"Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."
The Six Million Dollar Man, Opening Narration
If you’re old enough to remember Steve Austin, you’ve grown up in a world where augmenting technology and the human body has been real.
The idea of using technology to enhance human performance is nothing new. From walking sticks to armour, prosthetic limbs to performance enhancing drugs; we are driven by a fundamental desire to live longer, use our energy more efficiently and to be more productive.
That‘s why we’re quick to embrace technological advances even when we’re not sure about the potential benefits.
Maybe you’re old enough to remember wondering why anyone would want to be able to carry a computer around with them? Maybe you struggled to comprehend why anyone would want to have a phone in their pocket all day, or why if you have a phone in your pocket, you need a device on your wrist?
With each leap, technology has transformed the way we live, interact and do business. It was almost inevitable that as processor and data storage technology improved, technology would work its way into our bodies.
It's what's inside that counts
Embeddables are tiny microchips inserted into the body. Think tiny versions of your smartwatch or fitbit, capable of tracking and transmitting information.
While Artificial Intelligence sees computers learn to master things that traditionally required human intelligence1, embeddable technology seeks to improve the things we find easy.
The direct release of medication, the ability to overlay our own vision with different spectrums, the ability to heighten our senses and provide a direct connection with artificial intelligence are all already well under development.
The cynical and squeamish may cringe at the idea, but we already have elements of a microchip that are similar in size to a strand of human DNA and at the current rate of progress, could expect something as powerful as your smartphone in the size of a red blood cell in around two decades.2
We may not all become Steve Austin... but we may get a little bit better… for a lot less than 6 million dollars.
Chips might just be good for you after all
The idea of implanting something into our body is enough to make most people a little uneasy.
That is why great strides are already being made in the development and implementation of implants in the field where its immediate benefits are most obvious… the health industry.
"Implants make people uncomfortable. They must be small and easily powered so repeat operations are not necessary.3"
Dr. Anthony Guiseppe-Elie professor of bioengineering at the University of South Carolina
How do you feel in yourself?
Imagine being able to diagnose and treat conditions automatically. Microchips embedded under the skin may one day detect and send notifications to smart devices so users can get real-time feedback on their health, rising levels of white blood cells, reduced levels of specific hormones, even detecting the presence of abnormal cancer cells. The future may not be as distant as you think:
NHS have started support of diabetics using microchips to monitor insulin levels
Professors at the University of New South Wales are working on a bionic eye4
Google filed two patents for contact lenses designed to alert diabetics of a dip in blood sugar5
Scientists at the University of Louisville have helped three people with complete lower limb paralysis to move their legs using implants in spinal column6
The advances being made in the health industry are making implants smaller and implant procedures less intrusive, opening the door to the next great driver of early adoption… security.
Safe in your own hands
Hot on the tail of medical developments are a range of companies researching how embeddable technology can be used as a means of payment and identification.
A chip under your skin could allow you to pay for goods and unlock doors with the wave of your hand. Indeed, Motorola have already submitted a patent to develop electronic tattoos or ‘bio stamps’ that live on the skin.8
An early adopter’s tale
Shanti Korporaal of Sydney already has a radio frequency id chip in her left hand and a near field communication chip in her right. They have been programmed with information like her travel card, gym key and even to open and turn on her car. In an interview with news. com. au, she said, “you could set up your life so you never have to worry about any password or PINs. It’s the same technology as Paypass, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to pay for things with it.9
Paypal are looking to take the technology a step further in an attempt to replace passwords and advanced methods of identification like fingerprint scanning.
Natural body identification utilising implants in the brain and stomach would monitor internal body functions like heartbeat, glucose levels and vein recognition to create a truly unique identifier.10
Samsung’s NFC director Jorg Suchy sees the even greater potential for the technology:
“it will become much easier for countries to progress towards a cashless society. Governments can get rid of the hassle of coins, reduce the cost of printing money and reduce the threat of counterfeiting”.11
As embeddable technology continues to demonstrate its benefits in terms of health and security, adoption will rise and a host of new businesses will enter the market dedicated to delivering the next great life changing development.12
Getting under your skin - Here come the marketers
George Hanson, Vice-President of North America e-commerce and brand house stores for Under Armour:13
“First was connected footwear — athletic shoes with a chip embedded to monitor key performance-related metrics and transmit them to the MapMyRun app. The second was TB12 Sleepwear, a product that uses embedded technology to help wearers recover better from exercise while they are sleeping – We see the future of wearables really moving towards embeddables”.
Under Armour are embracing embeddable technology to build a single view of their consumers, one that not only relies on transactional information, but information on their biometrics, workout habits, location data and more.
It may all sound a little big brother, but this type of data is gold to marketers and a fertile ground for new opportunities. Marketers who embrace embeddable technology will be able to tailor their offering like never before to deliver a truly unique experience designed to appeal to our personal preferences.14
"Embeddables strengthen the relationship between organisations and their customers by putting engagement with customers directly in the right place at the right time, while giving agents more context to personalise their transactions.15"
Adrian McDermott Senior Vice-President of product development at Zendesk
At the forefront will likely be the same industries impacted earliest by the last round of augmentation, hospitality, entertainment, health. But as a quick browse through your app store will show you… it won’t be long before dynamic new businesses are offering embeddables to help with anything you can think of.
Who knows, by the end of the next decade we might all be shopping in the brain app store!16
What could go wrong with an implant?
We’ve all heard the horrifying (and almost always completely made up) stories of implants in all sorts of parts of the human anatomy exploding. That isn’t really on the cards for embeddable technology, but before you run off to invest, there are some risks to consider.
Google glass, brief as it was, seemed like a great idea but was met with serious resistance. Seems we get a little uncomfortable with the idea someone might be filming us or taking our picture without permission.
Embedding a chip takes these concerns to a new level. At least with our smart phones we know when they are being used, we can choose to turn them off, we can see if someone has one pointed our way.
Combining the physical and the technological, and making them both accessible through the internet will require an enormous level of security.
If your laptop or smartphone is hacked, it can be a major inconvenience and potentially a costly trip to an IT professional. If your artificial heart or embedded artificial intelligence is hacked, it could be a potentially life-threatening trip to the emergency ward.
When the information people wish to steal is inside us, how much more secure will you need to feel before taking on an implant?
The security issues we face today like malicious attacks, data exploits and privacy concerns, cast a long shadow over this new technology.
The chips are down – and we’re all in
This is a huge amount for what is, in itself, an emerging market. With so much potential and so many companies already pursuing it, a general adoption of embeddable tech seems almost inevitable, but what will it mean for business?
Embeddable technology is likely to form a key part of our future workplace, helping us to train more effectively, access and share knowledge quicker, and interface with highly complex and rapidly evolving systems.20
The short-term implications are obvious, managing security, access, payments with a simple wave of the hand will create smarter, more secure office spaces. It will fundamentally change the way information is accessed, digested and shared between staff and clients.
These enhancements will add a new dimension to the information driven economy, as our capabilities grow and new technology evolves to meet our changing demands.
As the sources of real time data grow, so too will the ability to collect and analyse that data. Clients will come to expect that their advisor shares the same level of insight into their business that they have into their own clients. They will demand a seamless, real-time flow of information and feedback.
For those with clients in the logistics or retail space, where real time information is their lifeblood, adapting to this new reality is going to be critical.
Of course, no conversation about new technology would be complete without touching on what it means for jobs.
Think your role is too specialist or requires a level of creativity that embeddable tech couldn’t replicate? Then consider this.
In 2016, a computer, using artificial intelligence, created a piece of art that experts struggled to distinguish from an original Rembrandt.21 That’s not to say it copied a Rembrandt… this computer studied Rembrandt’s works, his style, even his brush strokes and created a completely original work that experts thought could have come straight from the man himself.
If a machine can manage that, then what possibilities for analysis, creativity and increased learning for human’s embedded with the machine?
Don’t get too alarmed though, we’re not currently talking about a Terminator style rise of the machines just yet. Even in highly digitised industries, we’re at the embryonic stages of this new technology.
Accountants interested in future proofing their business, or capitalising on the changes inevitably coming, should be looking to upskill as there is a shift towards more strategic and analytical roles.22
Embeddable tech forms part of a wider trend of automation that will inevitably impact any business in a service industry, professional or otherwise. However, while certain tasks are at risk, high skill roles like financial planning, analysis or business controlling are still likely to be in high demand and highly valued.
It will be a long time until someone gets around to creating an ‘accounting chip’…
1 http://www.alanturing.net/turing_archive/pages/reference articles/what is ai.html