Would you eat an IoT device if your airline told you to? Sure, we already put some fairly questionable things inside of our bodies on airplanes whenever we peel back the plastic wrap on those in-flight meals, but how much do you really trust your airline? British Airways (BA) made some buzz this past week when they took a small bet on the fact that you might be willing to swallow a digital pill that, in tandem with a variety of other sensors aboard the plane, would help to read your vitals and adapt the environment around you for a better flight experience. The use case made a lot of sense – if you could monitor someone’s vitals more closely, both from the inside and out, you could better adjust the environment to suit their needs and make them more comfortable.
This is far from the first time companies or labs have played with the idea of ingestibles or embeddables. Proteus Digital Health proposed an ingestible smart pill roughly five years ago as a way of monitoring drug efficacy and vitals. Grinders and biohackers like the team at Grindhouse Wetware have been stuffing circuits inside of themselves since well before it was cool (is it cool yet? If not, it will be soon). However, up to this point, very few large organizations have been willing to publicly play with technologies that are perceived as risky, unsavoury, creepy, or a little too ‘out there.’
So how do we interpret this growing signal within the broader world? What are the implications of stuffing IoT inside of our bodies becoming mainstream? What happens when it’s large companies – not biohackers tinkering with themselves or altruistic startups with best intents – looking at us from the inside out? I suppose the most important way to consider this scenario is to ask yourself: how do you feel about a corporation being inside of you?
In an era where so many questions are being raised about privacy and appropriateness around IoT and other pervasive technologies, examples like the BA digital pill patent are a good thought exercise to push us towards certain extremes and force us to think through what we deem “ok” versus “not cool.” Simply put, I don’t have an answer for you on this topic. The reality is that you need your own personal answer; you have to decide what your own limits are.
Personally, I’d likely have no problem chowing down on some sensors and circuits if I could get a full five hours on a transatlantic redeye. BA can go nuts sifting through my gut biome and heartbeat fluctuations. However, I’m not necessarily like you. I have a very low privacy threshold and I travel too damn much. I acknowledge the risks of a company like BA having that data – could they spot health defects and deny me access to a flight? Or, worse yet, sell my data to someone who could offer or deny me services? Definitely. They could find a way to do that if I was dumb enough to sign a EULA without reading it (but none of us would ever do that). And that is a risk I’m willing to take.
You need to determine the risks you are willing to take for yourself, and that requires awareness and education. Yes, technology can do some incredible things, and we are living in an exceptional time in human history where we’re about to enter a new epoch of understanding of the universe and ourselves. However, as with everything, there are downsides: we will have less privacy in the future; technology will distract from our regular, analog lives; corporations will know us better than we know ourselves, in some cases; you will essentially be reduced to a set of numbers.
These and so many more risks and challenges await us in the future. Nevertheless, they are not insurmountable and, to some, they may not even be concerning. However, to charge blindly ahead, without identifying, acknowledging, and considering them, is a strange kind of techno-ignorance. You have a choice: to continually educate yourself on the risks and implications of the types of scenarios I’ve highlighted here today, or to find yourself uncomfortably in the center of it all, but too late to raise a voice or affect change.
Wow… that got dark. Here’s a cute video of a robot singing and dancing to take your mind off it.
Shane Saunderson is the VP of IC/things at Idea Couture.