Impli Implantables Presents at London Futurists

London Futurists invited Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch, founder of Impli, to talk about implantables; or as David Wood terms it, embeddables.

Impli offers implants in London and is in talks with that area's health services with the hope of them having access to patients' medical records via the chip. The NFC implant simply holds a unique ID that links to your medical records that you have uploaded - or you could just link to your NHS number so your electronic health records can be looked up from that. Unfortunately, hospitals don't currently have the ability to scan for the device, but it is early days and Impli is attempting to setup regulations and an industry association to help increase the uptake of the technology.

All new technologies have a slow start, often hitting a tipping point when the general public accept that the benefits outweigh the risks. Think about the initial reluctance to paying online (which always confused me given the alternative was providing your credit card details and specimen signature by insecure mail) which dissipated once the convenience of online shopping was realised.  And there’s a lot more potential convenience available from embedded devices – from never forgetting your keys to monitoring your vital signs to detect health problems before you’re even aware of them.

The future

Maybe, as Impli predict, this will lead to an Internet of Humans by 2021. I think this may be a bit optimistic as take up is still slow. Where I, and I think most of the technically progressive audience, thought Impli were not being optimistic enough, however, was in predicting when more advanced implantables will be available. Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch suggested this might not be widely adopted for another 10-20 years, but with the progress in biofuel cells for power, and continued minitiarisation of electronics, this could surely arrive sooner. This would allow biosensors to continuously record biometrics and then report them back when queried by a reader. This could include temperature and heart rate; and more interestingly monitor the level of medication reaching the body (drug uptake) or cortisol levels to track people's stress levels. And maybe on the 20-year forecast we’d then be getting towards nanobots – the tiniest imaginable implantables coursing through the human body recording and reporting on cellular level activity.

Attitude survey

Impli recently carried out a Facebook survey on people's attitude to implantables. Admittedly not a statistically scientific survey but a useful guide, nonetheless, to how the market might develop. Key points included:

  • 50% of people weren't aware of implantables
  • No gender bias in attitude
  • Overall, almost half the people said they would be happy to get an implant – even allowing for self-selection to take part in the survey this shows a strong willingness to consider it.
  • Age-range most against implants was 26-30
  • 50+ age group most open to the idea – maybe because they’re more likely to need medical treatment and have seen parents and other elderly suffering from dementia.

What is having an implant like?

There was a lot of interest at the event about the practicalities of getting an implant - the unknown of what is involved and, of course, whether it hurts. So, it was useful to have a biohacker present who does this to answer questions, as well as a couple of people who had had the procedure that morning and were able to confirm that it is mainly brief and painless.

If you want to show off, you could have yours fitted with an LED that flashes when it's read - just so people know it's there. Or, like the biohacker attending the talk - you can include some clear text information on it for anyone to read; he alternates between his business details (sounds a cool way to exchange details at a networking event) and a link to dancing kittens on YouTube!

Though be careful what you implant – powered devices are still bleeding edge, literally, with reports of an implanted lithium polymer battery exploding when knocked. And even when devices are working correctly, people feel things getting hot in their body very easily. Though, interestingly, if you ever change your mind, apparently all implantables are designed to be removed and have a ring so that they can be hooked out.

Security

The other hot topic in the question and answer session was security - no surprise given it was the most important factor in the survey when it came to selecting a company to purchase an implant from. Could your information be stolen? Could you be tracked by your chip? As the Impli chip only holds an ID, rather than any actual medical data, if someone did surreptitiously read it, then they'd still need to hack your online account to reach your confidential data. And as the NFC only works up to a distance of 1 centimetre it should be hard to access. But, before any standards evolve, could someone add a public text message which might affect your care? What if emergency responders scanned your chip it and read out “do not resuscitate”? Would they act on that? And when biosensors are linked real-time to medication (as already happens with diabetes) - if a hacker could insert a false reading could this have life changing consequences? All new technologies have similar risks – i.e. that they can be used for good and bad – so nothing to worry about right now, but things that should be being considered by everyone in the industry.

How do you get one?

Sweden appears to be leading the world with implantables, with applications such as train tickets and building access driving their uptake. But Impli is keen for the UK to catch up, so is currently have an offer to insert a chip (materials and labour) for £80 + VAT – a one third discount off their normal price.
NOTE: you must be over 18 to have a chip implanted (the same age needed to have a tattoo).

Maybe one day keys become obsolete, and feel medieval, with access to buildings, cars, money and health data, all through an embedded chip. Sounds like an interesting future to me.

Mentioned in this blog post:

Company Representative Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch - Founder of Impli (implantable technology) and biotechnologist

Company Impli - We use implants to help people get better and faster first point of care

Institute London Futurists - Looking to the future impact of technology on society and heatlh and everything

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