As humans implant mechanical devices into their bodies - starting with relatively simple devices like pacemakers - computer viruses become just as dangerous as their biological equivalent. One man made himself a guinea pig to test this potential threat.
Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading in the UK infected a computer chip with a virus, then placed that chip in his hand. The chip had been designed to allow him instant access to various buildings around the university as well as his cellphone, but the virus corrupted these links and scrambled anything with which it communicated.
Although most mechanical implants like pacemakers or cochlear implants are still self-contained devices, Gasson believes this is changing, which is partially why he undertook the research:
"Our research shows that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing and manipulating data. They are essentially mini computers. This means that, like mainstream computers, they can be infected by viruses and the technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future."
Gasson noted that, since he had had the chip in his hand for over a year before infecting it with the virus, he had come to see the implant as a part of himself. As such, giving himself a computer virus - while something of an honor to be the first person so infected - was not unlike becoming sick with any other ailment, and he felt "violated" by the experience. Although the chip carried no health risks for him, the same could not be said for some sort of networked pacemaker, in which any virus that could shut down its systems would carry very immediate, very serious dangers.
Ultimately, Gasson sees this experiment as a field test for the next phase of our evolution:
"I believe it is necessary to acknowledge that our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves. Indeed we may find that there are significant social pressures to have implantable technologies, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we'll be disadvantaged if we do not. However we must be mindful of the new threats this step brings."
For more on this story, check out this BBC News report below.