Intimate technology - Eindhoven University of Technology

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Intimate technology - Eindhoven University of Technology

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Intimate technology : the battle for our body and behaviour
Citation for published version (APA): Est, van, Q. C., Rerimassie, V., Keulen, van, I., & Dorren, G. (2014). Intimate technology : the battle for our body and behaviour. Rathenau Instituut.
Document status and date: Published: 01/01/2014
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Intimate technology
The battle for our body and behaviour

Intimate technology
The battle for our body and behaviour

Rathenau Instituut Anna van Saksenlaan 51
P.O. Box 95366 2509 CJ The Hague The Netherlands
Telephone: +31 70 342 15 42 Telefax: +31 70 363 34 88 E-mail: [email protected] Website:
Publisher: Rathenau Instituut Graphic design and layout: Smidswater, The Hague Illustrations: Alissa van Asseldonk Printing: Groen, Hoofddorp Translation: Kees Kaldenbach
First printing: January 2014
ISBN/EAN: 978-90-77364-53-6
Preferred citation: Est, R. van, with assistance of V. Rerimassie, I . van Keulen & G. Dorren (translation K. Kaldenbach). Intimate technology: The battle for our body and behaviour. The Hague, Rathenau Instituut 2014. Original title: Intieme technologie: de slag om ons lichaam en gedrag.
The Rathenau Instituut has an Open Access policy. Reports and background studies, scientific articles, and software are published publicly and free of charge. Research data are made freely available, while respecting laws and ethical norms, copyrights, privacy and the rights of third parties.
© Rathenau Instituut 2014 Permission to make digital or hard copies of portions of this work for creative, personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full preferred citation mentioned above. In all other situations, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm or any other means without prior written permission of the holder of the copyright.

Intimate technology
The battle for our body and behaviour
Authors Rinie van Est, with the assistance of Virgil Rerimassie, Ira van Keulen & Gaston Dorren
The boundary between man and machine slowly begins to fade. Which begs the question: how close to the skin can technology become? And also: how far do we allow technology to go?

Board of the Rathenau Instituut
G.A. Verbeet (chairman) Prof. dr. E.H.L. Aarts Prof. dr. ir. W.E. Bijker Prof. dr. R. Cools Dr. H. Dröge Drs. E.J.F.B. van Huis Prof. dr. H.W. Lintsen Prof. mr. J.E.J. Prins Prof. dr. M.C. van der Wende Mr. drs. J. Staman (secretary)

Intimate technology

Contents 5




1. The intimate technology moment


2. Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us 10

Intermezzo 1: Technology inside of us


3. Human being as machine


Intermezzo 2 : Technology between us


4. Machines in human interactions


Intermezzo 3: Technology about us


5. The machine as a human being


Intermezzo 4: Technology just like us


6. Political battleground


Intermezzo 5: Merger between man and machine


7. Epilogue: the happiness of the wild cyborg








6 Preface

Rathenau Instituut

This essay aims to spark a wave of public and political debate about a series of new products already showered out over you, the volume of which will continue to increase during the coming years. This essay takes a serious look at the trend that technology is rapidly nesting itself in between us, very close to us and even within us, increasingly coming to know us and even receiving human traits. In short, we have become human-machine mixtures, cyborgs.
Some examples may clarify this statement. The computer changed from desktop to laptop to smartphone and soon in the form of a computer glasses. Through data-mining, Google knows sooner than medical experts that a flu pandemic is coming up. And market researchers rely more on emotion recognition technology in order to measure consumers taste rather than relying on statements made by those consumers. We are entering a new phase in the information society, where information technology becomes intimate in nature. The Rathenau Instituut therefore coins it as the intimate-technological revolution.
The most sensitive ethical questions are in terms of influencing behaviour through information technology
These technologies offer many useful opportunities for innovation, especially for the Netherlands with its strong electronics and creative industries, but they may also entail undesirable developments. As it often affects people directly and personally, intimate technology sparks many social and ethical questions. These often touch upon fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy, to physical integrity, the right to have a safe environment, the right to property, and to have freedom of thought and freedom of conscience. Such questions are already topical, or will become on the short term, and therefore deserve the full attention in the current public and political debate.

Intimate technology

Preface 7

Politics and government are now challenged to develop – well on time – the necessary moral and legal frameworks to steer this development in the right direction. This process could build on the experiences gained in recent years, dealing with ethically sensitive technology, such as biomedical engineering and biotechnology. As information technology increasingly becomes intertwined with the life sciences and behavioural sciences, a mass of biomedical techniques will also find a place outside the application of medical practice. This brings up many ethical questions and the most sensitive are in terms of influencing behaviour through information technology, one also can frame it as persuasive technology, micromanagement or social engineering of behaviour.
Especially badly needed is the commitment by self-assured citizens who want to maintain the right in the future to be opinionated
The political and administrative handling of this intimate technology is still in its infancy – apart from the privacy issue. It is important that these challenges are picked up both on national and European level. In order to direct our own technological evolution, it is indeed necessary that politicians, administrators, lawyers, scientists, futurists, philosophers and ethicists think about the meaning and consequences of this trend. Especially badly needed is the commitment by self-assured citizens who want to maintain the right in the future to be opinionated. This essay therefore aims to stimulate opinionated citizens to think about the future of nothing less than our humanity.
Jan Staman Director, Rathenau Instituut

8  The intimate technology moment
1. The intimate technology moment

Rathenau Instituut

We now experience the historic tipping point in which the distance between technology and ourselves rapidly decreases.
We let it into us; we let it position between us. And as a result, the technology increasingly has knowledge about us and can even operate just like us, that is, mimicking facets of our individual behaviour. In short, man and machine are able to fuse to an extensive degree, so that it hardly becomes a metaphor in saying that we are becoming more intimate with technology.
Technology will increasingly define us more individualized, more personally, more intimately. This book seeks to address fundamental questions such as: How does intimate technology affect our humanity? Will intimate technology bring us closer to ourselves and allow for closer meetings with each other, or not?

Intimate technology

The intimate technology moment  9

To gain some insight on these vital questions, the Rathenau Institute requested a broad range of experts at the interface of technology, ethics and society, to write about this subject in a personal blog post. It was up to them to see what technology they wanted to discuss. Taken together, their texts present a broad and diverse intimate picture of what intimate technology entails and what questions and positions it evokes. If you read Dutch, you may read the personal essays back on the web log Intimate Technology at
The essay you are now reading is inspired by those blog entries and other research by the Rathenau Institute.1 It describes the nature of intimate technology, questions how we experience the intimate technological revolution right now, and presents various issues it raises and how we can deal with them.
Scan the QR code to go to the Intimate Technology weblog (only Dutch).

10  Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us

Rathenau Instituut

2. Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us

Technology is nestling itself within us and between us, has knowledge about us and can act just like us, as I just stated.
In us: think of brain implants, artificial balancing organs and biocultured heart valves. Technology therefore becomes part of our body and therefore of our identity. Technology enters between us, on a large scale; we enter social media to show ourselves to the outside world, to contacts and communicate with others. Technology collects knowledge about us; smart cameras are able to measure our heart rate by looking at our skin and, pointed at a woman’s face it can tell whether she is fertile – a thing she may not even realize herself. Dutch supermarket giant Albert Heijn stores our buying behaviour in databases, Dutch railways our travel behaviour, and public authorities store behaviour of our children and their parents through the Electronic Child Dossiers. In the public space, cameras ensure that we are well behaved. And finally, some technology behaves ‘just like us’; they get human traits, exhibit intelligent behaviour or touches us with its outward appearances. Chat bots are becoming more lifelike, computer games more realistic and all kinds of apps are happy to encourage you when you are running or dieting.
New technological wave Technology does all those things by becoming miniature in size, by better computing, and by increasingly focusing on individuals. In short, they become smaller, smarter and more personalized.

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Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us  11

In our daily life, the cell phone may be used as the outstanding example. The same amount of computing power as was needed to put people on the moon in 1969, is now residing into our pockets, purses and bras – we have all become high-tech heroes. So in the meantime quite something happened.
To start off with, a revolution has taken place in the field of materials. In the nineteen seventies we could examine and manufacture materials on micro level, but now it can be produced a thousand times smaller, so now we can design objects as small as a millionth of a millimetre i.e. nanometre – hence the term nanotechnology. This technique has also helped to found the information revolution, allowing to digitally store large amounts of information about our bodies and behaviour and subsequently to model and mimic body and behaviour. Conversely, without powerful computers there would be no machines available to produce nano materials and products. Nano and information technologies are thus interconnected in an upward spiral.
In addition, both fields also stimulate life sciences, not just biology, including genetics, and medicine, but also the cognitive neuroscience. Modern equipment ranging from DNA chips to MRI scans, increasingly offers opportunities to explore body and brain and to intervene. Insights from life sciences in turn inspire equipment builders: think of neural networks, DNA computers and self-repairing materials. In short, currently four technological revolutions are propelling each other, being the nano, bio, information and cognitive technologies. This dynamic quartet is collectively known as the NBIC convergence, pushing up a major technological wave like a whirlwind. And a large part of this wave consists of technologies, which are intimate in nature.
Turning point in history Some thinkers see this as a turning point in our relationship with technology, even in our human history. A typical quote: “For all previous millennia, our technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment. (...) Now, however, we have started a wholesale process of aiming our technologies inward. Now our technologies have started to merge with our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny and perhaps our souls.” 2 The first step in

12  Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us

Rathenau Instituut

this direction can be found in the period just after World War II, when scientists have set out to map human nature, to control and mimic it. Disciplines such as genetics, neurology, pharmacology, information technology and artificial intelligence all participated. Then still in its infancy, but now they do mark the world in a major way. The NBIC convergence is the direct continuation of that relatively young tradition, founded on current technical ingenuity and the growing inter­ dependence between the physical sciences – nano and information technology – and life sciences – both biotechnology and cognitive technology. The goal is still the same as in the late nineteen forties, to understand the human being and its social world, and to control and mimic it. The goal has just come a lot closer.
Increasingly, living systems are seen as makeable
Human being becomes machine, the machine becomes human The intertwining of physical and life sciences is reflected in two technological mega trends: ‘biology is more and more becoming technology’ and ‘technology is increasingly becoming more biology’.3 The first implies that living systems are increasingly seen as makeable. Genetically modified bulls, cloned sheep, cultured heart valves and artificially reconstructed bacteria illustrate this trend. It is not only about biological interventions, as IT-based interventions are also emerging, as in techniques to influence brain processes. A well-known example is the use of deep brain stimulation to reduce severe tremor by Parkinson’s disease patients.
The reverse trend being that of ‘technology becoming biology’, is reflected in artefacts that increasingly appear more lifelike or seem imbued with human behaviour. In France, there are cash dispensers that recognize Dutch bank cards and show texts in Dutch. Other devices are able to recognize human emotions, which they then take into consideration in their own behaviour. And Roxxxy, the first female sex robot, is a bit shaped like, well, let’s say a female but more specifically a porn actress.

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Technology in us, between us, about us and just like us  13

When studying our own human condition, the two engineering mega trends can be transformed into three tendencies. First, human beings are more and more seen as machines, which therefore can be taken apart for maintenance and repair – and which could also be upgraded or otherwise improved. Second, machines become more and more humanoid – or at least engineers have the ambition to build in human traits, so they become social, emotional and perhaps even moral and loving creatures (here we talk of the machines, not the engineers). And third, interactions between people change, precisely because machines are increasingly penetrating into our privacy and social life. In the remainder of this essay, we use this threefold classification to gain insight into the question: how close to the skin can technology become? What do we find pleasant, we do find rather intimidating and where is that demarcation line?
We also want to seriously address the question whether intimacy and technology can be compatible. Blog Author Jan Vorstenbosch considers ‘intimate technology’ a contradiction in terms: intimacy represents a human sense of confidentiality and feeling being connected, and that concept can only collide with technology, a term that refers to lifeless devices put together with screws and bolts.
But is that really the case? I think the boundaries between these concepts are sliding, and that movement raises extraordinary questions. Are we going to consider ourselves as a machine, and thus largely as makeable? And can we see machines as humanoid, even as romantic partners? Since we can no longer dismiss these questions with a sincere ‘no’, or ‘utter nonsense’, we have reached a point where we will have to search for new answers.

14  Intermezzo 1: Technology inside of us

Rathenau Instituut

Intermezzo 1:

Technology inside
of us

The development of technology ‘inside of us’ is developing quickly, especially in the medical field. Smarter pills and nano research capsules
traveling through our bodies are among the prime examples.

Intimate technology

Intermezzo 1: Technology inside of us  15

The University of Twente in the Netherlands for instance works on a special electronic pill; the highly sensitive nanowires it contains can detect DNA fragments in the intestines that may indicate the development of cancer. In addition, the electronic pill can send the result of the measurement to the patient’s smartphone.
At the University of Texas, Alexander Mamonov is working with colleagues on a cheaper, quicker and less painful alternative to traditional endoscopy as a method for cancer research, replacing the classic colon capsule endoscopy. Patients swallow a capsule containing a tiny camera and a light source, a transmitter and a battery. On its journey through the bowels the capsule sends film images to a wireless receiver. Analysing these images is still a labour intensive human task, but the researchers hope to develop an algorithm that will take over the job. For the oesophagus such a system is already available.
Using nanotechnology, yet others pills are constructed so that they will not randomly spray their active medication throughout the body, but only release it near or in the diseased tissue, such as a tumour. Such a targeted delivery makes the treatment not only more efficient, but also minimises the side effects.
Electronics that improve the functioning of our hearts and our brains by

sending electrical impulses have been around for a while, the pacemaker since 1958, and deep brain stimulation since the 1990’s. In our nanotechnology times more electronic functions become soon possible. In Switzerland a subcutaneous chip was recently developed, designed to measure and yield various blood values and relay it to a mobile phone​.​ However, body hacker Anthony Antonellis uses such a subcutaneous chip for another purpose, namely to store a digital data carrier within his body. At present it is hardly large enough to contain a simple picture, at 1 KB. But Antonellis’ main aim was to show that it could be done.
Other body hackers walk around with the similar kind of RFID chip nowadays used in pets. The most famous bearer is Amal Graafstra, who uses such an implanted chip as a door key to enter his house. Another body hacker, Rich Lee, had ear buds implanted, so he always carries those ear buds inside, within his ears. And the colour-blind artist Neil Harbisson carries within and on his head an eyeborg, able to detect colours and through software translates its vision into audible sound information.
Not only body hackers are using in-body technology; other variants are designed for people with damaged body functions, such as impaired hearing, sight or movement. In the Netherlands, deaf babies now almost