The convergence of in-body and in-home networking is here

The chip business hasn’t exactly set the world on fire the last few years but today two consumer giants Sony and IBM got together to launch their entry into the ‘in-body’ chip market – the PersonalCell chip.

Designed to be implanted under the skin, this chip, smaller than a grain of rice, effectively replaces your passport, ID card and, some mobile phone functions. It provides wireless access to all your personal health-care information, financial services and limited voice and email communications.

It will allow full integration with the Sony Playstation/Cell home networks. Intel is to provide additional networked computing devices for specialized functions around the home.

Intel has joined IBM and Sony to create a new channel of application developers for this platform. They will develop a myriad of new applications for home and body. At the launch event in London, Professor Kevin Warwick demonstrated how he could receive MMS video signals directly through his PersonalCell chip. He also claimed to be able to interact with his partner’s emotions using the existing wireless infrastructure.

Intel has been somewhat reluctant to enter the ‘in-body’ market due to the sensitive nature of the technology, but with IBM and Sony’s bold moves have now joined the new industry, at least on the periphery.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

The US Professor and visionary, Norbert Wiener, founded the field of Cybernetics in the 1940’s. He envisaged that one day electronic systems he called “Nervous Prostheses” would be developed that would allow those with spinal injuries to control their paralysed limbs using signals detected in their brain.

In 1998 Professor Kevin Warwick at Reading University shocked the international scientific community by having a silicon chip transponder surgically implanted in his left arm. A series of further implant experiments have taken place in which Kevin’s nervous system was linked to a computer. Kevin’s new implant experiment called ‘Project Cyborg’ got underway in March 2002.

During 2003 new innovations came out fast and furious. Drs Peterman and Fishman of Stanford University announced that they had created four artificial synapses on a silicon chip. Even though these electronic synapses are a whopping 5 000 nanometres wide, they have been wrought in such a way that they can stimulate a single nerve cell.

In April 2003, the Georgia Institute of Technology announced the first robotic device with movements controlled by a network of nerve cells in a Petri dish. This IN VITRO neural network consists of a few thousand neurons and glial cells (cells that support and protect the neurons) from the cortex of a rat embryo.

In July 2003, Germany’s Infineon Technologies, announced that it had developed a biosensor chip capable of recording, amplifying and processing the electrical signals from neurons in the brain. The Neuro-Chip, which was co-developed with the Max Planck Institute, should help researchers to understand how the brain works, and point the way to possible treatments for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

2003: Technology geeks embrace personal info exchange
At the annual Pop!Tech conference in Maine USA, 500 technology visionaries voluntarily wore PDA-sized ‘tags’ around their necks to enable open information exchange of selected personal details without the obligatory chit-chat. The nTags were a result of Rick Borovoy’s doctoral work at MIT and manufactured by nTAG Interactive. They use an RFID tag to communicate with a central server.

2004: Teenagers embrace passive under-skin chips and tags
Teenage clubbers at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona become the first to be able to choose an under-skin RFID tag rather than a traditional membership card. With this option they can jump queues, reserve tables and use the club’s VIP room. The chips are manufactured by US company Applied Digital Solutions under the VeriChip brand. This is a typical example of passive in-body chip implants – working essentially as an information source that can be accessed by an outside network.

Theodore Berger of the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, announces that his group running the first human trials with an active in-body chip implant, a so-called ‘brain prosthesis’, an implantable hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is involved in the formation of long-term memory. Strokes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s can cause lasting damage to this region of the brain.

In June, electronics giants IBM, Sony and Toshiba team up to increase funding to a joint venture called ‘Cell’, originally founded in 2002. They plan to spend more than US$ 5 billion over the next 3 years to make a supercomputer on a chip – network servers for the home and car – single chips more than the speed of IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer. They want to own the broadband world – just the way Pentium owned the PC platform. The first products are targeted for a 2006 launch and will be the first to use 65 nanometer technology – approaching true nano technology in commercial chips for the first time. Cell is expected to yield a chip that is capable of performing mathematical calculations of one teraflop – over one trillion calculations per second. That is more than 100 times faster than a Pentium 4 processor.

2006: Big guns team up with new kids on the block
Two internationally renowned professors, at the University of Reading, Brian Andrews and Kevin Warwick, together with the eminent neurosurgeon Peter Teddy have just taken a step closer to their dream. The team have come together from different branches of Cybernetics and Neurosurgery. Kevin Warwick from Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Brian Andrews from Biomedical Engineering, Neural Prostheses and Spinal Injuries. Peter Teddy has a long involvement with neural implants and is the head of Neurosurgery at Oxford.

Although seemingly worlds apart, together they have launched a new microelectronic implant for two-way connection to the nervous system. In one direction, the natural activity of nerves are detected and in the other, nerves can be activated by applied electrical pulses. Their product is targeted to help people with spinal cord injury or limb amputation.

IBM and Intel team up with sensor-specialists Cyberkinetics to enter a market previously dominated by universities and small venture-capital firms. Analysts say that their entry should add credibility and popularize the use of the technology. “Over the past two years we have been able to attract the best minds in the bioengineering field and have joined them together into a powerful global network to turn the promise into reality. This is the start of what we see could be a half-trillion dollar business in the next ten years”, said IBM’s head of research, Boba Interlaken.

2007: Sony and IBM announce plans for an active in-body chip
With the launch of the first product from their ‘Cell’ joint venture, IBM and Sony announce plans to manufacture under-skin chips that will tie into their wireless home networks and will eventually integrate into normal functions of the human nervous system
Anticipating neural prostheses hitting the market within a few years, pressure groups use a UN conference in New York to protest against the numerous technical and ethical issues surrounding the new technology.
It is the desperation of people with degenerative brain-conditions that made Arthur Caplan, chairman of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, uncomfortable. There could be pressure to get these devices to market as quickly as possible. Dr Caplan warns that well-designed protocols need to be in place before clinical trials begin.

2008: Intel forecasts fuel technophobia
Intel forecast that within 5 years their technology will make your mobile phone completely redundant, replacing all its functions. You’ll be able to make phone calls just by ‘thinking’ about the person you want to call, you’ll be able to hear their response by direct stimulation of your nervous system and you’ll be able to ‘see’ the latest movie by direct stimulation of the optic nerve, bypassing those fallible eyes completely.

2010: UK implements under-skin passports
The UK becomes the first country to implement under-skin chip technology for use as passports. Participation is optional at this stage and, based on their success over the past 10 years with ‘chip passports for pets’, a takeup of more than 1 million citizens is expected for the first year.
UK urges EU to push through legislation to extend technology across the EU.
Sony and IBM announce the first commercial active under-skin chip.

2012: The war over the home network is won
Sony’s Playstation is now established as the de facto home network server.
The IBM, Sony and Toshiba JV ‘Cell’ has created the unlimited computing power to enable home networks to integrate television, music and business functions into a truly wireless environment.
The IBM/Intel under-skin chips are now true commodities and integrate fully into the Cell/Playstation wireless networks in the home, integrating in-body entertainment and computing for early adopters of the technology.
Business for optometrists has plummeted as individuals bypass their eyes as input devices completely, using computer-generated inputs directly to the visual cortex in the brain.
What was crazy science fiction just ten years ago has become quite ordinary today.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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