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The Brave New World of Biohacking

Project Underskin is a smart digital tattoo that would be implanted underneath the skin.

“We are all going to live with digital stuff attached to us,” says Gadi Amit at Sensors Expo 2014 held at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, CA – And this “brave new world” is quickly approaching, according to the NewDealDesign founder and principal designer.

While our digital stuff may be loosely attached, such as the Fitbit (which Amit designed), it could also be something in our pocket. However, a new world in which wearables are physically attached to our bodies is rapidly approaching. Amit proposes that one of his current ventures, Project Underskin, could be a reality within five to 10 years.

Project Underskin is a smart digital tattoo that would be implanted underneath the skin. It would interact with anything you touch and could exchange data, like business card information, through a handshake. It could even have medical implications, notifying users when their glucose is low, or if they are becoming dehydrated.

Amit admits that the concept has created controversy, even within his own company. Yet, we have a long history of body modification. How is implanting technology any different?

Amit posed this question to one of his tattooed employees who was skeptical of the project. Just as tattoos on our skin can communicate (albeit abstractly), Amit imagines a future that uses a similar graphic design language for utility (e.g. notifications, etc.). “We may be coming to a new type of user interface,” he says.

With this new interface, Amit asks, “What is the meaning of the design when things go under skin?”

The immediate fear is hacking, as it has been with medical devices in the past.

“To some degree I feel there is more security devices, because you know where they are all the time,” explains Amit. “There is going to be hacking, and like anything in electronics, we will have to deal with it.”

Amit proposes an interesting dilemma: If an engineer can design a $100 device that could save billions of people, but the added cost and complexity of adding security would double the cost, which do you choose? Wide availability or security?

“The fear of hacking has prevented the wide use of Bluetooth which is an amazing enabling technology,” adds Amit. “We are in a weird situation where these types of hacking fears are actually preventing these devices from saving lives.”

While Amit doesn’t have the answers for the ethical questions, he explains that one of his roles is to be more provocative and philosophical about what design is, even more so as we face the brave new world of biohacking.

What are the implications of designing things to go under skin? Do we strive for security or availability in these new devices? Email me at [email protected].