Hacking my Heart

by Gary Woodill on April 6, 2009


I spent a portion of today getting a software upgrade for my implanted defibrillator, as part of the checkup I get every six months to see how this life-saving device is functioning. It has already been subject to one recall, for the wire that goes into my heart, which in some cases can fray and malfunction.

The software upgrade is to allow me to connect with a box near my bed that will be in constant wireless contact with the device in my chest. It will take scheduled readings on the state of my heart while I sleep and send the results to a server in Chicago, where they can be accessed and read by the cardiac health professionals at my local hospital. I won’t even know that the readings have been taken or that the data has been sent. So much for privacy!

The checkup today allowed the friendly nurse at the clinic to read the functioning of my heart for the past six months, to test the device by turning a dial to make my heart go faster or slower, and to check that everything is functioning as it should.

This amazing capability is only one example of how new medical devices area attaching themselves to our bodies like electronic leeches, purporting to cure but also turning us slowly into involuntary cyborgs.

There is more of this on the way. Toto, a toilet manufacturer in Japan, has a model that checks your urine stream, and sends the results to your doctor via the Internet.


And various types of smart underwear are now being used to monitor both the health and location of individuals in case they have a heart attack or wander too far. UK researchers have developed a “smart bra” that checks the woman wearing it for breast cancer.

All these wearable and implanted devices are converging – soon there will be a pacemaker with built-in GPS in the same unit, and perhaps a Bluetooth transmitter to play digital music into your brain implant.

If you think all this is far-fetched, check out Lynn Marentette’s post on User Interface Engineering; she writes about ambient kitchens to help cooks with memory loss, digital jewelry to help track people with Alzheimer’s Disease. 

This new world is already here.