In Blog

Source: WIRED

Biohackers, Grinders, or Cyborgs are what they call themselves. This new trend of integrating commercial technologies with the human body has “upped the ante” from standard body modification (such as forked tongues and elvish ears) and cosmetic surgery (e.g., breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, etc.). The emergence of embeddable technologies and the issues that will arise with the human computer convergence – cyborgs/cyborgism – continues to permeate throughout American society. Issues that this continued trend will include: matters of security, privacy, and policy regulation. A question for the regulatory community is how regulation, privacy, and security for devices within the IoT ecosystem transpire to prepare society for this emerging trend?

It is no surprise by now that American society is dependent upon technology. You would be hard-pressed to walk into any environment and not find dozens of faces staring at their smartphones, checking their smartwatches, and other devices. At what point do we begin to consider the possibility that consumer demand will turn to Human-Computer Integration more so than Human-Computer Interaction? Furthermore, what challenges can we expect from such a pairing? Security, privacy, health implications, embedded device maintenance, and legal liabilities are just a few of the issues we can expect from this new frontier. However, one must consider that we still aren’t able to pinpoint who owns the Internet (from a regulatory and enforcement perspective); therefore, how would society even begin to scratch the surface regarding the ownership of an implanted device? [1].

The ethical dilemma of this convergence is gaining more widespread attention. At a recent innovation festival, scientists discussed the implications of this humanity hack [2]. In their talk, they examined the availability of brain chips, including those proposed by Elon Musk [3]. What will these enhancements mean within an IoT ecosystem? Well, as we have seen with other technologies that are emerging in IoT, there is an increased level of interconnectivity that society stands to experience. This interconnectivity can come in the form of environments, as we have seen with examples of the smart home, fully automated vehicles and their on-board entertainment, etc. When we think about the capabilities emerging for human computer integration, people stand to be able to interact with their environment even more, as they will have capabilities embedded within them to do so. 

Presently, there is no outlined framework on how to deal with human-computer integration. It is imperative that conceptual frameworks are not only conceived, but that they are implemented prior to the adversities that can occur once a technology is adopted or becomes too widespread [4]. If cyborg implants are treated in the same manner as cosmetic surgery, implantable/embeddable devices would be able to be deployed under Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS), Medical Device Radio Communications (MedRadio), or even developed under a Medical Body Area Network scheme (MBANs), which would allow for additional oversight. However, changes would need to be made with regard to unlicensed devices being able to operate within these frequency bands. If a transceiver similar to cognitive radio were to be developed that could constantly seek out unlicensed devices operating within medical frequency bands of spectrum, they would be able to enforce the policy and “boot” devices illegally operating within the band. This would serve as an additional layer of security from outsider attacks.

In order to implement an ex-ante policy approach for cyborg-based technologies, it may be best to amend Title 21, Chapter 1, Part 878 of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to accompany other regulations such as cosmetic surgery. As a regulatory authority, the FDA has the power to enforce cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) in addition to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), which gives them federal enforcement abilities. Additionally, under these laws, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can also impose enforcement. Since the FTC has quite an extensive arm within the technological realm, this pairing of oversight authority would be optimal to create a framework for new implantable technologies being marketed for use.

Currently, trending implants include RFID implants, healing chips, cyber pills, compu-contraceptives, smart tattoos, computer-brain interfaces, smart dust, and 3D smart organs, just to name a few. Although the majority of the research being conducted for embeddables is focused on advancements within the medical field, commercial demand has already begun to appear. Just as with all groundbreaking technology, regulation and policy discussions haven’t even started as of yet; and even more importantly, neither has security or policy input. Since a large part of the embeddable market will emerge within the healthcare profession, healthcare insurance and coverage will also need to be considered. If it were a regular technology being hacked, it would automatically void the manufacturer’s warranty. However, if a person decides to biohack themselves, where will the responsibility reside if the integration between human and computer is not as seamless as the researchers had hoped? With concepts like the verified self on the horizon, which could be a mandate for military personnel to be implanted with an RFID chip, it would seem that refusal is not a concern (or option). As Seven of Nine said on the television series Star Trek: Voyager, resistance is futile… Brace yourself, we have now entered the era of the Cyborg.

Stephanie Rose is a fourth-year Ph.D. student within the Department of Informatics and Network Systems program at the University of Pittsburgh, and a 2019 PTC Young Scholar Program recipient.. Her research investigates the intersection of technology, regulation, and society, and specifically concentrates on the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission. Beginning with her work regarding spectrum enforcement mechanisms and procedures, her most recent research focuses on the digital divide and ways to resolve this disparity.

Additionally, Rose is involved with several initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh. More specifically, one initiative she actively participates, PITT-CIRTL, is a program that advocates for active learning techniques within the classroom. In this endeavor, Rose is conducting research to ascertain how group learning activities can be leveraged further to meet learning objectives.

Continuously interested in academic, community, and regulatory collaboration and embetterment, much of her personal time is allocated toward these initiatives.

[1] Bradley-Munn SR, Michael K. Whose Body Is It?: The body as physical capital in a techno-society. IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. 2016;5(3):107-14.

[2] Ifeanyi, KC. “From bionics to brain chips, hacking humanity has never been more ethically fraught”. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90374460/the-ethics-of-hacking-humanity-from-bionics-to-brain-chips. 29 July 2019. 

[3] Metz, Rachel. “Elon Musk hopes to put a computer chip in your brain. Who wants one?”. CNN Business. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/20/tech/elon-musk-neuralink-brain-chip-experts/index.html. 29 July 2019. 

[4] Abrams JJ. Pragmatism, Artificial Intelligence, and Posthuman Bioethics: Shusterman, Rorty, Foucault. Human Studies. 2004;27(3):241-58.