The next generation of the “Internet of Bodies,” or IOB, could bring technological devices and the human body closer together than ever before. 

Academic and author Andrea M. Matwyshyn, who coined the term in 2016, describes it as “a network of human bodies whose integrity and functionality rely at least in part on the internet and related technologies, such as artificial intelligence.”

The global connected medical device market alone will be worth around $66 billion in 2024 and is expected to reach more than $132 billion by 2029, according to market research firm Mordor Intelligence.

Matwyshyn identified three categories of IOB, based on a device’s level of integration. 

The first category is external. First-generation technology such as smartwatches or rings have become mainstream ways to track our steps or heart rate. Smart glasses, which can function as cameras, headphones or monitors, are another example of early IOB devices.

The second generation is internal. These are devices you ingest or have implanted. Think of pacemakers with digital implants, smart prosthetics hardwired into patients’ nerves and muscles, or even digital pills that transmit medical data after you swallow them. 

Finally, there’s the third generation. These devices completely merge with the body while maintaining a real-time connection to an external machine and the internet.

One of the most notable companies in this space is Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is developing a brain computer interface, or BCI, called “the Link.” The coin-sized chip is implanted under the skull, where it can read a person’s brain signals and allow them to control an external machine.

While the IOB’s proponents are excited about the advancements it could bring, especially to health care, many, including Matwyshyn in her original paper, have privacy and ethical concerns.

“As bits and bodies meld and as human flesh becomes permanently entwined with hardware, software, and algorithms, IOB will test our norms and values as a society,” she wrote.

“In particular, it will challenge notions of human autonomy and self-governance.” 

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