The term Internet of Bodies conjures up images of humans with cyborg-like features, controlling computers with your mind and syncing up iron man hearts. But you may be surprised to hear that IoB is now not just a science fiction plot.
Almost one billion people worldwide and nearly 70% of the US population are already using IoB. This is the wearable market- smartwatches and fitness trackers. These are all part of the IoB ecosystem, although futuristic inventions that run through your mind may not be that far away either.
IoB is revolutionizing healthcare and on its way to improving our day-to-day conveniences, but it also brings with it some unique risks. So let’s look into what exactly IoB is, its applications, risks, and future.
What is the Internet of Bodies?
The concept of Internet of Bodies uses human bodies as a source of data, making it a part of an Internet of Things ecosystem.
(You can learn everything about the Internet of Things here)
Internet of Bodies or IoB refers to a network of devices that can collect data about and alter the functions of the human body. IoB devices are physically connected or inside your body, enabling them to monitor and possibly interact with your body.
The hierarchy of devices that form IoB ecosystems are divided into three tiers-
As of now, the first generation of external devices is widely in practice and internal devices in their various forms are slowly gaining traction.
Recent advancements in technology and improvements in connectivity are enabling implantable devices to become more and more practical. Body embedded devices are still being researched and explored, and it is only a matter of time before they too become a part of our worlds.
(Suggested Read: Internet of Things(IoT) in HealthCare )
Applications of IoB in Healthcare
Due to the ability to monitor and possibly interact with human bodies, IoB finds the most applications in healthcare. These range from the now omnipresent fitness trackers to automated medicine delivery, internal tracking, and even devices that are integrated into human organs to enhance or restore their capacity.
The collection of large scale health data through IoB devices also helps identify health trends across the population as a whole.
Let’s look at some of the current applications of IoB in healthcare.
Applications of IoB in Healthcare
Wearables including fitness bands and smartwatches are the most popular type of IoB devices. It enables personal health tracking and lets people keep track of various metrics in their own bodies.
This includes data on heart rate, blood pressure, calories burned, etc. These can monitor and give alerts about health conditions like seizures. Beyond personal tracking data from wearables can also be used to provide health metrics to doctors during checkups.
Other than watches and bands, wearables also take the form of rings, clothes, and even others as technology continues to expand.
Recently, smart contact lenses have been developed that could provide information based on data collected from the eye and tear fluid. Glucose sensors can be integrated into these to aid diabetic patients.
2. Cardiac Devices
Implantable cardiac defibrillators and cardiac pacemakers have proved revolutionary in the medical world in the years it has been put into practice.
It can transmit data about your cardiac fluctuations to doctors and other necessary people. They can also regulate your cardiac activity to some extent if necessary, depending on the type of device.
3. Digital Pills
Smart pills have electronic sensors and trackers within them that can be ingested and remain inside your body to collect and transmit data. These pills could record and transmit visuals, detect chemical and hormonal changes, release medicines, or simply alert your physician that you have taken them.
The first approved digital pill, the Abilify Mycite from Proteus Digital Health and Otsuka Pharmaceutical had an ingestible sensor used to monitor a patient’s adherence to the regime.
This was used to treat psychiatric patients for whom this was especially useful. There have been further developments, although smart pills have not made it into the mainstream just yet.
A passage from the Medical Futurist describes the future powered by IoB and these pills in detail- “The pill broadcasts a real-time video stream as it goes down your oesophagus and into your stomach. Your GP is simultaneously monitoring the visuals, assessing the progression of your ulcer… the digital pill contains your personalised medicine 3D-printed onto it and it will slowly get activated with your stomach’s activity… she [Your doctor] will be monitoring your adherence via the pill’s tracking sensor.”
4. Precision Medicine
The data collected using advanced wearables and smart pills enables the creation of personalized medicine and treatment plans best suited for the needs of each patient. IoB devices collect data that is more detailed and thorough than anything else, which makes this easier.
5. Contactless Monitoring
The COVID-19 pandemic had spurned a flurry of innovation, and IoB had played a part in helping monitor patients. In Shanghai, smart thermometers from Vivalink are used to constantly monitor the temperatures of COVID-19 patients without contact. These days, when face-to-face consultations are becoming difficult, doctors can use IoB devices to monitor patients remotely.
Disease progression through the population can also be tracked- with large amounts of the population wearing wearables, it becomes easier to track the disease through that data.
6. Embedded Devices
The future of IoB enabled devices in healthcare are embedded devices, like the Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that hope to give users the ability to communicate with or control electronic devices using brain signals. This could be extremely beneficial to disabled individuals.
(Recommended Blog: Top 9 Healthcare Technologies )
Other Applications of IoB
Most of the other applications of IoB are still linked to health- in that they are using devices to monitor the body and its reactions. But in other fields, they are also used for purposes other than to monitor health and wellbeing.
Wearables have long been involved with sports and athletics, to monitor and improve the performance and health of athletes. These could be incorporated into the fabric of the clothes of athletes, in their helmets, waistbands, wristbands, and so on.
Injuries can be easily detected before they worsen. Using the data the performance of each athlete can be improved by devising the best form, posture, and strategy for them.
IoB finds several applications in the military. This ranges from monitoring soldiers’ physical and emotional state, tracking their location and vitals, to potentially give them enhancements in the future. They could help in simulating real-life combat situations, by inducing reactions in the body.
IoB devices can be used by employers to monitor employee activity and productivity. It can be convenient for the employees too. In 2018, Three Square Market embedded RFID chips in its employees that let them log into their computers, open doors and make vending machine purchases hassle-free.
Risks Posed by IoB
IoB devices, although revolutionary, also bring with them several risks pertaining to security, privacy, legality and ethics.
Cybersecurity in the IoT world has been the topic of debate and controversy, and as a subset of IoT, IoB faces the same threats, but perhaps with even more severity. Former US vice-president Dick Cheney had his Wi-Fi enabled defibrillator removed for fear that hackers could assassinate him by giving him an electrical shock through it.
Any internet-enabled device poses a threat of being vulnerable to cybersecurity risks. So this presents a real threat when having IoB devices in your body- especially those that are implanted or embedded.
IoB devices are data platforms. Data about a person’s health and wellbeing could be incredibly dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. The legal background on this is murky, and it is unclear at times even on the question of who owns the data and what happens to it.
Companies producing and managing IoB devices could sell user data. Insurance providers could track unhealthy habits and deny coverage to users. If data regarding a person’s health got released it could affect their employment and even their social standing.
Cochlear implants and smart contacts could have the capabilities to record audio and video from the environment, which could be a breach of privacy to everyone around those devices.
( Recommended Blog: What is Differential Privacy )
Future of the Internet of Bodies
The future of IoB could be bright- with our entire bodies being a technology ecosystem. We could perhaps expect levels of convenience like those seen in shows like Black Mirror- implants within eyes that record all moments from your life, smartphones embedded within your palm, smart prosthetics that feel close to the real thing.
But even these shows often show that the risks behind IoB devices regarding ethics and cybersecurity are very real. Invisible implants that record audio and visual data are a serious privacy threat, advanced embedded electronics misused by hackers could mean that your entire body could be hacked.
Some have even hypothesized that IoB devices could give governments and corporations too much power and eventually make the formation of authoritarian and Orwellian power structures easier.
The danger lies when IoB devices advance and spread without a simultaneous advancement of security measures to protect them from threats. As will most new and emerging technologies, there is a need to tread carefully, to extract the most promise out of them.