After you shake hands with Microsoft, according to the company's critics, count your fingers. But the warning can be seen in a whole new light after Redmond was granted a patent for "transmitting power and data using the human body". It's a technology first demonstrated and patented by IBM in 1996, when Lou Gerstner used Comdex to exchange business cards by shaking hands. Lou's PAN was developed at IBM's Almaden lab, where researcher Thomas Zimmerman built on earlier exploratory work at MIT's Media Lab, where he was a researcher.
It uses the natural conductivity of the body to transmit a tiny electrical current. Data rates of equivalent to a 2.4 mbit/s modem were achieved in those first demonstrations. NTT DoCoMo filed its first patent in this area in 1996, and has been experimenting with the technology and claims speeds of 10 mbit/s. Another phone company, Nokia, has also been experimenting with near field electronics, and an industry forum was established by Nokia, Philips and Sony earlier this year. It isn't hard to see why it appeals to them, as both the handset manufacturers and wireless operators want to merge the phone with the credit card.
In its patent, Microsoft envisages the technology being used primarily for power, rather than data transfers. "The devices may be, e.g., a speaker, display, watch, keyboard, etc" it notes. So perhaps The Matrix will come true in one respect, with humans (or pets) acting as the power supply for machines. ®