De­nis is Ire­land’s first cy­borg

Irish Examiner - - News - In con­ver­sa­tion with John Daly

Vice pres­i­dent tech­nol­ogy labs at McKes­son, De­nis Canty, is an ‘aug­mented hu­man’.

In ad­di­tion to his daily work as vice pres­i­dent tech­nol­ogy labs at McKes­son, De­nis Canty is also an ‘Aug­mented Hu­man’ — Ire­land’s first ‘cy­borg’.

While the term might prompt vi­sions of the fu­tur­is­tic sci-fi film The Ter­mi­na­tor, it refers in this in­stance to a hy­brid of liv­ing or­gan­ism and ma­chine, where the hu­man body is sup­ple­mented by ar­ti­fi­cial com­po­nents. It has been six months since De­nis was im­planted, live on stage at the [email protected] Sum­mit, with bio-hacker smart im­plants in both hands.

A mi­crochip no larger than a grain of rice was in­jected un­der the skin be­tween the thumb and fore­fin­ger and car­ries up to 900 bytes, enough to con­tain ba­sic data such as con­tact de­tails, e-mail ad­dress, plus Face­book and Twit­ter pro­file. Other ap­pli­ca­tions avail­able for ev­ery­day use in­clude car or door opener, pay­ment func­tion, pass­word lo­gin, phone un­lock and web link shar­ing.

“Peo­ple are al­ready us­ing smart im­plants in place of their car keys,” De­nis ex­plains. “Fur­ther de­vel­op­ments in this field in­clude the im­plan­ta­tion of nextgen­er­a­tion chips which will al­low peo­ple to re­place their smart­phones with a mi­crochip.

“We are at a unique point in his­tory, ac­cel­er­at­ing to­ward an era of ubiq­ui­tous in­tel­li­gence, where ro­bot­ics, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and mankind are on a voy­age to sin­gu­lar­ity. It may seem like ‘us’ and ‘them’ now, but our trust and ac­cep­tance will evolve the re­la­tion­ship to one which will seem nor­mal to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Af­ter the ini­tial phys­i­cal aware­ness of the new im­plants, they quickly be­came part of life’s nor­mal pat­tern.

“Ini­tially, as they were a for­eign ob­ject un­der the skin, there was a lit­tle swelling, so I needed to be care­ful.

“Once that set­tled af­ter three-four days, I be­gan the jour­ney of ex­plor­ing the tech­nol­ogy, pro­gram­ming them. I haven’t seen any last­ing dis­ad­van­tages past that.”

The right-hand im­plant is used for ac­cess­ing build­ings at work, and can be pro­grammed for other ac­cess tasks, such as home, lap­tops and phones.

“It might seem ex­treme, but not when you think about the niche use cases — a col­league of mine in Ger­many had one in­stalled as he had bad Parkin­son’s — his hand tremors pre­vented him us­ing a key and this un­der­stand­ably was a source of great stress to him.

“The left-hand im­plant stores my ba­sic med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, in case of emer­gency. I plan to evolve this to con­nect it to a dig­i­tal health plat­form such as Jinga Life. The im­plant could tech­ni­cally be used to pay for goods, as its near-field com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but the pay­ment com­pa­nies have not opened the pro­to­cols yet. As a com­mu­nity of bio­hack­ers, we are work­ing on it chang­ing that,” he adds.

De­nis also ad­mits that his new­found sta­tus as ‘aug­mented hu­man’ works well as a con­ver­sa­tion starter:

“It’s one of the un­ex­pected di­rec­tions I am tak­ing — get­ting a sense for how so­ci­ety is ready, or not, for this tech­nol­ogy. I have done some ini­tial sen­ti­ment anal­y­sis, and it is di­rectly neu­tral thus far. Most peo­ple ask ques­tions, some are un­sure about it and some are very in­ter­ested. I’m al­ways in­ter­ested in peo­ple reach­ing out. Some­times we have to dis­rupt to make lives bet­ter.”

De­nis sees this as a jour­ney, com­par­ing it to the early days of com­put­ers when they were only used for sim­ple tasks like stor­ing ad­dresses: “That is where this tech­nol­ogy is at — sim­ple tasks for con­ve­nience. We all know where com­put­ers took us, how­ever, peo­ple did ques­tion them at one point and deemed them overkill.”

While al­low­ing that the re­al­ity of bio­hack­ing is still in the early stages of uni­ver­sal ac­cep­tance, he does see fur­ther ad­vances as be­ing very close to hand.

“We have a way to go yet. The main driv­ing fac­tor for the 60,000 peo­ple glob­ally with im­plants is for con­ve­nience so far — but as the tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, more will clearly sign up. The next gen­er­a­tion of im­plants due in 2019 will al­low each one to per­form mul­ti­ple tasks with­out need­ing to be re­pro­grammed.”

While De­nis was the first in Ire­land to un­dergo the pro­ce­dure, over three thou­sand peo­ple in Swe­den, in con­trast, have been im­planted in re­cent months.

The use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, AI, con­tin­ues gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, and is al­ready es­tab­lish­ing a pres­ence in ev­ery­day busi­ness and do­mes­tic life.

“These tech­nolo­gies are begin­ning to drop lower on the hype curve and into the main­stream. McKes­son re­cently won the best use of AI in an en­ter­prise com­pany at the AI Ire­land awards in Dublin — the prac­ti­cal­ity, en­gage­ment and en­thu­si­asm on dis­play at those awards shows that the tech­nolo­gies are here to stay, and more com­pa­nies are us­ing them as en­ablers to their strat­egy. They are not a sil­ver bul­let, how­ever, and it is im­por­tant to know when to em­ploy them on top of sta­ble tech­nolo­gies within busi­ness, whilst en­sur­ing so­ci­etal and eth­i­cal prac­tices are be­ing met,” he says.

This emerg­ing sec­tor of­fers sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties, and is one the Cork re­gion can ex­ploit for fu­ture growth in the same way that the tech­nolo­gies of cloud, mo­bile and big data made such an im­pact a decade ago.

“AI, Aug­mented/Vir­tual Re­al­ity (AR/VR), Blockchain and IoT will con­tinue to be cru­cial to the re­gion’s growth. Ed­u­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion are key, and our col­leges and or­gan­i­sa­tions like [email protected] are cru­cial to that. As Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar men­tioned on his re­cent visit, for Ire­land to suc­ceed, Cork must suc­ceed. We must at­tract both peo­ple and in­vest­ment, so choice is key. As a leader of a global team, I see all the time how cer­tain lead­er­ship and coun­tries grav­i­tate to in­vest in places that are closer to their head­quar­ters’ com­pany cul­ture.”

De­nis Canty’s motto — “Send the el­e­va­tor down” — is very much aligned to­ward pro­mot­ing Stem pro­grammes and men­tor­ship for the new gen­er­a­tion com­ing through.

“Men­tor­ship and be­ing part of Stem pro­grams have been part of my tech­nol­ogy path­way all the way from school.

“It is very im­por­tant to McKes­son — we ac­tively spon­sor a fe­male schol­ar­ship with CIT, and work in and sup­port a mul­ti­tude of Stem ini­tia­tives.

“It’s im­por­tant to en­sure we em­power and pro­mote the lead­er­ship of to­mor­row. You are now see­ing Stem in­volv­ing to Steam, with the arts be­ing part of it. I see this as a great move, be­cause when our younger gen­er­a­tion are in the work­place, prod­uct per­son­al­i­sa­tion will be a huge en­abler for tech­nol­ogy and the arts are a big part of that — how things look, feel and re­act to you as an in­di­vid­ual.”

De­nis Canty, of McKes­son, who was im­planted with bio-hacker smart im­plants in both hands live on stage at the [email protected] Sum­mit.

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