From New Scientist:
Researchers at Autodesk, a software company in Toronto, Canada, checked to see whether the methods we currently use to interface with our gadgets work when the device is implanted in human tissue. The answer was a resounding “yes”.
A button, an LED and a touch sensor all functioned appropriately when embedded under the skin of a cadaver’s arm. The team was even able to communicate transcutaneously using a Bluetooth connection and charge the electronics wirelessly.
“That’s the bottom line,” says Christian Holz of the Autodesk team, who presented the work this week at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Austin, Texas. “Traditional user interfaces work through the skin.”
There are also clear benefits to implanted electronics. “The device is always there,” says Holz. “You cannot lose it.” And implants provide new interface methods. A gadget similar to a smartphone could provide a calendar alert by means of a gentle sub-skin vibration, for example.
And that creepy feeling? It is a common reaction now, but may lessen as people become familiar with the technology. The idea of using a machine to assist a human heart was once deemed unnatural, for example, but the insertion of a pacemaker is now a routine procedure.
“In general, the trend has been that people are more and more willing to incorporate bits of the machine world into themselves,” says Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The perception [of this technology] 10 years ago would differ from today and from what we would get in 10 years’ time,” agrees Holz.
Turkle wants society to think seriously about the potential downsides of implanted electronics, including tracking. But she has also studied how people relate to their cellphones and notes that some talk about them as if they were cyborgs.
“People literally cannot be without this device,” Turkle says. “They don’t feel the same when they are not connected. We live with our phones as if they are part of our body.”