The scary future for cochlear implants?

26 05 2010

Dr Mark Gasson from the University of Reading has been infected with a computer virus. This has possible implications for cochlear implants as they develop in the future, should the future involve wireless technology. Further details on the story are here are at BBC News: ‘First human infected with computer virus’.

A fully internal cochlear implant has been patented by Advanced Bionics so we may see some exciting developments there.

In 2006, a deaf woman replaced her conventional processor with a fully implantable cochlear implant (though it was not implanted) and she was able to understand speech easily and well. This implantable cochlear implant was developed by Rahul Sarpeshkar, an associate professor in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he heads the Analog VLSI and Biological Systems lab. This redesigned implant bypasses the DSP (digital signal processing) and thus reduces the need for a large power supply. For an in-depth description of the bionic ear, see “An Ultra-Low-Power Programmable Analog Bionic Ear Processor,” by Rahul Sarpeshkar et al., IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, April 2005, pp. 711-727.

I know people who are having (rare) problems with their cochlear implants – low level functioning, site infection, internal device breakdown, wound re-opening – and consider myself lucky to have had a smooth recovery from my implantation.  I’m really not particularly keen on exposing myself to the possibility of something going wrong with a fully implantable device with a greater level of difficulty of ‘fixing it’. How will they carry out upgrades – by using wireless technology? This could be a dark and dangerous road to travel.




14 responses

27 05 2010

Whew TIna that is scary. I could be somebody’s else’s “bot”. Joking aside, I don’t quite understand – one, why anyone would purposely write a virus program to disupt programming for cochlear devices – and two, what kind of damage could a virus do? I’m not a computer guy so I would be interested in “hearing” the opinions of people who know something about this area. So interesting Tina. We may be assimilated yet!

7 07 2012
Andy Paterson

having spent over 30 years in the coputer industry, I can say with some confidence that the liklihood of a manufacturer basing a cochlear implant processor on a commercial operating system like microsoft windows is pretty unlikely. And since these devices will contain unique embedded software the liklihood of any warped mind finding and devoting any time to developing a virus for such an embedded system is even more remote.
This is just scaremongering based on ignorance.

27 05 2010
speak up librarian

I think putting a chip in one’s hand for security access is creepy.
I’m glad scientists are looking at how this experience with a computer virus could potentially affect medical devices such as cochlear implants and pacemakers.

28 05 2010

Hello, my name is a Rachelle and I’m a student at WMU. I’m currently trying to get ASL under Western’s Foreign Language program. Sign Language is currently under Speech Pathology and Audiology: The website says deafness is something that needs to be “cured” and is a strong supporter of cochlear implants and oralism. I believe ASL should be under the Foreign Language program and am completely dedicated to changing this.

If someone could PLEASE HELP with some advice, or possibly write letters, or if this could be REBLOGGED and someone poss knows how I could get in touch with the admin of this blog please let me know by emailing me.

So far, I have a petition going online and it’s not going to well, if you could sign:

Thank you and please help!
Rachelle (

28 05 2010

Oh Dammit. I can just imagine the audiologist asking” would you like Norton or Mcafee” with that. Gulp.

28 05 2010

Even scarier is being hacked into and tracked everywhere.

29 05 2010
Pro Sports

Pro Sports…

Thanks for the great insight loved the info !…

4 06 2010
Dan Schwartz in New Jersey

Interesting is that the adplaced by Google at the end of Tina’s entry is for the Envoy Esteem fully implanted hearing aid — And this is something I’m familiar with, as the founder of the company is Ted Adams — My AB CI Mentor!

4 06 2010

Dan, you’re getting adverts? So sorry – I don’t know how that happens! At least it was one from a friend. That implantable CI does look interesting, more and more people are talking about these.

4 06 2010
Dan Schwartz in New Jersey

Hi Tina!

We were just talking about that on Hearing Journey chat last night, a couple hours after you signed out. Six people had them in Australia; but had them removed. The amount of power required for the processing and for the HiRes 120P & 120S stims at the full 90k updates/second is quite a bit — And that is what helps you hear so well vs Cochlear’s lower power CIS stim.

My philosophy for power to hear better is Burn it up, baby!

4 06 2010

Why did they have them removed? Battery issues or other problems?

4 06 2010
Dan Schwartz in New Jersey

I don’t know why they were removed– Ask Kim B.

As I understand it, the batteries were recharged every few days with a coil & headpiece.

4 06 2010
Dan Schwartz in New Jersey

That’s odd: No ads this time.

Ahhhhh! I know where the ads came from: I googled analog VLSI cochlear implant and clicked through, as it was near the top of the list.

I’m fixing that with a simple $4/month with hosting, so I own everything on my pages. What is nice is that I’m going to run with no ads, so that I have better credibility.

4 06 2010

Looking forward to reading the blog!

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