Cyborgs with superhuman strength, insurances that spy on the private health data of their customers. Digitalisation is already changing the possibilities available to medicine but it also brings threats. As part of the programme track re:health, inventors, journalists and patients with a wide variety of perspectives, analyse the impact of technological progress on our bodies, families and work conditions, as well as our society and industry.
Encoding for beginners
Day 1 of the re:health track confronts us with the ultimate threat: data theft. With smart phones, we track our fitness, predict headaches or count our sugar intake. However if this data reaches the hands of third-parties, we are left open for blackmail. Precisely due to this, the company Tesorit created the health app, Zerokit, through which its users can protect sensitive health information. The end-to-end encoding and secure user authentication is particularly easy for beginners to use who have no technical know-how, explains David Szabo of Tresorit.
DIY body enhancement
Yet digitalisation can do more than just make patients transparent and vulnerable. A round-table of designers, technical developers and disabled users demonstrated how maker technologies provide people with disabilities, the opportunity to create their own gadgets specifically tailored to their needs. This includes wheelchair add-ons, optical orientation aids for deaf sports-people or prosthetics made with 3D printing. Instructions are standardised and distributed worldwide via open source.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has also revolutionised family planning. The developers of Trackle produced a temperature sensor which, women wear at night-time like a tampon. Via wireless, it submits temperature data to the Trackle-System and into the cloud. Here, fertile days are calculated and predictions made for the next months.
How will progress shape our society? In the US, there are already 300 dollar apps available, that can change the user's emotional state via an electrode attached to the head. Thoughts have already been implanted into rats and this is seen as possible for humans in the near future. That's why in her talk, Miriam Meckel warns against neuro-capitalism: good moods and fast synapses are expensive. Those who cannot afford it will quickly fall behind in competition.
Visitors, for whom all the talk about utopian and dystopian moments and progress got too stressful at the re:publica, were able to unwind at informative talks about cannabis, procrastination due to fear and relaxation methods.
Conclusion: the digital infrastructure and better medical equipment increasingly determine the quality and performance of healthcare. Both offer fantastic options for makers. But if we're not careful, it could also further the gap between poor and rich, healthy and sick.
Of course, these were just some of the discussions, talks and meet-ups featured in the science:fiction track at #rp17. You can find all the track topics here. Video and audio clips can be found in the respective sessions or directly in the audio archive or on YouTube.
by Franziska Hoppen (EJS)
Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY-SA 2.0)