Humans' intimacy with technology: Are we all becoming cyborgs?

Posted: December 08, 2017 | Word Count: 758
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Do you think you could live without your mobile phone? What about the navigation and backup camera in your car? Could you drive as well without them? Could you get by without your smartwatch reminding you how often to get up from your desk to keep healthy or weather conditions for the day so you know how to dress?

Our obsession with technology and the information it delivers daily has progressed beyond the point of external mobile phones and smartwatches to implanted heart monitors and Fitbits. At one time, consumers were too paranoid to enter their Social Security or credit card number online, but now, they are willing to implant sensors and other wearable technologies into their bodies. In turn, companies are leveraging these devices to collect as much data about their potential customers as possible.

The latest fashion: Wearing data

Think about it: You’re carrying (and generating) large amounts of data everywhere you go with wearable and implanted technologies. This means 24/7 data collection for the companies that manufacture those devices, which in turn helps them create a 360-degree view of the patients, athletes or customers they serve with the appropriate products, services and marketing campaigns.

According to research by Talend, a cloud and big data integration software company, 33 percent of consumers already own wearables like the Apple Watch or smart clothing, and another 30 percent are expected to make a purchase within the next three years. That’s a lot of new sources of data for companies to utilize — and a plethora of information companies can use to more accurately define the preferences and needs of its customers.

How we’re using wearables

Topping the list of today’s most common consumer-use cases for embedded wearables is healthcare (57 percent), privacy (28 percent) and convenience (20 percent), all contributing to the rapid dissemination and uptake of these devices.

Healthcare is the leading use for implanted technologies, with the introduction of advanced-tracking devices such as Medtronic’s FDA-approved Reveal LINQ Insertable Cardiac Monitor with TruRhythm Detection, introduced in March of this year, which is designed to accurately identify abnormal heartbeats. This life-saving device is implanted just beneath the skin and communicates wirelessly with the patient’s bedside monitor, which uploads device data to the Medtronic CareLink network. Once the data is loaded, algorithms can be run to determine if the patient is experiencing slower than average heart rate, which can deprive the brain and other organs from getting enough oxygen. This advanced use of embedded wearables and machine learning helps physicians find answers for patients at risk of cardiac arrhythmias to better manage a range of patient populations.

Outside of healthcare, the second biggest use for embedded wearables is physical security. Several companies have started utilizing biochip implants to replace card keys and manual entry codes for employees. For example, Three Square Market offered employees implanted chips in July to make purchases in their cafeteria and break rooms, open doors, log in to computers and use the copy machine. Approximately 50 employees underwent the minimally invasive procedure, many of whom believe the chip is worth any potential discomfort, as it helps to streamline their daily processes. Though this may seem like a massive invasion of privacy for many, for others, biochip implants present a way to make life easier.

Establishing trust: Should you be worried about privacy of information?

While the results of Talend’s survey seem to point to the fact that consumers are getting more digitally comfortable, with greater trust from consumers comes greater responsibility for companies to understand the many ways they need to protect customer data.

According to Talend’s survey, the most likely scenario that would drive consumers to break up with a brand and take their business elsewhere is a breach of personal data. In fact, 78 percent of consumers want to be assured they have full visibility into what companies are doing with their data. But as implanted and wearable technology becomes increasingly common and technology improves, the trade-off between data privacy and convenience will only increase.

Consider a future of augmented reality where implanted contacts could allow you to visualize and interact with the world around you in practical ways, or a future with implanted audio wearables that translate languages in real time. Would that convenience and experience move you to adopt wearable technology even if it means relinquishing more of your personal information and privacy? At what point of technology adoption do we all essentially become cyborgs, guided each day by the obvious and subliminal information being fed to us via embedded and external devices? The day of total automation may be here sooner than you think.

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