Is The Internet About To Take Over Our Bodies Too?
Jonas Pulver, Le Temps, Sept. 10, 2013
GENEVA—What if your refrigerator could tell by itself that you’re out of your favorite ice cream? And if, with its huge online intelligence, this same refrigerator could place an order, by itself, at the local supermarket?
What if your oven could recognize, with a webcam or a barcode reader, the container of Alaskan pollock with Bordelaise sauce you just retrieved, and then instantly download the exact temperature parameters that will cook the dish’s gratin to perfection? (Yes, I am among the thirtysomethings who cannot cook and who are scared of preparing the most basic dish.)
To accomplish this, these physical objects would get their own virtual representation, as is already the case for many people. It’s been called the “Internet of Things.” The objects would be equipped with small computers capable of sending and receiving information. Addressing the physical object or its virtual representation therefore would have the same impact.
Recently, an Indian man explained to me how his company developed services for the Internet of Things. He actually mentioned an oven, equipped with a 4G SIM card, like a telephone. Such devices would have significant influence on the sale prices. Advertisements would be shown on the oven’s screen, which would be able to transfer data to the brands (frequency of use, cooking time, etc). The general manager even dared to dream about elaborate discounts with the biggest names in the food industry: 40% off your loan if you scan only this or that brand with the oven’s webcam, and so on.
What’s striking is the extent to which possessing an object is being redefined, a bit like what we are already experimenting with cell phones and operators: The device is not so much the user’s property anymore but more of a data exchange that the supplier may, in the worst case scenario, deactivate if he feels the need to do so.
But that’s not all. A new generation of connected objects is about to conquer the market: pills equipped with tiny processors that you can swallow with your morning coffee or evening herbal tea. The Helius model by the startup company Proteus, for instance, collects data on the correct way to ingest medicine, the body’s response, but also on the different movement and rest phases. The data is then sent to an app via a cutaneous patch.
If the aim is to keep an eye on grandma’s health or send results directly to the doctor via email, fine. But I can’t stop thinking about the Indian oven’s possible special offers. Will the use of connected pills someday link a certain brand’s medicine instead of another’s to the nature of what we eat, how long we sleep and the total cost of my insurance premium? Will we benefit from discounts on the implant of a bypass surgery in exchange of data collected by these pill-shaped robots or by signing an exclusivity contract with a pharmaceutical group?
Turning objects into data exchange rather than property: It is where the Web of Things wants to take us. And maybe the Web of Bodies too.