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The Future Of Digital Surveillance and Healthcare - Interview

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Interview with Leading Philosopher Stefan Lorenz Sorgner By Dinorah Delfin

Biotechnologies are giving us the ability to create algorithms that are allowing us to better understand and monitor what is happening inside of the human body by means of implanted chips that measure bodily processes that generate biometric data.

The same chips not only could give us warnings before a disease develops, but they could also be used to prevent future pandemics by spotting infected people and isolating them.

If we are not careful, however, the current pandemic might mark the beginning of a new form of totalitarian surveillance - one that is based on collecting biometric data to predict and manipulate human behavior.

Historian, philosopher, and best-selling author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari, warns us that "one of the biggest battles of the 21st Century is likely to be between privacy and health." He says: “If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry.”

Authoritarian governments might argue that citizens are not capable of doing the right thing when it comes to public health and demand that everyone is monitored with implants. Harari thinks that most people will be willing to give up a very significant amount of privacy for the promise of a far better health care system that can also prevent future pandemics. The permanent monitoring of human bodies by means of implanted technologies by anyone other than ourselves, however, is incredibly frightening.

Is this the only option we have?

To have a better understanding of this situation I contacted my colleague, Professor Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, a distinguished philosopher at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. Stefan, also a bioethicist, a metahumanist, and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Posthuman Studies published by Penn State University Press since 2017, “counts as one of the world’s leading experts on trans- and posthumanism”, according to Wolfgang Welsch (FSU Jena).

For over 15 years, Stefan has focused his research on the ethical implications of human enhancement technologies. The Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo from the University of Turin claims that “In Stefan Lorenz Sorgner’s work, the profound originality is accompanied by a vast knowledge of the philosophical tradition. His exploration of the philosophical meanings of post-humanism has become a point of reference that contemporary culture cannot ignore”.

We will take this recommendation seriously, and explore what he has to say about the current pandemic crisis and the future of digital surveillance and healthcare.

Dinorah Delfin - Even though implantable technologies present so many risks and dangers like hacking, it is a highly provocative option, why?

Stefan Lorenz Sorgner - The possibilities which go along with it are enormous. The advantages clearly outweigh the challenges. Hacking and security needs to be dealt with anyway. However, the constant monitoring of one’s own body could be decisive for the readiness to combat aging-related processes. As soon as the blood sugar level, cholesterol level or blood pressure seem to change in a problematic way, people could be digitally warned, so that the problem can be addressed as soon as it arises and not only when it is well advanced. Even a predictive maintenance of human health might be possible on the basis of these technologies. Predictive maintenance is being used in the Industry 4.0 so far. Sensors within a plane can tell us that a specific part of the engine is likely to become dysfunctional within the next 6 months. We can replace this part, so that no risk for human lives in this respect has to occur. With RFID chips entering the human body, we can realize the predictive maintenance of human health. Researchers of Tufts University have already developed a tooth mounted sensor which tracks every bite someone is making. Further such sensors could make up an entire Internet of Bodily Things which can then interact with the regular Internet of Things. The possibilities associated with this type of body monitoring are enormous and are likely to be of significant relevance in combating aging-related processes. Here, the aspect of human flourishing comes in. Technologies have always increased the likelihood of our flourishing, and human beings have a great variety of associated goals. Yet, there are some challenges which are troublesome for most of us, and one of these challenges is the process of aging. Two thirds of all deaths are related to aging-related processes.