Our columnist on the intrusive ingestible microchip pills that can monitor your health.
They look like normal pills, scientists assure us. But they are actually ingestible computers. And well might your doctor tell you as he prescribes them, “Take two of these and they will email me in the morning.”
As the pill travels through your system, it behaves like a tourist inside your body, taking photographs, emailing friends in the medical profession, suggesting places of interest (“Why don’t you take a look at the pancreas, doctor?”, or “Don’t miss the liver, it is a sight”), and making a study of the natives for future jokes (“Did you hear the one about the two microbes walking into a bloodstream?”).
Intrusive? Possibly. But what if it manages to catch a heart attack before it occurs or an incipient baldness before it becomes embarrassing? This is the scientists’ argument. The pill (or computer) is a friend they say, and a tribute to how science can combine with technology to make our lives easier. I mean, you don’t even have to remember your password – the computer emails information to the doctor directly (presumably with copies to you and whoever else you want on the list, including the editor of your school magazine who predicted your liver might pack up before you reached 40).
And that’s my problem. Like everybody else, I have friends who spend the first half hour of a meeting discussing the state of their insides. Now imagine if that lot decided to copy you in on all communications the pill might have with the doctor? “Hmm… this one needs surgery,” it might say of a friend’s favourite kidney, and the information is conveyed to you pronto. However deep the friendship, it thrives best on not knowing the condition of each other’s kidneys. No longer will we greet each other with a “How do you do?” Somehow, “How do I do?” will seem more appropriate.
Nor can any friendship survive a series of, “Of course I know” when one of the parties complains about his internal organs. It is good to know what your friends think, not so good to keep abreast of the acid content of their stomachs. And what if insurance companies get hold of all this information floating around so freely? What effect will that have on premiums? On payments, or Christmas deals?
There is another problem too. What of hackers? What if someone hacks into my ingestible pill and rewrites the information or mixes it up with that of the President of the United States, for example. Poor Barack Obama will suffer my headaches, while I will have to deal with his basketball injuries.
So, on the whole, it’s aspirins for me. I’ll take two and call the doctor in the morning.
Suresh Menon is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world, but later decided to leave it as it is.