'The Internet of Things' now includes a human heart

With the news that an American woman has received a pacemaker with a wireless connection to the Internet, the so-called “Internet of Things” has taken on a new dimension.

Reuters reported this week that a 61-year-old woman became the first American recipient of the pacemaker, which was approved by the FDA just last month and allows the doctor to monitor how her heart is doing. At least once a day, a server will communicate with the pacemaker over the Internet and get an update. If there is anything unusual, the server can contact the doctor and patient, literally calling the doc on the phone in the middle of the night, if necessary.

The Reuters article quotes the doctor as saying that in the future, wireless devices could monitor high blood pressure, glucose levels or heart failure.

The technology is part of a much broader trend of reaching out to objects in the physical world to bring them into the Internet, so to speak, to build an “Internet of Things.” RFID, short-range wireless technologies and sensor networks are enabling this to happen as they become more commonly used. IPv6, with its greatly expanded address space, allows for many more devices to connect to the Internet.

If all things are connected, all things can be tracked. The earliest applications have centered around tracking shipments in a supply chain, but if the tracking devices are left in objects when they are in use, that could be extremely powerful.

It’s a little scary to think of connecting one’s heart to the Internet. I know the connection is being used in a very narrow way, but if it were at all possible for hackers to tamper with the pacemaker, they probably would, given what we know about what some are capable of.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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