from the the-future-is-now dept
Thu, Feb 17th 2022 6:32am — Karl Bode
Techirt has long discussed how in the modern era, the things you buy aren’t actually the things you buy. And the things you own aren’t actually the things you own. Things you thought you owned can be downgraded, bricked, or killed off entirely without much notice. That game console with backward compatibility? It no longer has backward compatibility. That smart home hub or smart speaker at the heart of your living room setup you’ve enjoyed for years? It not long works. The movies and books you thought were permanently in your personal catalog? Sorry, they aren’t anymore. That perfectly good two-year-old phone? It no longer gets security updates, putting you and your data at risk.
This is all bad enough when talking about smart home hubs or smart refrigerators, but it’s quite another thing entirely when it comes to medical implants. IEEE Spectrum has the Cory Doctorow-esque cautionary tale of Second Sight Medical Products whose Argus optical implants were commonly installed in patients in the early aughts to help them see. Accurately heralded as immeasurably innovative at the time, these devices may soon no longer work or be supported because the company that made them is going bankrupt:
“Terry Byland is the only person to have received this kind of implant in both eyes. He got the first-generation Argus I implant, made by the company Second Sight Medical Products, in his right eye in 2004 and the subsequent Argus II implant in his left 11 years later. He helped the company test the technology, spoke to the press movingly about his experiences, and even met Stevie Wonder at a conference. “[I] went from being just a person that was doing the testing to being a spokesman,” he remembers.
Yet in 2020, Byland had to find out secondhand that the company had abandoned the technology and was on the verge of going bankrupt. While his two-implant system is still working, he doesn’t know how long that will be the case. “As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” he says. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”
Users went from the miracle of suddenly being able to see their first Christmas tree, to the terror of the gift being taken away from them with absolutely no recourse. Not only that, the systems that were installed create new health complications if they’re left installed but stop working, and are difficult to remove — a cost that has to be eaten by the patients. The company’s patients went from having their lives revolutionized by technology to, well, the opposite:
“These three patients, and more than 350 other blind people around the world with Second Sight’s implants in their eyes, find themselves in a world in which the technology that transformed their lives is just another obsolete gadget. One technical hiccup, one broken wire, and they lose their artificial vision, possibly forever.”
It’s quite the cautionary tale for the entire electroceutical sector, and those who assume the cutting edge technologies that help them today will stick around for tomorrow. It’s one thing for your flip phone or Betamax player to become irrelevant, it’s another thing for essential health devices embedded in your skull to simply stop working because their manufacturer couldn’t keep their finances in order.
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