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Science and Technology
Biotechnology & genetics - ubiquitous computing, computing, implants, wearables, optoelectric implants, electromedical implants
Interaction between personal electronic products, mediated by human skin, may lead to new, and greater use of, invasive applications.
Summary Analysis:
Personal electronic products can communicate with each other and with external networks using human skin as a medium. The convergence of electronic implants, wearables, and personal area networks (both wireless and 'wired' using the skin as a medium) could coincide with a shift from therapeutic body modification for disabilities to personal augmentation for healthy individuals. For example, while optoelectric implants can restore lost vision, they could also be used to give people the ability to see outside the visible spectrum – infrared and so forth. Although aural implants and pacemakers which provide information are already in use, significant resistance to implantable devices may persist due to social, moral, ethical, and religious objections. Even Bill Gates, speaking about chip implants at a Microsoft seminar in July 2005, said,

'One of the guys that works at Microsoft always says to me "I'm ready, plug me in." I don't feel quite the same way. I'm happy to have the computer over there and I'm over here.'

Still, even people who are averse to the idea of implants will probably be able to achieve many of the same benefits through externally worn devices. While implants are likely to be widely available in 20 years, the majority of human computational extensions may be more like an exoskeleton.

Korea may exhibit the greatest uptake of these new technologies. There, high broadband use plus the world’s highest rate of plastic surgery provide the medical technology infrastructure and the demand necessary to drive development.


  • Increased therapeutic capability to improve impaired hearing and vision
  • Potential for therapies for paralysis
  • Improved medical diagnostics
  • Potential to provide telemedicine for the elderly in smart homes
  • Potential, on the negative side, for body-based information warfare and body hacking

Early Indicators:

  • Issuing of US Patent 6,754,472 to Microsoft in June 2004 for a 'method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body'
  • Worldwide electromedical implant market of $10 billion in 2004

What to Watch:

  • Electronic implants to augment organs of perception become widely available.


  • Increasing spread of the Bluetooth and UWB personal area networking protocols
  • Development of subdermal lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged through magnetic induction


  • Korea, East Asia, US, Europe


  • Stanford Medical School (Harvey Fishman's work on optoelectric implants)
  • MIT Media Lab, University of Toronto, Georgia Tech (work on wearables)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gerald Ceasar's work on li-ion batteries)
  • University of Oxford, Active Vision Group [link]
  • University of Glasgow, Department of Computing Science [link]
  • Bristol Wearable Computing (Hewlett-Packard and Bristol University) [link]
  • University of Essex, Electronic Systems Engineering [link]
  • University of Wales, Newport, Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology Research Group [link]
  • University of Bath, Human-Computer Interaction Research Group [link]


  • "New World Map (SR-744)." Interactive CD. Palo Alto, California: Institute for the Future.
  • Brooks, Rodney. 2002. "The merger of flesh and machines" in The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century. John Brockman, ed. New York: Vintage.
  • '"Your Bionic Future."Scientific American. October 1999.
  • Sir Magdi Yacoub, Body Sensor Networks: Technical Challenges and Clinical Opportunities [link]
  • International Workshop on Wearable and Implantable Body Sensor Networks, 2006 [link]
  • John Leyden, I've got your chip under my skin, The Register 2002 [link]
  • Kristof van Laerhoven et al, Medical Healthcare Monitoring with Wearable and Implantable Sensors, 2004


At A Glance:
11–20 years
How Fast:

Related Outlooks:

About this outlook: An outlook is an internally consistent, plausible view of the future based on the best expertise available. It is not a prediction of the future. The AT-A-GLANCE ratings suggest the scope, scale, and uncertainty associated with this outlook. Each outlook is also a working document, with contributors adding comments and edits to improve the forecast over time. Please see the revision history for earlier versions.

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