The Future of Body in Healthcare - Rising Trends in Tokyo
Wearable devices to equip the human body with new functions
What is the definition of "body" in the first place? For instance, the nose is clearly a part of our body, but our nostrils, also known as the nasal cavity, can be thought of as a space that is filled with atmospheric gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. What about our breath or our voice? The boundaries between what constitutes the body and what lies outside the body are ambiguous to begin with.
Depending on who you ask, some people may already regard the metal ring that they wear on their left ring finger part of their body (although this might not be the case for everyone, including those who have stopped wearing their ring for whatever reason, something that always seems to attract the media's attention). Likewise, very few people in Japan today would take a second look at someone who is wearing a metal earring on their earlobe.
What makes the definition of the body even murkier these days is the way the adjective "wearable" is used in our modern society as a common noun in the present continuous tense. Wearable devices, such as smart watches that people wear even in their sleep, offer a variety of convenient features ranging from digital payment capabilities to health benefits. Tokyo is currently investing in the development of this technology, as well as its applications.
Xenoma, a company based in Ota Ward of Tokyo, has been attempting to extend the body's outer boundaries to include pajamas, athletic wear, and patches under its concept of "e-skin." Features of "e-skin" include the optimization of the user's ambient environment depending on their state of sleep, facilitating training through the use of electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), and monitoring the condition of their cardiovascular health. These features would vastly expand our current concept of what counts as the human body and allow "e-skin" to arbitrate in our everyday life and our well-being.
A sign of what is to come: Implantable devices
Likewise, there is also ambiguity when it comes to determining what is inside our body. For instance, are dentures part of human body? Implantable devices such as pacemakers have long been used in medical practice, but the societal adoption of smart implantable devices that have been miniaturized to an unprecedented degree and which possess enhanced features that go well beyond health management is still being fiercely contested. Both Elon Musk, who supports the implantation of such devices, and Mark Zuckerberg, who does not, have spearheaded investment and R&D on this front while debates surrounding the benefits, invasiveness, and ethics of implantable devices continue.
Tokyo has also witnessed the emergence of companies with ambitious goals of "uploading the human mind to a machine within the next 20 years." MinD in a Device, a startup based in Toshima Ward, aims to draw on its commercial development of next-generation AI equipped with a generative model of human consciousness to eventually implant our human mind into a device by connecting the human brain to a machine via a brain-machine interface.
The emerging future of the body in Tokyo
If we extrapolate these ideas further, it may not be too far-fetched to consider the possibility that the boundaries of the "body" might someday be extended to the point where the body is essentially the entire city. In a smart city, everything from food, clothing, shelter, to various forms of human activities will be fully mediated by technology.
It may be too early for us to take seriously the possibility of superimposing the human body onto a living city whose roads are the body's arteries, the sewage system as its veins, data communication networks as its nervous system, and real estate as its organs (or cells). Yet, a closer look at the initiatives outlined above reveals that the seeds of a future in which the concept of the body will be expanded far beyond what we can imagine have already been sown in Tokyo.