An interesting story today about a scientist who implanted a microchip in his hand, which he then deliberately infected with a computer virus. He uses the chip to open doors and activate his mobile phone (weirdly, as his biological hand might seem the best tool to do that) but has now shown that his infected chip could – and did – pass on the virus to these other devices, and was capable of infecting other embedded chips – if other nerds had chosen to implant them.
In fact, this is perhaps more serious than we might think. It is happening more slowly than science fiction of the 50s might have envisioned, but we are becoming more and more cyborg. A device as simple as a hearing aid is a technological ‘plug-in’ to enhance our human abilities, and with an aging population who are going to live longer, more and more of us will be hooked up with pace-makers, artificial limbs and other sophisticated bio-digital devices.
The beauty of the complex evolved biological systems that we have become is that when we are attacked by viruses, our bodies can draw on rich and diverse resources to do battle with them. The problem with devices is that they cannot evolve in the same way. When they break, they do not heal, and one only need look at the land fills of the West to see the huge problem with gadget redundancy that we have.
Thus if we increasingly give over life-support (artificial hearts for example) to digital technologies we are becoming gadgets, and thus risk our own redundancy at the hands of computer viruses. The question that this story presents is thus not ‘how can we do better battle against computer viruses’ but ‘is our quality – not just length – of life going to be improved by embedding more technology into our beings.’
I blogged a short series about Jaron Lanier’s thesis ‘You Are Not A Gadget‘ here, and my fear is that the more machine-like we make ourselves, the more like machines we will treat one another, and the more of us will end up consigned to skips and rubbish dumps as broken people.