Is The Internet About To Take Over Our Bodies Too?

First, ovens that already know a dish's cooking parameters? Now, miniature computers that you can swallow like pills? After the Internet of Things, here comes the Internet of Bodies.

Vitruvian Modern man
Vitruvian Modern man
Jonas Pulver

GENEVA — What if your refrigerator could tell by itself that you’re out of your favorite ice cream? And if, with its huge online intelligence, this same refrigerator could place an order, by itself, at the local supermarket?

What if your oven could recognize, with a webcam or a barcode reader, the container of Alaskan pollock with Bordelaise sauce you just retrieved, and then instantly download the exact temperature parameters that will cook the dish’s gratin to perfection? (Yes, I am among the thirtysomethings who cannot cook and who are scared of preparing the most basic dish.)

To accomplish this, these physical objects would get their own virtual representation, as is already the case for many people. It’s been called the “Internet of Things.” The objects would be equipped with small computers capable of sending and receiving information. Addressing the physical object or its virtual representation therefore would have the same impact.

Recently, an Indian man explained to me how his company developed services for the Internet of Things. He actually mentioned an oven, equipped with a 4G SIM card, like a telephone. Such devices would have significant influence on the sale prices. Advertisements would be shown on the oven’s screen, which would be able to transfer data to the brands (frequency of use, cooking time, etc). The general manager even dared to dream about elaborate discounts with the biggest names in the food industry: 40% off your loan if you scan only this or that brand with the oven’s webcam, and so on.

Your coffee, your life

What’s striking is the extent to which possessing an object is being redefined, a bit like what we are already experimenting with cell phones and operators: The device is not so much the user’s property anymore but more of a data exchange that the supplier may, in the worst case scenario, deactivate if he feels the need to do so (which can be teeth-grinding in the case of frozen food).

But that’s not all. A new generation of connected objects is about to conquer the market: pills equipped with tiny processors that you can swallow with your morning coffee or evening herbal tea. The Helius model by the startup company Proteus, for instance, collects data on the correct way to ingest medicine, the body’s response, but also on the different movement and rest phases. The data is then sent to an app via a cutaneous patch.

If the aim is to keep an eye on grandma’s health or send results directly to the doctor via email, fine. But I can’t stop thinking about the Indian oven’s possible special offers. Will the use of connected pills someday link a certain brand’s medicine instead of another’s to the nature of what we eat, how long we sleep and the total cost of my insurance premium? Will we benefit from discounts on the implant of a bypass surgery in exchange of data collected by these pill-shaped robots or by signing an exclusivity contract with a pharmaceutical group?

Turning objects into data exchange rather than property: It is where the Web of Things wants to take us. And maybe the Web of Bodies too.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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