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Computers on your skin illustrate science's skills.

Fake tattoos once implied a commitment to lack of commitment. Someday they may suggest commitment to a marriage of electronics and biology.

Few people who survived the 20th century aren't familiar with the concept, typically illustrated by the fictional man-machine amalgamation known as a cyborg. You know--the Six Million Dollar Man, the Terminator, or Jean-Luc Picard when captured by the Borg (who collectively objected to the cy- prefix). Integrating electronic computer technology into the human body has long been a dream of science fiction writers, surgeons and spies.

In this issue (Page 10), Laura Sanders describes the latest technological advance toward the cyborgian future: stretchable electronic adhesive circuitry that can stick to the skin and monitor biological functions. When augmented with power sources (possibly from body heat) and WiFi capability, such tattoo circuitry could allow all sorts of computer-human interactions. It's a clever way of converging electronic computing capability with biological behavior, disguised as the sort of thing you commonly see on sailors, NBA basketball players and anyone else enamored of personal epidermal artistic expression.

At first glance, the use of tattooish electronics to communicate via the skin seems beneficial and benign. Monitoring heartbeats, measuring brain waves and possibly offering better ways to manage artificial limbs all seem like sensible medical applications that the new technology may one day enable.

At second glance, you could imagine more frightening uses, like unrestrained instant-messaging streams of consciousness from one tattooed forehead to another. Or always having a cell phone or remote control not just in the palm of your hand, but on its skin. There's probably a downside to that.

No doubt more devious minds could devise any number of nefarious scenarios for pursuing malevolent motives by deceitfully exploiting the skin-based circuitry.

But let's face it, science's advances in technological skill always bring with them the potential for misuse (a sign of flaws in thinking suggesting that human brains might actually benefit from some electronic help). Besides, if you're worried about the human race turning into a real-life Borg collective, remember: When circuitry is involved, resistance is not futile--it's voltage divided by amperage.

--Tom Siegfried, Editor in Chief

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Title Annotation:FROM THE EDITOR
Author:Siegfried, Tom
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 10, 2011
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