The “Internet of Bodies” (or IoB for short) is an emerging ecosystem of internet-connected “smart” devices that monitor the human body and collect personal biometric data. Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi has continued her collaboration with RAND Corporation as their inaugural Art + Data artist-in-residence with a new visualization illuminating these exciting innovations in wearable and implantable technologies
These diverse devices, such as implantable microchips, clothing with sensors, and wearable health trackers, represent a new frontier in personal technology. Presented as an animation, the visualization illustrates the devices on both the micro and macro level, and raises provocative questions about the future impacts of IoB technology on intelligence, health, and privacy at scale.
Visually, Giorgia and her team were directly inspired by “Powers of Ten,” the iconic video created by Charles and Ray Eames in 1977. Considered a landmark of design, “Powers of Ten” explores the scale and relative size of everyday existence in comparison to the smallest unit of life (a single cell) and one of the largest (our galaxy). In approaching the project, the design team wondered what a new version of “Powers of Ten” might look like in today’s hyper-connected, data-rich reality.
The visualization consists of an animation that unpacks 20 different IoB devices, from glucose monitors and smart stents to cochlear implants, ingestible digital pills, and even electronic health records. These are mapped out within a group of figures inspired by the universal motif of the Vitruvian Man. Over the course of the animation, the network grows with a layering effect and zooms out to show what this constellation of personal data ecosystems might look like at a large scale.
Despite offering users improved performance, revolutionized medical treatments, convenience, and even fun, the IoB is still an inconsistently regulated space that poses cybersecurity and other risks. The visualization highlights the relative benefits and risks of each device, thereby underscoring both the potential pros and cons of these new technologies on the self and society. As the animation progresses, more individuals are added to the frame to evoke the exponential influence of these devices in the future and the near limitless data such devices will produce.
The content for the visualization is based on RAND’s report entitled “The Internet of Bodies: Opportunities, Risks, and Governance.” Giorgia and team conferred closely with the subject matter experts at RAND on the topic as they sought to creatively illustrate the report’s themes for a mass audience. The full data visualization can be viewed on RAND’s website.
In her work, Giorgia utilizes the principles of “data humanism”––using data to uncover the human stories behind the numbers and statistics, and to challenge the idea of data as something that is impersonal and intimidating. Many of the devices of the IoB center on tracking and collecting personal data––an activity Giorgia explored in a more analog way in her “Dear Data” collaboration––and then employing this data to enhance and empower one’s life.
The RAND Art + Data Residency is a new program of the RAND Corporation that merges the worlds of art and data to help people better understand public policy issues. RAND is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that uses rigorous analysis to transform research into fact-based, actionable solutions that empower communities.
The Art + Data program is curated by Debbie Millman, designer and host of the award-winning podcast “Design Matters,” and The Gordon Co, a future-focused strategy and branding agency founded by DeeDee Gordon. Each quarter, a different artist will use RAND’s public policy research to create a series of monthly visualizations aimed at building awareness around pressing issues such as healthcare, education, international affairs, energy and the environment.