Monthly Archives: April 2016

Permanent or Biodegradable Implantable Electronic Monitoring Technology 

Permanent or Biodegradable Implantable Electronic Monitoring Technology 
The existence of viable and potentially useful technology of this type is a relatively recent development and already there is talk that it could potentially have a number of applications including those useful for medical, military, criminal justice purposes and produce an increasing number of data sources that could be used in an increasing number of ways. Activity type monitoring collecting data on heart rate, respiration, location, temperature, and alcohol use are just the beginning. 

In the future our bodies may well be equipped with a fairly standard set of tiny networked sensors and other subdermal electronic devices that are designed to be permanent and may provide a variety of services including real time information (perhaps a bit like some cars that can be connected to computers to provide an ever increasing amount of diagnostic and information that can also be used to predict future problems) monitoring our status and any changes in normal functions. 

We may also have additional sensors implanted monitoring specific areas perhaps as a result of being assessed to be at higher statistical risk of developing certain congenital/hereditary) health problems. If this is likely to be necessary for only a short time period for example following surgery or because of other diagnostic information then the sensors could be made biodegradable in the same way that some sutures are simply dissolve or are absorbed over time. 

The main driver for the widespread use of this technology may well prove to be the health/life insurance industry with lower costs for those who are considered to be lower risk and much higher costs for those who are assessed as being at higher risk leading to a form of social sorting on the basis of health/life expectancy and lifestyle. 

There is therefore a slightly worrying element to the development of these technologies that may appear to be on the one hand a useful and beneficial use of technology but may also prove to be used in such a way as to become socially divisive and potentially open to abuse. Would we really want for example for our lifestyle choices to be precisely monitored and those that choose to lead riskier or indeed sedentary lives (poor diet, drinking, smoking, high adrenaline sports etc) to be compelled to pay more for healthcare than those who are in low risk occupations and don’t take risks and take every precaution in order to evidence that they have acted at all times within approved and safe parameters? 

Society may eventually be divided between those considered deserving of healthcare and those considered less deserving based upon their respective lifestyle choices. 

We may well ask how will society will treat those who might be considered to have been reckless with their health or who are predicted to be expensive to treat in the future but are without the resources to pay for the treatment of anticipated health problems? Who will own or have access to our data that might make predictions possible? Would data collected when for instance we were being monitored for alcohol use (that might include other unrelated biometric data) following a drink driving conviction be sold on to an insurance or finance company and used to assess our risk when we apply for life/medical insurance or if we apply for a loan?

The potential to place biodegradable devices inside the body that can monitor chemicals associated with pain and respond accordingly by administering precise doses of drugs (either internally or via external devices) might assist with the management and treatment of medical conditions and illneses but might also open up possibilities for control and manipulation. For example precisely controlled hormonal implants to treat medical conditions might also be used to attempt to control/treat undesirable impulses or behaviours in sex offenders. 

Implants might also be developed to administer pain, nausea, or other discomfort if someone was doing something or going somewhere that was prohibited. Implants might also be developed to manipulate or control people in different ways such as keeping them awake, relaxed or sleepy in order to remotely manage those in an institution such as a prison or indeed to respond in a variety of ways if certain substances were detected. 

Military applications of this technology are fairly obvious with the the real possibility of producing enhanced soldiers that might be precisely monitored and controlled. Implants that simply melt away might for example be mission specific. 

As is usual the technologies that are becoming available are being developed ahead of the ethical discussion and although much is now becoming possible that was previously science fiction we may have to consider fairly quickly what permanent and biodegradable implantable technologies are desirable and what are not and think carefully about how this technology might be used/abused and how it might be regulated.