Kent Bush: Scary thoughts about technology

Kent Bush

I often wondered what the man featured in Auguste Rodin's The Thinker was thinking about.

I doubt he was considering what would happen if his body was infected with a computer virus, but a scientist in England is.

Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading recently tested the potential of such an occurrence.

Gasson isn't worried that he will catch a cold from his computer. He is merely forward thinking enough to see the potential for problems before someone gets hurt.

With medical electronics like pacemakers and cochlear implants advancing into small computers implanted in the body, the ability for hackers to attack is growing. Another field of research involves implanting small chips that can measure and save data to help with diagnoses and test the success of procedures.

Gasson wondered if these devices were at risk.

Gasson put himself on the line to see what would happen. He had a chip the size of a grain of rice implanted in his hand. He could use the chip to access secure areas of the university and even his cell phone.

Once they infected his chip with a virus, it attacked every device it could communicate with.

Imagine what might have happened if someone with less pure motives had stumbled across this idea first. Imagine being at a grocery store and five people with pacemakers all fell dead thanks to such an attack. This is a small problem with big implications.

"Developers of this technology need to consider technology from the outset, which they don't do at the moment," Gasson said in perhaps the least reassuring comment ever made.

The impact on the good doctor was significant emotionally, if not medically.

"While it is exciting to be the first person to become infected by a computer virus in this way, I found it a surprisingly violating experience because the implant is so intimately connected to me but the situation is potentially out of my control," he said.

That feeling would grow exponentially for people who had medical implants and weren't intentionally infecting them with viruses.

The advance in technology is remarkable and very beneficial.

But it is also nice to know someone is considering the unintended uses that come along with progress.

Augusta Gazette (Augusta, Kan.)