Bionic as a Service

I can remember that, as a child, one of my favorite television shows was The Six Million Dollar Man. In case you’re not old enough to remember the show, it was about an astronaut named Steve Austin, who is severely injured in the crash of an experimental lifting body aircraft. He is “rebuilt” in an operation that costs six million dollars. His right arm, both legs, and left eye are replaced with “bionic” implants that enhance his strength, speed, and vision far above human norms: he can run at speeds of 60 mph (97 km/h) and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities, while his bionic limbs all have power equivalent to a bulldozer’s. He uses his enhanced abilities to work for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent.

This television show came out in my early years, and I can remember being fascinated by the concept that someday we might be able to add enhancements and advancements to the human body. Over the years, there have been several variations on the theme, but I never thought that this could be something that would come about during my lifetime.

Flash forward (cough…cough) a few years later to today, and there is a new television show called Intelligence that takes the same concept but with a slightly different theme. In the show, a high-tech intelligence operative is enhanced with a supercomputer microchip in his brain. With this implant, he is the first human ever to be connected directly to the global information grid, with complete access to the Internet, Wi-Fi, and telephone and satellite data. People have been thinking about this for about as long as there have been computers, but have you ever stopped to look around and see just how close we are to achieving it? I would like to present the argument that we are pretty much there, at least in the infancy stage.

Consider what we are able to do now with “bionics”: babies born deaf can hear, people who have lost their sight can see, and people living with paralysis can walk. Bionic medical devices make occurrences once considered miracles happen every day. This is what I would consider to be stage one of the processes that will bring us technology like Steve Austin’s. Now, cloud computing has really taken off, and we can connect all sorts of Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) to the cloud. We are starting to connect some sensors to our bodies and to monitor any number of vitals, including heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, calorie consumption, etc. We can track these things over time to determine patterns in health-related endeavors including weight loss, reduction of heart rate, and reduction of blood pressure. Currently, the data typically gets passed to a smartphone and then is retransmitted to some remote cloud-based database, through which you can find out anything from the true benefit of today’s workout to your likelihood of having a heart attack in the next year. I guess you have to take the bad news with the good.

This is what we have today, and it is really just the tip of the iceberg in comparison to what is coming in the near future. Let me ask you, how much would you pay to have a perfect memory? To master skills previously only accomplished in movies or novels? Within a few decades, experts say, the idea may no longer seem so farfetched, as “brain implants” become increasingly feasible. These chips could change things such that we could see in the dark or enhance our hearing—and what about perfect memory recall? That in itself could redefine the Storage as a Service marketplace. But let’s not forget the holy grail of an implanted device that could interface with the Internet via a clearly articulated silent thought to an online search engine and project the results into your brain. Sounds pretty farfetched, right? Maybe not so farfetched when you consider some of the capabilities that devices like Google Glass have already achieved. We may be a ways from implants for all, but the external devices are rapidly advancing, so we will be able to come close in the very near future. We may not be able to have our thoughts search the Internet, but thanks to technology like Siri, we can say-and-search. We are well on our way, and the cloud is the technology that will help drive this to a reality.

In closing, there is another parallel area of advancements being developed toward artificial intelligence. Google and IBM immediately come to mind. As I mentioned in my last post, IBM has already started porting the artificially intelligent Watson computer system to the cloud.

But hey, this is nothing but science fiction, right? When you think about it, it has now become more fact than fiction, as we march on our way toward having Bionic as a Service and AI as a Service become the next cloud services. Welcome to the twenty-first century!

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