Hack Your Heart

At the beginning of last summer Anthony Van Loo, a professional soccer player in the Belgian league collapsed on the pitch. Seconds later his inbuilt heart defibrillator kicked in, jolting him back to life - seemingly raising him from the dead before our eyes. He subsequently made a full recovery and was able to celebrate the victory with his team later in the week.

In a previous age this kind of thing would have been viewed as witchcraft and public superstition would probably have demanded a night in the stocks at the very least. That today it seems entirely reasonable is a testament to medical technology and the determination and brilliance of a famous doctor.

The man behind this piece of Lazarus technology is Dr Pedro Brugada a world renowned heart specialist and one of a very select group who have discovered a specific heart condition, Brugada syndrome, subsequently named after him. Dr Brugada is credited with putting the Cardiology Research and Training Institute in Aalst on the map and is so laid back he sounds crazily modest about his own achievements.

One of the most fascinating things about the heart re-boot machine is that it can upload data to the internet wirelessly. Dr Brugada can then advise on medication or treatment changes remotely. The whole scenario offers a view of how a future relationship between implanted mini-machines and the human body could turn out.

It seems designed to let us think about ourselves as genuine 'wetware', interfacing seamlessly with body technology. In the past this has often excited the techno-futurist cyberpunks and machine fetishists from David Cronenberg to Stelarc. One real life example is all it takes to make the relationship between man and machine commonplace.

Perhaps we can look forward to a not-too-distant future when we can download and interpret all kinds of personal body data, take them to a doctor for treatment and take much more control of and responsibility for the way we are treated, cured or medicated. At the same time we should be aware of the temptation to digitise ourselves. We're not software yet and we still need brilliant heart doctors.

Pedro Brugada will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6