Call Me Irresistible (or else)

This new book, Irresistible: the Rise of Addictive Technology, points to a challenge that may be hitting a tipping point.  It is not a surprise that we find various of our tech-toys addictive in various ways.  Nor is it surprising that there is a business incentive to have folks “hooked” on your toy rather than someone else’s.  But … are we moving towards “maximally effective addiction?.”   There is the traditional story of “the wire” that allows rats/people to stimulate brain pleasure centers can result in addictive, potentially fatal activity.  Presumably, to the extent possible from a basis of external sensory input, technology will move towards this point.  With the addition of fairly comprehensive individual analysis, AI driven analysis and expanded virtual reality capabilities will approach the maximally effective endpoint.  The only business constraint may be the loss of a revenue generating consumer as a result.  Is this the direction we are headed? And what might prevent our reaching that point?



Online physical attack

It should be noted that an early, if not first, instance of a physical attack on a person has been carried out by the use of online means, in particular social media used to trigger an epileptic seizure.  This concept has surfaced in science fiction, notably in Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash (which also inspired the creation of Google Earth).  In that case, persons are exposed to an attack while in virtual reality that causes them to become comatose.

With the Internet of Things, and the potential for projecting “force” (or at least damage causing light/sound ) over the network a new level of abuse and need for protection is emerging.  One key in this particular case, and into the future, might be to have true identity disclosed, or as a criteria for accepting content over the net.

Hacking Medical Devices

Johnson & Johnson recently disclosed that one if its insulin pumps might be subject to hacking.   This follows assertions about pacemakers and implanted defibrillators might also be subject to attack.  No doubt some wireless medical devices will have security vulnerabilities with at least software if not hardware attack vectors.

The motives for attack are perhaps equally important in any case. Hacking a fleet of cars can have widespread visibility and will be associated with a different set of motives than a personal attack via a medical device.  However, murder or assassination are potential uses for these types of flaws.

“No instances of medical-device hacking have been disclosed.” according to the related WSJ article. Of course, when a diabetic dies of an insulin excess or deficit, murder by hacking might not be on the post mortum evaluation list.  The abuses here are (hopefully) rare, but the lack of disclosure does not imply the lack of a successful attack.

Is RFID Getting Under Your Skin?

Technology & Society has touched on this a few times… RFID implants in people.  WSJ has an update worth noting. My new car uses RFID chips to open doors and start the ignition.  Having these “embedded” could be of value… but what if I buy a different car?   The article lists electronic locks as one application, and also embedding medical history, contact information, etc.   Your “RFID” constellation (credit cards, ID cards, keys, etc.) can identify you uniquely — for example as you enter a store, etc.  So the ‘relationship’ between your RFID and the intended devices goes beyond that one-to-one application.

An ethical issue raised was that of consent associated with embedding RFID in a person who may not be able to provide consent, but would benefit from the ID potential, lock access (or denial), etc.  An obvious example is tracking a dementia patient if they leave the facility.  Of course we already put on wrist bands that are difficult to remove, and these might contain RFID or other locating devices.

What applications might cause you to embed a device under your skin? What concerns do you have about possible problems/issues?

Killing Mosquitoes

The elimination of Malaria (438,000 deaths per year) and a number of other deadly/debilitating diseases (Zika, dengue fever, yellow fever, etc.) is often a war against the mosquitoes that carry these diseases.   Bill Gates has designated the mosquito “the deadliest animal in the world“, and fighting these diseases is a top priority for the Gates Foundation.  Another wealthy ExMicrosoft wizard, Nathan Myhrvold, has developed a prototype laser to zap the bugs selectively. And a recent Wall St. Journal article suggests a variety of genetic engineering attacks that are in development. With the spread of these diseases beyond their traditional “range”, their impact will increase as will the needs of a broader range of countries.

There are a number of Technology/Society impacts of interest here.  First, any objective for which there are multiple, diverse approaches that are likely to reach the objective are likely to be accomplished — don’t bet on the bugs here (I know, “Jurassic Park” seeks to make the point that “Nature will Find a Way” … and that is often true, but humans have been very effective at driving the extinction of so many species that geologists have declared this a new age, the Anthropocene.)

Second, if anyone wonders how to change the world, the answer clearly is technology — from DDT impregnated sleeping nets, lasers and genetic engineering we are talking tech— and “engineering thinking”. (My granddaughter has a T shirt: front side “A-Stounding”, back side “Stoundings: persons who like to solve problems rather than cause them.” )  I call those folks Technologists.  Bugs Beware — you have a whole generation of Robotics Competition and Mindcraft modders headed your way.

Third — is this a good idea?  Note, there are significant variations.  Some approaches target just one species (Aedes aegypti, at least outside of it’s forest habitat origin), others target a wider range of species, others focused areas.)  One recurrent human failure is anticipating consequences of our actions.  What animals depend on these critters for dinner, and so forth up the food chain. What plants depend on these for pollination?  We abound in ignorance on such matters, and we find it easier to fund the research for eradication than for understanding.

So .. should we eliminate the deadliest animal on earth?  (let me qualify, other than Homo Sapiens.)


Internet 3.0?

Steve Case, founder of AOL, has a new book out “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future“.  As a leader in the “First Wave” (remember dial up modems?… and getting a floppy disk from AOL every month in the mail? — that was SO last millennium) — Steve has some perspective on the evolution of the net.   His waves are:

  1. Building the Internet – companies such as AOL creating infrastructure, peaking circa 2000 (remember the dot-com bubble?)
  2. Apps and Services on top of the net. (the currently declining wave)
  3. Ubiquitous, integrated in our everyday lives — touching everything

This seems to ignore a few major ‘game-changers’ as I see it, including the introduction of the Web and Browsers, Altavista/Google for search, and Amazon for retail. But, that does not diminish the reality of the social impact of whatever Internet Wave we are on at this point.  You might tend to align his assertion with the “Internet of Things”, where very light bulb (or other device) has an IP address and can be managed over the net.  But Steve points to much broader areas of impact:
education, medical care, politics, employment and as promised in his title, entrepreneurial success.

Another way to look at this is “what fields, if any, are not being transformed by networked computing devices?” Very few, even technology that does not incorporate these devices (genetically modified whatever), they depend on networked computer technology at many points in their invention and production.

Steve suggests we need a “new play book” for this emerging economic reality.  I suspect he is only half right.  This was the mantra of the Internet Bubble, where generating income was subservient to new ideas, market growth, mind-share, etc.  What is clear is that it will be increasingly difficult for existing corporations to recognize, much less invest in the innovations that will disrupt or destroy their business. AOL and my past employer, Digital Equipment, are both examples of companies that had failed transitions, in part due to their momentum in “previous generations” of technology. (AOL continues as a visible subsidiary of Verizon, Digital has been subsumed into HP.)  What is happening is that the rate of change is increasing, The challenges associated with this were documented in the 1970’s by Alan Toffler in his book “Future Shock” and it’s sequels, “The Third Wave“, “Powershift” and most recently in “Revolutionary Wealth” (2006).  Toffler’s short form of Future Shock is: “too much change in too short a period of time” — a reality that has traction 50 years later.

What examples of disruption do you see coming? (But beware, it’s the ones we don’t see that can get us.)

Health App Standards Needed

Guest Blog from: John Torous MD, Harvard

Last year, the British National Health Service (NHS) thought it was showing the world how healthcare systems can best utilize smartphone apps – but instead provided a catastrophic example of a failure to consider the social implications of technology. The demise of the NHS ‘App Library’ now serves as a warning of the perils of neglecting the technical aspects of mobile healthcare solutions – and serves as a call for the greater involvement of IEEE members at the this evolving intersection of healthcare and technology.

The NHS App Library offered a tool where patients could look online to find safe, secure, and effective smartphone apps to assist with their medical conditions. From major depressive disorder to diabetes, app developers submitted apps that were screened, reviewed, and evaluated by the NHS before being either approved or rejected for inclusion in the App Library. Millions of patients came to trust the App Library as a source for high quality and secure apps. Until one day in October 2015 the App Library was gone. Researchers had uncovered serious privacy and security vulnerabilities, with these approved apps actually leaving patient data unprotected and exposed. Further data highlighting that many approved apps also lacked any clinical evidence added to the damage. Overnight the NHS quietly removed the website ( although the national press caught on and there was a public outcry.

As an IEEE member and a MD, I see both the potential and peril of mobile technologies like apps for healthcare. Mobile technologies like smartphone apps offer the promise of connecting millions of patients to immediate care, revolutionizing how we collect real time symptom data, and in many cases offering on the go and live health monitoring and support. But mobile technologies also offer serious security vulnerabilities, leaving sensitive patient medical information potentially in the public sphere. And without standards to guide development, the world of medical apps has become a chaotic and treacherous space. Simply go to Apple or Android app stores and type in ‘depression’ and observe what that search returns. A sea of snake oils, apps that have no security or data standards as well as no clinical evidence are being marketed directly to those who are ill.

The situation is especially concerning for mental illnesses. Many mental illnesses may be thought of in part as behavioral disorders and mobile technologies like smartphones have the potential to objectively record these behavioral symptoms. Smartphones also have to potential to offer real time interventions via various forms of e-therapy. Thus mobile technology holds the potential to transform how we diagnose, monitor, and even treat mental illnesses. But mental health data is also some of the most sensitive healthcare data that can quickly ruin lives if improperly disclosed or released. And the clinical evidence for the efficacy of smartphone apps for mental illness is still nascent. Yet this has not held back a sea of commercial apps that are today directly available for download and directly marketed to those whose illness may at times impair clear thinking and optimal decision making.

If there is one area where the societal and social implications of technology are actively in motion and needing guidance, mobile technology for mental healthcare is it. There is an immediate need for education and standards regarding consumer facing mobile collection, transmission, and storage of healthcare data. There is also a broader need for tools to standardize healthcare apps so that data is more unified and there is greater interoperability. Apple and Android each have their own healthcare app / device standards via Apple’s ReseachKit and Android’s Research Stalk – but there is a need for more fundamental standards. For mobile mental health to reach its promised potential of transforming healthcare, it first needs an internal transformation. A transformation led in part by the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, global mental health campaigns (, forward thinking engineers, dedicated clinicians, and of course diverse patients.

If you are interested in tracking standards and developments in this area, please join the LinkedIn Mobile Mental Health App Standards group at:


John Torous MD is an IEEE member and currently a clinical fellow in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has a BS in electrical engineering and computer sciences from UC Berkeley and medical degree from UC San Diego. He serves as editor-in-chief for the leading academic journal on technology and mental health, JMIR Mental Health (, currently leads the American Psychiatric Association’s task force on the evaluation of commercial smartphone apps, co-chairs the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society’s Health Information Technology Committee.

T&S Magazine September 2015 Contents

cover 1

Volume 34, Number 3, September 2015

4 President’s Message
Coping with Machines
Greg Adamson
Book Reviews
5 Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Mission
7 Alan Turing: The Enigma
10 Editorial
Resistance is Not Futile, nil desperandum
MG Michael and Katina Michael
13 Letter to the Editor
Technology and Change
Kevin Hu
14 Opinion
Privacy Nightmare: When Baby Monitors Go Bad
Katherine Albrecht and Liz Mcintyre
15 From the Editor’s Desk
Robots Don’t Pray
Eugenio Guglielmelli
17 Leading Edge
Unmanned Aircraft: The Rising Risk of Hostile Takeover
Donna A. Dulo
20 Opinion
Automatic Tyranny, Re-Theism, and the Rise of the Reals
Sand Sheff
23 Creating “The Norbert Wiener Media Project”
J. Mitchell Johnson
25 Interview
A Conversation with Lazar Puhalo
88 Last Word
Technological Expeditions and Cognitive Indolence
Christine Perakslis

SPECIAL ISSUE: Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century

33_ Guest Editorial
Philip Hall, Heather A. Love and Shiro Uesugi
35_ Norbert Wiener: Odd Man Ahead
Mary Catherine Bateson
37_ The Next Macy Conference: A New Interdisciplinary Synthesis
Andrew Pickering
39_ Ubiquitous Surveillance and Security
Bruce Schneier
41_ Reintroducing Wiener: Channeling Norbert in the 21st Century
Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman
44_ Securing the Exocortex*
Tamara Bonaci, Jeffrey Herron, Charles Matlack, and Howard Jay Chizeck
52_ Wiener’s Prefiguring of a Cybernetic Design Theory*
Thomas Fischer
60_ Norbert Wiener and the Counter-Tradition to the Dream of Mastery
D. Hill
64_ Down the Rabbit Hole*
Laura Moorhead


74_ Opening Pandora’s 3D Printed Box
Phillip Olla
81_ Application Areas of Additive Manufacturing
N.J.R. Venekamp and H.Th. Le Fever

*Refereed article.

T&S Magazine June 2015 Contents

cover 1

Volume 34, Number 2, June 2015

3 ISTAS 2015 – Dublin
4 President’s Message
Deterministic and Statistical Worlds
Greg Adamson
5 Editorial
Mental Health, Implantables, and Side Effects
Katina Michael
8 Book Reviews
Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future
Stealing Cars: Technology & Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino
13 Leading Edge
“Ich liebe Dich UBER alles in der Welt” (I love you more than anything else in the world)
Sally Applin
16 Tools for the Vision Impaired
Molly Hartman
18 Learning from Delusions
Brian Martin
21 Commentary
Nanoelectronics Research Gaps and Recommendations*
Kosmas Galatsis, Paolo Gargini, Toshiro Hiramoto, Dirk Beernaert, Roger DeKeersmaecker, Joachim Pelka, and Lothar Pfitzner
80 Last Word
Father’s Day Algorithms or Malgorithms?
Christine Perakslis

SPECIAL ISSUE—Ethics 2014/ISTAS 2014

31_ Guest Editorial
Keith Miller and Joe Herkert
32_ App Stores for the Brain: Privacy and Security in Brain-Computer Interfaces*
Tamara Bonaci, Ryan Calo, and Howard Jay Chizeck
40_ The Internet Census 2012 Dataset: An Ethical Examination*
David Dittrich, Katherine Carpenter, and Manish Karir
47_ Technology as Moral Proxy: Autonomy and Paternalism by Design*
Jason Millar
56_ Teaching Engineering Ethics: A Phenomenological Approach*
Valorie Troesch
64_ Informed Consent for Deep Brain Stimulation: Increasing Transparency for Psychiatric Neurosurgery Patients*
Andrew Koivuniemi
71_ Robotic Prosthetics: Moving Beyond Technical Performance*
N. Jarrassé, M. Maestrutti, G. Morel, and A. Roby-Brami

*Refereed Articles