It’s likely the world in the not-so-distant future will be increasingly populated by computerized people like Amal Graafstra.
The 37-year-old doesn’t need a key or password to get into his car, home or computer. He has programmed them to unlock at the mere wave of his hands, which are implanted with radio frequency identification tags. The rice-size gadgets work so well, the Seattle resident says, he has sold similar ones to more than 500 customers through his company, Dangerous Things.
The move in the Bay Area and beyond to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to their skin via “smart tattoos” could revolutionize health care and change the way people interact with devices and one another.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, we will see rapid development in bioengineered and man-machine interfaces,” predicted Graafstra, who wrote a book about the technology, adding that the trend is going to “push the boundaries of what it means to be human.”
In a patent application made public in November, Google’s Motorola Mobility branch proposed an “electronic skin tattoo” for the throat – with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver – that would let someone operate other devices via voice commands.
When asked, Google said it often seeks patents on employee brainstorms and that, while “some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t.”
Medical uses are among the most widely anticipated for implants, smart pills and electronic tattoos.
In October, Stanford University doctors implanted the brain of a Parkinson’s disease sufferer with a new device that gathers detailed data on the “neural signatures” of his illness. They hope to use the information to make a gadget that will ease Parkinson’s symptoms.
Some fear that implants might become mandatory for health insurance or jobs. After learning about a Cincinnati video surveillance firm that required employees to have a chip inserted in them, a California lawmaker introduced a bill that became law in 2008 forbidding anyone in the state from making similar demands.