I have uploaded the slides of my presentation above. A whole workshop on this topic would have been possible, but somehow to condense to 1 hour.
Before anyone writes to me telling me that I do not understand the value of biomedical devices to patients, a disclaimer that I am ALL for implantables that markedly improve the quality of life of recipients. It is hard to argue against someone who has lived daily with severe dystonia, not to at least try deep brain stimulation as a way to have some semblance of a normal life. The same can be said for those who are battling Parkinson's Disease and Tourette Syndrome. I am a little more skeptical when it comes to brain pacemakers for Major Depressive Disorder, but there are signs that the technique is working for at least some patients. It is important to add, that brain pacemakers are not a cure for these diseases, physical or mental, they merely put at bay the symptoms of living with the disease.
So, yes, I accept prosthesis under obvious circumstances. Prosthesis by choice, that is when there is no restorative functional requirement, I am not a fan of. I really do not believe we should be fiddling with the human body. I do not rule out body pacemakers for health purposes, but still there, I would caution that we are nowhere near a clinically proven solution despite that some manufacturers have made their intention clear that they want all of us to be bearing implants for our own good.
When it comes to implantables for business applications, or indeed personal use (e.g. biohacking or citizen science), I become even more skeptical. Who would want an implant owned and operated by an employer or service provider? And furthermore, who would want an implant that is simply for personal use in a home location? In the case of the latter, it seems a lot of people want to be 'advanced' cyborgs using old tech, just so as not have to worry about physical access control mechanisms and carry keys for instance. As I have read quite often, "if you can wear it, why bear it?" Yes, I understand the issues of transferability, leaving it behind, or even losing it. But these issues can happen if the device is embedded as well.
For the time being the risks we are faced with differ because only a small number of people in the world have implantables for convenience. Interestingly however, there are now about 10% of Americans who bear some type of biomedical implant (joint, ear, heart, brain etc). As that percentage rises in the next decade, due to affordability, and an ageing population, there may well be more like 15-20% of citizens residing in more developed nations that bear an implant. Risk therefore becomes a huge topic of consideration.
In this presentation I am working from the angle that we have to know the risks that we are faced with today, and educate engineers and physicians and non-engineers (e.g. citizens) about why getting an implant is not a straightforward decision. When we look at the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics, there really is some excellent advice on ways forward:
- Demonstrate integrity - respect the dignity of all persons
- Practice competently - act on the basis of adequate knowledge
- Exercise leadership - communicate honestly
- Promote sustainability - practise engineering to foster the health, safety and wellbeing of the community
Audio of Event
There are 3 audio mp3's that accompany the presentation above. Please listen to each of these:
- Katina Michael's opening introductory comments (30 min)
- Andreas Sjöström of Sogeti (a division of CapGemini) single case study: 'What did I learn by implanting a chip in my body?' (20 min)
- Katina Michael's closing comments and Q&A (15 min)
Joint Institution Lecture Series: Microchipping People - The Risks
There is nothing new about placing materials into the human body for prosthetic purposes. Since 1959 when an internal pacemaker was implanted into a patient, we have seen a proliferation of biomedical devices made from different chemical compositions (e.g. chromium, nickel, cobalt, titanium). Over this time, the implants have become much smaller in size, some manufacturers are even calling for their insertion into every human for personalised medicine.
We hear that implants are now not only surgically placed in the heart or joints or ears, but since 1987 have made their debut also in the brain and retina. There are now a diverse range of use cases of passive implantable devices in the form of RF identification tags, marketed for multi-applications like identity tokens and physical access controllers. While we have a grasp of the known risks associated with biomedical devices, the risks associated with the open market of embedding microchips in voluntary participants is less understood.
Most do-it-yourselfer implantees will say: “if it’s good enough for my dog or cat, then it’s good enough for me”. Are the risks surrounding implantables (medical and non-medical) exaggerated or do we need further research to ascertain their short-term and long-term effects on the human body?
This presentation will discuss the risks associated with microchipping people for any reason, and will consider what the normalisation of biomedical devices for non-medical applications might mean in society at large in terms of risk.
About the Speaker: Professor Katina Michael, School of Computing & IT, University of Wollongong:
Joined UOW in 2002. Prior to joining UOW, Katina spent 5 years working at Nortel Networks as a senior engineer. She researches emerging technologies, societal implications, and national security. Katina is a senior member of the IEEE and has held several editorial roles, among them chief editor of IEEE Technology & Society Magazine, and IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. PhD, MTransCrimPrev, BIT. www.katinamichael.com.