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The New Frontier Of Implantable Technology

New visions and new progress on the merger of man and machine. We’ll look at the frontier of implantable technology.

A flexible, stretchable, biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water. (Courtesy Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology and Tufts University)

A flexible, stretchable, biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water. (Courtesy Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology and Tufts University)

It has this feeling of inevitability.  The merger of man and machine.  The implanting of computer power in and on the human body.  Some future holiday season when people are lined up for software and equipment upgrades that aren’t just handheld – they’re in us and on us.  Of us.  Plenty of researchers are working that frontier right now.  For your health – to track and treat your heart, your mood.  Give you a tattoo full of computer circuitry.  Others would push right inside to pump up your senses and more.  This hour On Point:  the new frontier of implantable technology.

– Tom Ashbrook


John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Director of the Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Recipient of a 2009 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

Michael McAlpine, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: The Body Electric – ” A living body is inherently electrical: once every second or so, a dime-size bundle of cells in the upper chamber of the human heart produces an electrical pulse that keeps the organ beating, until the pulse ceases and we die. Cells shuttle ions in and out, communicating in a language tantalizingly similar to the positive and negative charges of electrical circuits. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin—these are merely interfaces, ways for a body to chemically convert the uncharged outside world into current that, as it leaps through the brain, creates our thoughts and feelings. In millivolts, we rue our limitations.”

Discovery: Implantable Electronics Disappear Completely in the Body – These electronic devices are made from special materials but perform like regular electronics. They’re also wrapped in alternating layers that dissolve after specific periods of time. In the lab, Rogers’ team implanted them in mice at risk for bacterial infection. The devices produced localized heat, according to the ACS, which prevented infection in the mice. Then the devices dissolved.”

MIT Technology Review: Innovators Under 35 – “Michael McAlpine has developed a flexible material that produces record amounts of energy when subjected to mechanical pressure. It could turn the action of a patient’s lungs into enough energy to power an implanted medical device; forces produced by walking around could be sufficient to drive portable electronics.”

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  • FrankensteinDragon

    when this happens we will become sheep. Monitored, tracked, even
    controlled…anyone who opts out of the system–as now–in this culture
    of availability–will be marginalized, and unable to function in the
    society and the economic establishment. The NSA under your skin.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Let me know when they create an implant that will allow me to shut off my conscious mind when I go to work, and turn it back on when I leave work. Of course I’m kidding. The combination of man and machine is horrifying, and inevitable.

    • creaker

      That just takes practice – but I only use it on the bad days :-)

  • andrewgarrett

    The anti-science Left will, predictably, condemn all of this, as they take for granted the science that has saved the lives of them and their children. Do you want science to be able to regrow the skin of a 6-year-old child who lost 80 percent of her skin to a burn? Do you want science to be able to replace the spinal cord of a ten-year-old boy? As science advances there will be a lot of good. The byproduct is some nonsense, but if I have to take the nonsense with the good it’s worth it.

    • Leonard Bast

      The anti-science Left? Can you please explain, and give examples of people on the Left who are anti-science?

      • brettearle

        You are, very likely, asking your questions, of a jaded and programmed victim of Right Wing Propaganda, who doesn’t see himself as a victim.


        • Leonard Bast

          For a moment I wondered if he knew which side was Left and which was Right.

          • brettearle

            Or if he knew which side his bread was buttered on….

      • Jeff

        One great anti-science left position is the idea that GMO’s are harmful and/or evil.

        • Leonard Bast

          The difference is that there is some evidence that GMOs are harmful. The other side can cite evidence that they are not. The jury, so to speak is still out. This is different from the Right’s general anti-science orientation. For example, the most prominent of the Right’s anti-science positions, namely that the earth is only 6,000 years old and is the result of a divine creation, are entirely based on non-scientific notions (i.e., myth and superstition).

          • Jeff

            Oh, so you actually have a study that proves that GMOs are harmful…by all means please produce this study.

          • tncanoeguy
          • Jeff

            Nice, here’s the line right from the study: “In agreement with the literature, both organic and transgenic [GMO] soy reduced the body weight “.

          • FrankensteinDragon

            there are many studies that gmos are harmful–you dont have to be religious–i am not–and i would bet most religious people are in favor of gmos because most religious people are mindless sheep that love all things corporate america–like you.

            why is it that every civilized developed educated country on earth rejects and strictly regulates gmos–but not america–corporation the beautiful–proud to be an idiot where at least i know i am brainwashed! the conspiracy nuts are those crying conspiracy nut. dinks,

            they said the NSA spying on us was a conspiracy–well um hey smart guy–they do and they are and thats a proven fact.

          • FrankensteinDragon

            there is NO evidence that GMOs are not harmful. none. But there is tremendous evidence that they re very harmful–not just to people. BUt to nature and matters of justice. Ask the organic farmer who suddenly criminalized when poisonous copyrighted gmos contaminate his fields and HE is accused of theft–as if he wants that crap on property. he is the victim and he is treated a criminal–same as rap victims and war victims under the american thumb

          • Jeff

            Trying to prove something is not harmful is an impossible task…you have studies and you see if there are any harms…there are no solid studies that prove that GMOs are harmful at all. That should be enough proof for you…but you cannot provide a single study that proves that GMOs are harmful. I guess I can let you get back to putting on your tinfoil hat and denying science then.

        • J__o__h__n

          I’m skeptical of them mostly because they are fighting being labeled. Our food has already been compromised by antibiotics, mad cow, and transfats etc, so the food industry doesn’t have a record that would lead me to trust them. Also there are issues about GM fish breeding with wild fish.

        • Bigtruck

          The anti-science Left, that’s funny.
          There is no study, that is the point. I don’t want my family or myself to be the guinea pigs. All I’m asking is to label the Genetically Modified Organisims as such, that way people that want to be in the study can and those that don’t aren’t tricked in to it.

          • Jeff

            There are many studies…we’ve been eating GMOs since 1992. There are just no studies with the results you desire.

          • Bigtruck

            You are right there are many studies. Oh my, why would anybody do that to our food supply, don’t they have children? Money can’t be the only reason.

          • FrankensteinDragon

            yes there is.

          • Jeff

            Show me, words are worthless.

        • FrankensteinDragon

          yes there is. you are wrong and ignorant and naive and a shill. go away troll

          • Jeff

            Okay troll, just provide one single study that clearly shows that GMOs are harmful. Otherwise you are simply a leftist science denier.

    • creaker

      The thing that will be sad is this will be driven by potential profit vs. any good that would be achieved by these advances.

      • FrankensteinDragon

        absolutely and the have nots will have not.

    • mmacfed

      You seem confused. “… anti-science Left …” is an oxymoron.

    • FrankensteinDragon

      just dumb.

    • FrankensteinDragon

      you paint a broad brush. it is worth considering the negative implications of this tech–the very real tyrannical uses of it. I understand its goo uses and accept it. But you are a fool if you think it will not change the meaning of freedom, privacy, the bill of rights–no problem they already got rid of those…you should try thinking once in your life

  • Erica Blair

    Get ready to get your RFID implant in your right hand or forehead – the mark of the beast is coming your way! The NSA won’t need your smart phone to keep tabs on you any longer. David Rockefeller’s minions will be able to shut off your chip when you don’t behave.

    As Franklin told us long ago: those who would give up freedom for security deserve neither!

  • creaker

    To tie in the previous discussion – probably the first implantable technology to be widely deployed will be forced RFID implants – I’m guessing first to manage prison populations (know exact location of each individual 24×7), to be expanded to other uses – of course the NSA will guarantee your privacy and only use the information against the bad guys.

  • Coastghost

    From tech phobia to tech mania in LESS THAN FIFTEEN MINUTES!
    As long as Tom Ashbrook is securely strapped in, intellectual whiplash is no threat, hunh?

  • Coastghost

    If technology is so advanced, why is it not divulging fresh data daily on the condition of mortality? Mortal states will overtake us all, according to the best science available, and we’ll all be spending much more time in a deceased state than any of us ever shall as aggregated specks of breathing dust.
    Science merely belabors the obvious: it has done nothing to illuminate the condition of death. (Barely four centuries of modernity have given us plastination, but again that just illustrates the limits of baryonic matter and temporal existence.)

  • JasonB

    This technology is undoubtably cool. However, I draw the line at personally being hacked.

  • RolloMartins

    I would love to see implanted tech that would produce a feedback loop for my daughter’s insulin pump to automatically inject insulin to mimic a normal person’s pancreas.

    • creaker

      I believe this is in the works – but I don’t know when it’s supposed to come to market.

  • creaker

    I expect the first big splash in the media of enhancing technology will be another sports scandal.

  • Mark

    I’ve included such technologies as piezo electric/batteries + sensors and telemetry into some of the medical implants that I’ve designed…particularly cardiac devices. Telemetry of data to external monitors is a very hot topic in the cardiac/cardiology fields and many new products are entering the market now.
    On the ethical side of personal medical enhancements, there are a number of potential devices that not only treat ailments but my also enhance performance akin to doping and other performance enhancing drugs and procedures;i.e. spinal reinforcements for weight lifters…
    Lexington, MA

  • J__o__h__n

    The Prisoner had an episode (The General) that dealt with learning through a process analogous to an implant. I actually didn’t see anything wrong with it as long as data recall isn’t confused with problem solving and it isn’t used for mind control.

  • Doug

    Heh, none of this high-tech implant mumbo jumbo really solves any problem. It simply enables us to mask the issue, be it health, money, mood, etc. This simply allows us to take on more of the stress load we already endure every minute of our lives. Increased unhappiness calls for increased artificial remedies to mask that unhappiness (or unhealthiness). But without a real solution, (diet, time management, etc.) none of it really means anything. We are not truly progressing.

  • majorml

    Hackers have shown that they can break into present car computers remotely and take over control of your engine and your brakes. This will be true of these implants also.

    If anything can be done by humans, they will do it. This includes scientists and engineers exploring new possibilities and includes evil people exploring new possibilities. As the guests on the program illustrate, scientists and engineers are optimists focused on “progress”. I believe the bad people are optimists also.

    Most people are focused on their personal safety and on living. Freedom is often a secondary concern. Though many people are willing to fight and even die for freedom if there is a frontal assault, they are not willing to safe-guard against insidious assaults on freedom, such as the NSA and implants that can be programmed and hacked into. Once again Benjamin Franklin comes to mind:
    “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Unfortunately, that is most of us.

    Also, people should be aware that there are experiments in which implants have been able to control certain aspects of mouse behavior. This has wonderful possibilities for some people, but also has a huge downside possibilities.

    Will the day come when the only free people will be those walking around with aluminum foil on their heads?

  • jbseniorcare

    Tom. Sounds great & terrifying. On the latter side we have live, recent proof that the NSA thinks nothing of boldface lying to a technically challenged and otherwise compromised congress while our president (whom we are supposed to trust) seeks to prosecute the whistleblower (HERO !!). Is it too big a leap to think of the political, wealthy elite in Washington ( ‘them”) from salivating at the the thought of such a implanted control of the masses (“us”)?

  • FrankensteinDragon

    Three blind mice! Three blind mice! See how they run! Its amazing how many incredibly naive and foolish people came to this comment section for this topic and voted everyone down that questions the ethical and social impacts of this technology.

    Nobody questions the terrific uses for this tech in medicine…but is is just dumb to think that it will not be used to persecute, oppress, track and monitor every single person in our society–it is revolutionary. it will change economics, trade, business, exchange, everything, and consolidate the fascist power in power now. To think otherwise is just dumb. Hello–anyone paying attention to the world!?

    its amazing how so many people refuse to wake up and even acknowledge that the socioeconomic system coupled with our invasive technology is tyrannical. Its amazing how many people just don’t care and are unwilling to examine our society and ourselves–just blindly drooling over gimmicks and a strange willingness to become the Borg.

    And what is most frightening about it is they think this makes them individuals and anyone who questions their unexamined life is somehow sinister or eccentric or a luddite. You people are absurd.

    Its easy to imagine that in a hundred years all real traces of humanity will be gone. it is certain all privacy and individualism will be gone. And community will be a corporate mechanistic hierarchy in a brave new Orwellian world. Human beings are so stupid. I am wiling to bet that the people unwilling to examine this point of vie never took a humanities class or were hungover during all humanities classes–and just went to college for economics and business seeking fortune and a job and to exploit–never really giving any thought to anything. The others went for science and computers never really studied any humanities and therefore dont understand humanity or society nor do they care–these are the sociopaths we exalt. Nerve thinking for themselves, never thinking about the things they think they think about, but never really think about.

    Three blind mice! Three blind mice! See how they run! See how they chase after the farmer’s wife with a carving knife!–that’s you!

    • InActionMan

      I think a new group will emerge. Sort of like the Amish they will reject certain technologies and go live in their own communities somewhere.

      If they don’t make trouble they will probably be left alone.

  • Laura Brennan Smith

    I could use a memory upgrade…

  • Jeff

    But of course, there was one, single study that found a problem but in the end the study was completely flawed because it used rats which were genetically varied from normal rats to create tumors…therefore invalidating the one, single study which showed GMO being bad…there should be hundreds of studies not one single flawed study to prove your point. Also, great to see that you didn’t even bother linking to the flawed study because you know it was flawed!!!

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