Will Mobile Phone Implants Really Be A Thing?

July 7, 2017 | Back to the Blog

We simply can’t live without our cell phones. Can you imagine being any more attached to your phone than you are now? Well, get ready, because new technology might mean that you are literally attached to your phone 24/7, 365 days a year.

Phone technology could be implanted in your body

That’s right, implanted! This might sound like science gone mad, but this type of technology could become a reality.

At a recent think tank of global industry leaders were recently interviewed by the World Economic Forum. Their answers to this survey give the rest of us mere mortals a glimpse into our global society’s technological future.

It’s not really a stretch to imagine. We already have devices connected to the Internet through wireless technology, 3D printing of human tissue, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Many world tech leaders describe this as the coming of the “Second Machine Age”. In the Industrial Age, inventions like the steam engine and machinery for factories gave humans muscle power. The second Machine age gives humans brain power through the massive advances that computing has to offer.

There are lots of other implantable devices that are already using wireless technology. One example is a pacemaker that collects data. People keep a desktop device nearby, and download data for their doctor to review.

The first known prototype for an implantable cell phone came from designers at the Royal College of Art in London in 2002. Basically, their design involved an implantable chip that had a receiver that could pick up signals from a mobile phone. The device also contained a transducer that would convert the signal into vibrations. The idea was to implant the device into a person’s tooth; the tooth would vibrate when it picked up the radio signals from the phone. The vibrations would then travel along the jawbone to the inner ear, and the person would perceive it as sound. It was a private call; no one else could detect the phone signal.

Of course, this was a concept, and not a real device. But it might not be that far off. Some predictions state that implantable phones and other devices could be here as soon as 2023. In a world where things are increasingly miniaturized and connected to the Internet, it’s not so hard to imagine.

How would it work?

Phones already have accelerometers, devices that measure movements and forces. An accelerometer could contain piezoelectric crystals and could be attached to the jawbone. The device would detect movement as a person opens and closes their jaw. When your head moves, your jaw moves, too, so the implant would also detect head movements by using the piezoelectric crystals that change shape in response to electric pulses.

The person would have to learn certain head and jaw movements to control the phone’s operation. Gestures would relate to keypad numbers 1, 2, 3 and so on. It would work kind of like sign language does.

The gesture would create an impulse that would be sent to the implant’s microprocessor unit, which would be implanted behind the ear. Make 10 gestures, dial 10 numbers, and the radiofrequency transmitter behind the ear would send the data just like it does now on an ordinary cell phone. The speaker would provide the audible signal to the ear; it would fit inside the ear canal and stimulate the eardrum.

Other design concepts involve implanting the cell phone in your arm. Several companies are investigating whether the ways we currently interface with all of our gadgets could still be done if the gadget was implanted underneath human tissue. They’ve found that touch sensors, LED displays and buttons all work great in cadaver studies.

There are issues to be sure, such as infections caused by the devices, or having to remove the device by surgical means if there is a malfunction. There are also societal problems that arise when people are able to be tracked everywhere they go.

On the other hand, you would never lose your device!

Sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says this: “In general, the trend has been that people are more and more willing to incorporate bits of the machine world into themselves. The perception [of this technology] 10 years ago would differ from today and from what we would get in 10 years’ time.”

Turkle says that people are already halfway there: “People literally cannot be without their phones today, and many don’t feel the same when they are not connected. We already live with our phones as if they are part of our body.”

What do you think? Would you want a device implanted in your body? Is it super cool, or super creepy? Let us know what you think and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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