Denis is Ireland’s first cyborg
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.