Most of us have our bodies somehow connected to the Internet. Whether it be through a simple step tracker, activity recorder, a workout app on our smartphones, fitness wrist band or a more special device like a blood glucose counter, a pacemaker, or a smart speaker. So many of these devices are either network-based, network-connected, or moving towards one of these service forms. These devices are connected to the body from outside, inserted in their specified locations by surgery, or taken in through ingestion. The collection of all these personal gadgets and medical doodads make up a new concept of networking: The Internet of Bodies(IoB), or as called by some, embodied computing. Internet of Bodies is a growing, crucial extension of the Internet of Things(IoT).
Nodes on IoB can be divided into three groups, representing three generations as described in the following paragraphs, along with the benefits and functions of some devices categorized in each group.
Body External devices: These things have a more common name: wearable health gadgets. The Apple Watch, Samsung gear, or fitbit you may be wearing is a body-external IoB device. Any device that is located in a very close distance of the human body collects data and exchanges information with a network is called a Body External IoB device. Some of them bear an undeniable sci-fi vibe: smart contact lenses that measure blood sugar levels and may someday record everything you see, smart tattoos (i really like this one) with NFC chips for authentication and purchase purposes that may be later erased or absorbed by the skin, and the ultimate level of wearable, smart clothes that monitor temperature and heart rate.
Things that are not exactly worn by the user, but reside close to him/her most of the time are body external devices too. Including digital assistants like Alexa, smart desks, and the very familiar smartphones. There are even car wheels that analyse the drivers heart function and alert when there is a chance of heart problem.
Body Embedded devices: Embedded devices operate in combination with the body organs and communicate with external machines in a cyborg-like method. A nice example of an embeddable IoB device is the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) announced by Elon Musk in 2019 named Neuralink. It is an implantable digital device that can interpret, and possibly alter, the electrical signals made by neurons in the brain, Thereby helping myriads of disabled people take part in the digital society. This, and some other brain implants that are currently under development allow patients (and healthy people) to improve memory function, restore memory lost because of brain injuries, help in treatment of Alzeimers disease and even facilitate direct communication of memories.
Embedded biometric microchips are getting more and more popular as convenient authentication tools for sensitive access management and monitoring. They also can facilitate purchases and transactions and do some health monitoring tasks. Prosthetics that use a machine-brain interface to allow the user control them by her thoughts are categorized as Body Embedded devices too.
Body Internal devices: The generation of body-internal devices encompasses a wide range of medical tools which are inserted inside the human body, usually for more important medical needs. cochlear implants, pacemakers, internal blood sugar monitors and insulin pumps, and digital pills (strange new pills with ingestible biosensors and bluetooth connections) all fall into this category.
Each type of IoB device mentioned in the last paragraphs brings its own benefits. It could make your transactions more convenient,keep your workplace safer and monitor your health situation. They can alert people in dangerous health situations and literally keep them alive. However, we’ve seen enough of the power of IoB to not get a glimpse of the dark side, Where your most intimate and extensive health data can be compromised and exploited. Your company may overstep your privacy using tracking and authentication devices. Your data may be used in biased, discriminating AI. And cyber-attacks may aim at your life.
There are grey areas in the social effects of IoB too. Precedents are being set for health monitoring data of wearable devices or implants used in courts and police investigations of criminal cases. Some consider this as violation of privacy or doctor-patient confidence. Others appreciate its benefits for forensics and justice.
Putting it all together, it is obvious that IoB may do miracles when approached cautiously, and wreak havoc upon us if it’s dangers are not taken seriously. Laws and protocols must be set all over the world to protect the safety and privacy of human beings along with their right to health and productivity. No technology is ubiquitously benevolent, and IoB is no exception