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David Emm: Collaboration is Key to the Future Success – or Failure – of Human Augmentation

Written by David Emm, principal security researcher, Kaspersky

Recent research found that nearly half (49%) of Europeans are either “excited” or “optimistic” about a future society that includes both augmented and non-augmented people. But how do we create a positive future that accommodates augmentation?

A recent virtual event featured four augmented individuals debating what it is like to be augmented, how people respond and – crucially – how human augmentation technology can be developed safely, ethically and legally. Three had bionic limbs for medical reasons and one had augmented themselves by choice, by implanting a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip in their hand.

What is clear is that as human augmentation technology becomes ever more commonplace, so people, manufacturers, other industry stakeholders and regulators must work together so ensure a safe future for both augmented people and wider society.

Developing human augmentation technology: The personal perspective

Bionic humans are the best placed to tell manufacturers what they need and assist with design.

Tilly Lockey is a bionic model, presenter, speaker and all-round disruptor. She has been working with bionic limb developer, Open Bionics, for several years.

“You could be the best engineer in the world, but you can’t test [a bionic arm] if you’ve got a hand, that’s where people like me come in,” she said. Tilly’s bionic arms are designed for each user and operate via sensors, so there are no wires involved.

Dr Bertolt Meyer, professor of Work and Economic Psychology at Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, also has a bionic arm. For Meyer, 3D printers will make bionic technology much more accessible to everyone. “It’s empowering,” he said. “People can design their own devices and custom coverings.”

However, Meyer also stated that we need common rules and legislation around human augmentation technology. “What is permissible in terms of elective technology? Would it be ethical to take off a healthy limb to replace it with a superior bionic limb?” Meyer asked. “We need to ask this within the business context behind it, too. There’s a lot of money to be made and this will drive ethical conversations and potentially side-line them. Our economy will not solve them alone.”

What about those who chose to augment themselves out of choice? Hannes Sjöblad is a consultant and commentator on biohacking, and he also develops human augmentation chips. He has an RFID chip in his hand, which he uses to pay for things, such as travel. Sjöblad said that there is already EU legislation to cover augmentation developments in medical devices.

“There’s testing and validation, it’s been in place for many years, and it’s being updated. These things are ultimately very well covered, and things that you put in your body fall under this,” he said. Sjöblad added that, unlike the Internet of Things (IoT) in our homes, we cannot walk away from a chip in our body. The challenge comes when we define the limits of things like copyright and corporate control, as well as considerations around rights and security, he adds.

“We’re just at the beginning of this new technology and what it can do,” he told delegates. “I am both a user and provider at scales of this technology to thousands of people, so there are human rights and cybersecurity matters that are very important. For example, does the manufacturer have the right to issue updates without my consent?”

Feedback from those with augmented technology highlights the importance of individuals and developers of human augmentation technology working together to educate government at both a national and international level about the importance of legislation. This will provide a secure framework for the future development of safe medical augmentation devices and practices, as well as set boundaries for those who choose to augment themselves.

The same research found that nearly half (46%) of Europeans believe people are free to augment if they wish, as it’s their body.

Marco Preuss is Director of Kaspersky’s Global Research & Analysis Team in Europe. He told delegates that he is a big fan of learning from the past. “With PCs, no one really knew about security at the start and we saw mass infections, likewise with mobile phones and then IoT,” Preuss warned. “Human augmentation devices could have a really big impact on Internet infrastructure. We need to take care of the topic of security before devices are on the market.”

Security vendors must bring their expertise to the table to ensure that these devices are secure if they become connected.

“One of the most important things we have to do is work with the people who are actually using the technology,” said David Jacoby, Deputy Head of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team in Europe. “With IoT, developers took a normal TV and made it ‘smart’ by putting a chip in it, I don’t want to see that with human augmentation.”

Jacoby concluded that collaboration between augmented individuals and manufacturers will make the development process that much easier. “The augmented community must tell vendors ‘this is what we want, this is how we’ll use it’ and we need to build security into that,” he said.

*About the study

An online survey was conducted by Atomik Research among 6,500 adults aged 18+ across Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and UK. The research fieldwork took place between 2-4 March 2021. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.

To download the report, visit https://bit.ly/2OJuxp5