in children believe that implants will not act to curb crime. Kidscape hold the position that rather than giving children a false sense of security because they are implanted with a tracking device that could be tampered with by an offender, they should be educated on the possible dangers. Implanted tracking devices may sound entirely full-proof but deployment of emergency personnel, whether police or ambulance, cannot just magically appear at the scene of a crime in time to stop an offender from committing violence against a hostage.

8.1 The Prospect of International ID Implants

There are numerous arguments for why implanting a chip in a person is outright unconstitutional. But perhaps the under-explored area as Gellman puts it are the legal and social issues of who would have power over the chip and the information gathered by its means [49]. Gellman is correct in his summation of the problem but science has a proven way of going into uncharted territory first, then asking the questions about implications later. ADSX, for instance, have already launched the VeriChip solution. Sullivan, a spokesperson for the company told Salkowski [50]:

“I’m certainly not a believer in the abuse of power,” he offered, suggesting that Congress could always ban export of his company’s device. Of course, he admits he wouldn’t exactly lobby for that law. “I’m a businessman,” he said.

Black [53] makes the observation that the US government might well indeed place constraints on international sales of the VeriChip if it felt it could be used against them by an enemy. Consider the governance issues surrounding GPS technology that has been in operation a lot longer than human RFID implants.

“Good, neutral, or perhaps undesirable outcomes are now possible… Tension arises between some of the civil/commercial applications and the desire to preclude an adversary’s use of GPS. It is extremely difficult (technically, institutionally, politically, and economically) to combine the nonmilitary benefits of the system that require universality of access, ease of use, and low cost with military requirements for denial of the system to adversaries. Practical considerations require civil/commercial applications to have relatively easy access” [[cxxx]].

From a different angle, Rummler [[cxxxi]] points out that the monitoring and tracking of individuals raises serious legal implications regarding the individual’s capacity to maintain their right to freedom. He wrote: “[o]nce implanted with bio-implant electronic devices, humans might become highly dependent on the creators of these devices for their repair, recharge, and maintenance. It could be possible to modify the person technologically… thus placing them under the absolute control of the designers of the technology.” The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Dr. David Feigal has been vocal about the need for such devices as the VeriChip not to take medical applications lightly and that companies wishing to specialize in health-related implants need to be in close consultation with the FDA [[cxxxii], [cxxxiii]]. There is also the possibility that such developments, i.e. regulating chip implants, may ultimately be used against an individual. The Freedom of Information Act for instance, already allows U.S. authorities to access automatic vehicle toll-passes to provide evidence in court [2]; there is nothing to suggest this will not happen with RFID transponder implants as well, despite the myriad of promises made by ADSX.  Professor Gray is adamant that there is no stopping technological evolution no matter how sinister some technologies may appear, and that we need to become accustomed to the fact that new technologies will continually infringe upon the constitution [49].

8.2 Beyond Chip Implants

Luggables, like mobile phones, do create a sense of attachment between the user and the device but the devices are still physically separate; they can accidentally be left behind. Wearable computers on the other hand are a part of the user, they are worn, and they “create an intimate human-computer-symbiosis in which respective strengths combine” [[cxxxiv]]. Mann calls this human-computer-symbiosis, “human interaction” (HI) as opposed to HCI (human-computer interaction).

[W]e prefer not to think of the wearer and the computer with its associated I/O apparatus as separate entities. Instead, we regard the computer as a second brain and its sensory modalities as additional senses, which synthetic synesthesia merges with the wearer’s senses. [[cxxxv]]
Exhibit 1.5 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;The Process of Transformation

Exhibit 1.5     The Process of Transformation

Human-computer electrification is set to make this bond irrevocable (see exhibit 1.5). Once on that path there is no turning back. If at the present all this seems impossible, a myth, unlikely, a prediction far gone, due to end-user resistance and other similar obstacles facing the industry today, history should teach us otherwise. This year alone, millions of babies will be born into a world where there are companies on the New York Stock Exchange specializing in chip implant devices for humans. “They” will grow up believing that these technologies are not only “normal” but also quite useful, just   like   other   high-tech technologies before them such as the Internet, PCs, smart cards etc. Consider the case of Cynthia Tam, aged two, who is an avid computer user:

“[i]t took a couple of days for her to understand the connection between the mouse in her hand and the cursor on the screen and then she was off… The biggest problem for Cynthia’s parents is how to get her to stop… for Cynthia, the computer is already a part of her environment… Cynthia’s generation will not think twice about buying things on the Internet, just like most people today don’t think twice when paying credit card, or using cash points for withdrawals and deposits” [[cxxxvi]].

But you do not have to be a newborn baby to adapt to technological change. Even grandmothers and grandfathers surf the web these days and send emails as a cheaper alternative to post or telephone [74]. And migrants struggling with a foreign language will even memorize key combinations to withdraw money even if they do not actually fully perceive the actions they are commanding throughout the process. Schiele [[cxxxvii]] believes that our personal habits are shaped by technological change and that over time new technologies that seem only appropriate for technophiles eventually find themselves being used by the average person. “[O]ver time our culture will adjust to incorporate the devices.” Gotterbarn is in agreement [10].

We enthusiastically adopt the latest gadget for one use, but then we start to realize that it gives us power for another use. Then there is the inevitable realization that we have overlooked the way it impacts other people, giving rise to professional and ethical issues.

What is apparent regardless of how far electrophoresis is taken is that the once irreconcilable gap between human and machine is closing (see exhibit 1.6).

Beyond chip implants for tracking there are the possibilities associated with neural prosthetics and the potential to directly link computers to humans [[cxxxviii]]. Warwick is also well aware that one of the major obstacles of cyber-humans are the associated moral issues [[cxxxix], [cxl]]- who gives anyone the right to be conducting complex procedures on a perfectly healthy person, and who will take responsibility for any complications that present themselves? Rummler [131] asks whether it is ethical to be linking computers to humans in the first place and whether or not limitations should be placed on what procedures can be conducted even if they are possible. For instance, could this be considered a violation of human rights? And more to the point what will it mean in the future to call oneself “human”. McGrath [[cxli]] asks “how human”?

As technology fills you up with synthetic parts, at what point do you cease to be fully human? One quarter? One third?... At bottom lies one critical issue for a technological age: are some kinds of knowledge so terrible they simply should not be pursued? If there can be such a thing as a philosophical crisis, this will be it. These questions, says Rushworth Kidder, president of the Institute for Global Ethics in Camden, Maine, are especially vexing because they lie at “the convergence of three domains- technology, politics and ethics- that are so far hardly on speaking terms.

At the point of becoming an electrophorus (i.e. a bearer of electricity), “[y]ou are not just a human linked with technology; you are something different and your values and judgment will change” [[cxlii]]. Some suspect that it will even become possible to alter behavior in people with brain implants [51], whether they will it or not. Maybury [101] believes that “[t]he advent of machine intelligence raises social and ethical issues that may ultimately challenge human existence on earth.”


Exhibit 1.6 &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Marketing Campaigns that Point to the Electrophorus

Exhibit 1.6     Marketing Campaigns that Point to the Electrophorus

Gotterbarn [10] argues precisely that our view of computer technologies generally progresses through several stages:

1) naïve innocence and technological wonder, 2) power and control, and 3) finally, sometimes because of disasters during the second stage, an understanding of the essential relationship between technologies and values.

Bill Joy, the chief technologist of Sun Microsystems, feels a sense of unease about such predictions made by Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines [138]. Not only because Kurzweil has proven technically competent in the past but because of his ultimate vision for humanity- “a near immortality by becoming one with robotic technology” [[cxliii]]. Joy was severely criticized for being narrow-sighted, even a fundamentalist of sorts, after publishing his paper in Wired, but all he did was dare to ask the questions- ‘do we know what we are doing? Has anyone really carefully thought about this?’ Joy believes [143]:

[w]e are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes. Have we already gone too far down the path to alter course? I don’t believe so, but we aren’t trying yet, and the last chance to assert control- the fail-safe point- is rapidly approaching.

Surely there is a pressing need for ethical dialogue [[cxliv]] on auto-ID innovation and more generally IT&T. If there has ever been a time when engineers have had to act socially responsibly [[cxlv]], it is now as we are at defining crossroads.

The new era of biomedical and genetic research merges the worlds of engineering, computer and information technology with traditional medical research. Some of the most significant and far-reaching discoveries are being made at the interface of these disciplines. [[cxlvi]]

9. Conclusion

The principal objective of this paper was to encourage critical discussion on the exigent topic of human implants in e-business applications by documenting the central social, cultural, religious and ethical issues. The evidence provided indicates that technology-push has been the driving force behind many of the new RFID transponder implant applications instead of market-pull. What is most alarming is the rate of change in technological capabilities without the commensurate response from an informed community involvement or ethical discourse on what these changes actually “mean”, not only for the present but also for the future. It seems that the normal standard now is to introduce a technology, stand back to see its general effects on society, and then act to rectify problems as they might arise. The concluding point of this paper is that the long-term side effects of a technology should be considered at the outset and not after the event. One need only bring to mind the Atomic Bomb and the Chernobyl disaster for what is possible, if not inevitable once a technology is set on its ultimate trajectory [103]. As citizens it is our duty to remain knowledgeable about scientific developments and to discuss the possible ethical implications again and again [10]. In the end we can point the finger at the Mad Scientists [75] but we too must be socially responsible, save we become our own worst enemy [[cxlvii]]. It is certainly a case of caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

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Biographical Note

Dr Katina Michael is a lecturer in Information Technology at the University of Wollongong in Australia. In 1996 she completed her Bachelor of Information Technology degree with a co-operative scholarship from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and in 2003 she was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy with the thesis “The Auto-ID Trajectory” from the University of Wollongong. She has an industrial background in telecommunications and has held positions as a systems analyst with United Technologies and Andersen Consulting. Most of her work experience was acquired as a senior network and business planner with Nortel Networks (1996-2001). In this capacity she consulted for Asia’s largest telecommunication operators and service providers. Katina now teaches and researches in eBusiness and her main academic interests are in the areas of automatic identification devices, third generation wireless applications, geographic information systems, and technology forecasting.

Dr M.G. Michael is a church historian and New Testament scholar. He has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written two highly regarded dissertations on the Book of Revelation. His specialist interests are in apocalypticism, millennial studies, and Orthodox mysticism. He has completed a Doctor of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, a Master of Arts (Honours) at Macquarie University, a Master of Theology and Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University and a Bachelor of Theology at the Sydney College of Divinity.

The Auto-ID Trajectory - Chapter Eight The Auto-ID Trajectory: Converging Disciplines

Having studied the past and present applications of manual and automatic identification technology it is now feasible to investigate the likely future of auto-ID. While this chapter can be considered predictive in nature, it is based on leading-edge research, most of which has not been cited collectively as has been done here, in the auto-ID trajectory context. As identification techniques and devices have evolved incrementally since the 1900s, the turn of the twenty-first century has witnessed a new breed of auto-ID innovations; traditional devices that have found uses in non-traditional applications, many of which can be considered radical in their novelty. By tracing these developments the possible trajectories can be determined shedding light on the short-to-medium term course of auto-ID over the next fifty years. It should be noted that the trend towards digital convergence, shown within the auto-ID industry itself in chapter seven, is also present at a macro level, across different disciplines. Thus this chapter will inexorably be linked to showing how auto-ID devices have been utilised in other fields of study, such as medicine, and the innovative applications that have been born from these newly-formed relationships. This is a significant contribution to auto-ID research; not only being able to understand the autonomous nature of auto-ID but also being able to comprehend where new research dollars are likely to be spent, granting one the ability to ponder on the implications of subsequent developments. In addition, the chapter will present a view of complementary and supplementary peripheral technologies that are essential parts of this trend toward technological convergence. Finally, the human metaphor will be used to explore the auto-ID paradigm, beginning with auto-ID devices that are carried, to those that are worn, to those that penetrate the skin, and to those that wish to do away with the flesh altogether.

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The Auto-ID Trajectory - Chapter Ten: Conclusion

The principal conclusions from the findings given in chapter nine are threefold. First, that an evolutionary process of development is present in the auto-ID technology system (TS). Incremental steps either by way of technological recombinations or mutations have lead to revolutionary changes in the auto-ID industry- both at the device level and at the application level. The evolutionary process in the auto-ID TS does not imply a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach,[1] rather a model of coexistence where each particular auto-ID technique has a path which ultimately influences the success of the whole industry. The patterns of migration, integration and convergence can be considered either mutations or recombinations of existing auto-ID techniques for the creation of new auto-ID innovations. Second, that forecasting technological innovations is important in predicting future trends based on past and current events. Analysing the process of innovation between intervals of widespread diffusion of individual auto-ID technologies sheds light on the auto-ID trajectory. Third, that technology is autonomous by nature has been shown by the changes in uses of auto-ID; from non-living to living things, from government to commercial applications, and from external identification devices in the form of tags and badges to medical implants inserted under the skin.

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