AQA Computer Science GCSE
Ethics - Computer implants
Computer implants are small, computing devices that can be implemented into people's bodies, allowing them to be used to monitor the user or for other purposes.
- cochlear implants - which have been used to restore hearing to profoundly deaf users
- heart implants - use electrodes to regulate heartbeat and warn of heart attacks
- diabetes monitoring implants - these are similar to the devices discussed on the wearable technologies page
- under-skin RFID chips - these allow people to use their bodies as you would a device such as a car or door key or credit card which requires the device to be close to something - 1 minute BBC video
All of these devices needs to be surgically implanted in the user.
The health benefits of the medical devices are clear. They are generally small and don't cause significant issues for most users - and can change the life of the user.
RFID chips are more a matter of convenience. My current car key is hands free - I simply need to be near the vehicle to open it and for the key to be inside to drive it. When I walk away the car locks automatically. It's really handy - unless I lose the key or leave it somewhere. An RFID chip provides the same functionality, and has the added security that although your car key can be stolen it will be a lot harder to steal your RFID chip because it's implanted.
People have used this technology as a way of restricting access to their home, for example. Companies have used it as well - for cashless catering (like fingerprint biometrics) and the thought is that in some cases it could be used to restrict access to certain areas and to determine where employees are and, potentially, what they are doing at any point.
A really good article summarising RFID chips from the Guardian (2019) - quite long, but worth reading all of it.
RFID stands for Radio-Frequency IDentification.
Many implants - such as the medical ones - collect and transmit data. That data has to be secured so that hackers can't access it. Legislation such as GDPR and the Data Protection Act should help to do this, but data breaches and individual hacks are still a concern.
In some cases, hacking this type of device could be a major health issue - researchers showed in 2019 that it was possible to hack insulin pumps, for example. In the case of RFID technology it could allow hackers to gain access to vehicles or houses or to access credit cards.
As with all technology, security levels, including patching any vulnerabilities, is crucial. Researchers have shown that it's possible to infect RFID implants with viruses and malware. Car keys can already be "cloned", allowing criminals access to people's vehicles; the same possibilities exist with any similar RFID implant.
The cost of implants is an issue which can keep the technology out of reach for many people. A single cochlear implant costs £23,000 for one ear, £38,000 for two for example (2019 figures).
The use of RFID chips in industry has the potential to create a number of data privacy problems, as well as vastly increasing the ability of employers to monitor what their workers are doing. There are a range of ethical and legal issues linked to this - the Guardian article above deals with these. And what if someone else hacks the technology?
The usual environmental concerns apply to this technology as well. It all has to be made and powered, as do the data centres behind it.