THE BLOG

Are We Ready for Connected Bodies?

01/02/2016 16:55 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Imagine a world where you no longer have to carry bank cards, hotel room keys or tube passes; in fact, where you can simply use a chip inside your hand to open station barriers or pay for your morning coffee. You may think this sounds like a sci-fi movie, but it's happening in real life and is much more accessible than you may think.

From bio-hackers enthusiastically injecting themselves with LED devices in order to make their hands glow, to doctors installing life-saving pacemakers - adding technology to the human body is a topic of endless fascination and debate. For many ordinary people the idea of having a small wireless chip inserted under the skin is something that belongs in the movies, the kind of murder-by-hacked-pacemaker plotlines seen in a 'whodunit' mystery.

But away from all the hype, the tiny wireless bio-chips that make it all possible are on the verge of becoming part of everyday life. In a world rapidly waking up to contactless payments, biometric passports and universal connectivity, are we ready to make this step?

The journey from never to maybe

Would you be happy for a tiny, wireless bio-chip to be fitted in your body? And if so, for what purposes? We've actually spoken to 1,200 adults across Europe to explore how ordinary consumers like you and I feel about implanted technology. The study found that, although emotions often run high, they are underpinned by a surprising level of acceptance and understanding.

Nearly one in three (29 per cent) is adamant that they would never, under any circumstances, have a bio-chip implanted. End of story. As with many emerging technologies, fear of the unknown sometimes appears almost overwhelming, with two-thirds of all respondents terrified that an implanted chip might malfunction and harm them (63 per cent) or enable someone with malicious intent to take over their body or gather data about them (60 per cent).

However, despite these concerns, the majority also express remarkable tolerance of and even support for implanted bio-chips, provided the reason is a good one.

And from maybe to yes

So why would people consider being chipped? Apparently people would allow themselves to be bio-chipped if it could help to save their lives or keep them in connection with the people they love.

Around half would be happy to carry a chip to manage critical medical conditions (51 per cent); or to summon emergency services (46 per cent) and notify those closest to them (45 per cent) should they need help. A similar proportion (48 per cent) believes that bio-chips could help to keep children or vulnerable people safe. From a security perspective it is worth noting that many, if not all of these applications, centre on personal tracking and the storage and communication of immensely sensitive data - a data privacy nightmare and a cyber-attackers dream.

Interestingly, we are least convinced by what seems to be unknown - paradoxically, the kind of applications that are likely to be the first on the market. These include computer or device authentication, an acceptable reason for just 29 per cent, or the ability to make contactless payments (26 per cent), manage a connected home (25 per cent) and open and close doors (23 per cent). It seems that, for now, most of us are still happy to use door handles, shut our own curtains and get our wallets out.

Feeling the fear, but doing it anyway

When it comes to connected bodies that exchange information and intelligence with the outside world in order to make our lives easier and safer, the journey is far from smooth and straightforward. Today, bio-chip implants are about the size of a grain of rice and capable of storing the same amount of data that you find on a business card. Risks are fairly limited, but so are opportunities for use. This will start to change very quickly. It's important that developers understand and address the security challenges of implanted wireless bio-chips that can track your every move, and which carry and exchange personal authentication, medical and fitness data, and more are critical before such applications are launched. Only then will we get a real benefit from this exciting technology.

Arlington Research surveyed 200 employed consumers, aged 18 to 55 in each of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Benelux. The research was undertaken online between 11 and 17 November 2015.