Question Your World: When Will Communications Technology Be Implanted in Humans?

Posted: January 23, 2019

As science and technology grow, so do the possibilities of how we humans communicate with one another. For example, only two decades ago it was nearly impossible to send a friend a photo of where you were standing, waiting for them, in real time. Flip phones eventually had camera technology to make this possible, and then smart phones advanced that ability even further. As these technologies advance, the devices often get smaller and more efficient. In terms of smart technology, we’ve seen the same type of growth happen. This leads people to ask a pretty big question though: when will communications technology be implanted in humans?

Many people now have smart phones and watches for things like communications, daily planning, and even monitoring health. This quickly growing technology has brought up the question of how long will it be before we have smart devices implanted within our bodies. Some people are ready for it today while many think this is not an ethical way for us to use science and technology. Our technological capabilities often outpace collective ethical decision-making. Regardless, for the time being, we’re still quite far away from this being an off-the-shelf option for shoppers, but scientists have been exploring this topic for a myriad of applications. 

In the past, scientists have worked on implant devices to monitor specific aspects of health, chips for tracking (like the one your pets may already have), or to connect someone to functions in their homes. Some of these are readily available every day, like pet monitoring chips, while technology, like home connectivity, are still in experimental stages. However recently scientists have been working on an implant to help some people communicate with their loved ones and gain access to the internet simply through their minds...sort of.

Three individuals, all paralyzed from the neck down from spinal cord injuries, were given implants in their motor cortex, the part of the brain associated with planning, controlling, and executing voluntary motions. This particular implant has a bluetooth device built in to allow it to connect to a smart tablet. Remarkably this implant is able to take the thoughts of these individuals and translate them into text or functions on the tablet as if they were using their hands. 

While this is a very invasive surgery, the results are quite incredible considering that this now allows these individuals a chance to text, email, browse the internet, do online shopping, and more. Scientists also observed that these individuals were able to do up to 20 clicks per minute and type up to 30 characters per minute, and most of all three users were happier knowing they could use the tablet. 

Perhaps the coolest part about all this is that the tablets were off the shelf technology with no alterations done to them whatsoever. The implant, of course, is not off the shelf and is still undergoing testing, but this is a great sign for individuals who have been in accidents or gone through a physical illness which cost them the ability to communicate with others. If testing continues and proves to be a viable option for others in a similar position, it would be a game changer for many individuals who are in similar situations to the three participants of this study. 

There you go, science and technology, making some pretty amazing things happen! More on this as this story develops in the future.