For the second time, the Computer Chaos Club annual meeting took place online from December 27-30. That’s why it was called “Remote Chaos Communication Congress”, or rC3 for short. While the event is an absolute must-see for tech enthusiasts, it apparently received less media attention this time around than in the pre-pandemic times. “I think I perceive some fatigue – online it’s not the same as big, colorful face-to-face dates and maybe that makes it less appealing for reporting,” explains journalist Marcus Richter, who has found many fascinating topics at rc3.
Lectures, discussions and interviews were broadcast online from 14 sites. In terms of content, the congress also addressed the pandemic and highlighted, among other things, the problems that still exist with digitization in the health sector. However, Marcus Richter was particularly interested in two other health topics.
Influence on pacemakers
Pacemakers are small pulse generators that use electrical pacemakers to stimulate the heart to contract, that is, to contract. You support hearts that beat too slowly. In addition to the device that the patients have implanted, there is a whole infrastructure behind it.
Among other things, there is also a programming device that doctors can use to adjust the amount of pulses emitted by the pacemaker. Nowadays, this is done wirelessly, the affected person must be within 30 meters or less.
However, in some cases these pacemakers are obsolete and there is a risk of abuse, explains Christoph Saatjohann of the University of Applied Sciences in Münster. For one study, he also looked at “built-in” defibrillators and heart monitors.
“You kind of have to come in from the outside without a secret password and go into that mode of focus. It’s in the nature of things, we have 100,000 doctors around the world who need access, even in emergency, without having to invent a password somewhere, ”explains Christoph Saatjohann.
This means that the device can also be manipulated from the outside, at least in theory, explains Marcus Richter.
The presentation of Christoph Saatjohann and Endres Puschner at rC3 also revealed other safety concerns. For all of them, the likelihood of abuse is considered relatively low in practice – but the results show where manufacturers need to improve.
“Manufacturers don’t pay attention to the most stringent security and data protection regulations, but when the pressure comes from science and regulation, there’s still hope that everything will be okay,” Richter says.
It sounds even more like science fiction: a technology that is embedded in the head to influence the brain and make it usable in a different way. So far, there have only been applications in medicine. One of them: People with epilepsy have electrodes placed in the brain that stimulate certain parts and thus prevent seizures.
Developing the brain or improving the senses, for example, is still a long way off, says Marcus Richter: “If we take these sci-fi ideas from the invasive and stimulating brain computer and compare them to digital word processing, then we are now hitting figures in a stone slab with a hammer and chisel. “
There is already a lot of research being done on this type of technology. However, it is not only intended for medical use, there are also private companies that are very interested in it. This includes Elon Musk, who founded the company “Neuralink” in 2016 to develop a device with which the human brain and the computer can communicate.
If it does ever work out, however, there could be legal difficulties, says Carolin Kemper of the Speyer Research Institute for Public Administration, who gave a talk on the subject at rC3 with Michael Kolain. Because in a medical application, such technology is subject to certain conditions, in private companies not:
“Because the ordinance on medical devices only applies to devices for medical use. In other words, the manufacturer can say that it is a medical device. Neuralink doesn’t say so, but at least hypothetically it should become an enhancement device as well. So it will actually fall outside the medical goal. “
The products, that is, those extension devices possible for humans, might not have to meet certain standards or undergo years of product testing, as is the case with medical technology.
“As is so often the case with digital developments, there is still a lot of clarification and regulation to be done”, explains Marcus Richter. But the journalist is also optimistic, because as long as this specific technology does not exist yet, there will be the time for regulations – also on the part of the EU.
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