Wireless Developers Aim for "Data Connectivity" in Everything — Even Humans

An interesting item in The New York Times "Bits" blog late last week got us thinking about the growing intimacy between people and their technology. From the annual conference of "CTIA-The Wireless Association," the blog noted this theme: "Add mobile data capability to absolutely everything, including video cameras and the human body."

The human body? A mobile phone in your head? Is business innovation driving a merger of man and machine?

Well, not quite yet (unless one counts the Bluetooth headsets sticking out of people's ears). A driver of the theme noted by the blog was Qualcomm's announcement that it will sponsor a health care institute in San Diego to develop wireless applications, such as patches that  measure a person's vital signs and transmit the results wirelessly to health care providers. Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader notes that there is already an iPhone application that can prick the finger of a diabetic to analyze blood-sugar levels. A user can then choose to send the data to a physician.

Fader believes that health care monitoring may become quite common. But, whether for health care or other purposes, direct connections between humans and the network will likely be driven by applications for smart phones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and others. "As these devices become almost a part of ourselves, [we] will want to expand their uses."

Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach notes that "monitoring of vital signs is just another example … of the trend toward instrumenting the world. We have networked cameras to track traffic flow on highways, wireless-connected sensors to monitor soil characteristics in agriculture, RFID [radio frequency identification] chips on shipping pallets, and smart buildings with sensors built into the lighting and HVAC systems. It's not convergence of humans and machines; it’s convergence of the physical world of things and the virtual world of network connectivity."

Werbach adds: "There are many ways that humans and networks come together. The philosopher Martin Heidegger famously explained that for a blind person, a cane becomes not a tool, but an extension of his arm. That, quite frankly, is how I think of my iPhone. It's not a technology; it's the way I project myself and tap into the global hive-mind."

Welcome to the hive.