The solutions that ARPA-H seeks have the potential to vastly improve healthcare, but could also contribute to a technocratic, biomedical security state: perspective
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) announces its first four focus areas for funding opportunities.
Today, ARPA-H launched its first Open Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), identifying four initial focus areas for investment that touch upon elements of the Internet of Bodies (IoB), genetic engineering, vaccine development, tissue regeneration, and AI-enabled health surveillance, data collection, and analyses.
The solutions that ARPA-H seeks have the potential to vastly improve the overall health and wellbeing of citizens, but at the same time they could also contribute to a technocratic, biomedical security state in which citizens’ physical and mental health statuses are constantly monitored and surveilled to enforce compliance with whatever mandates public and private entities decide to issue.
As investigative journalist and author Whitney Webb warned in Unlimited Hangout back in May, 2021, ARPA-H could “merge ‘national security’ with ‘health security’ in such as way as to use both physical and mental health ‘warning signs’ to prevent outbreaks of disease or violence before they occur.
“Such a system is a recipe for a technocratic ‘pre-crime’ organization with the potential to criminalize both mental and physical illness as well as ‘wrongthink.‘“
Now, let’s take a look at the first four focus areas that ARPA-H is looking to fund.
“Topics of interest include […] New approaches to accelerate and routinize mammalian and microbial cellular engineering to enable next generation therapeutic applications” — ARPA-H, Open BAA, 2023
The four initial focus areas in the ARPA-H Open BAA include:
- Health Science Futures, which seeks to develop the innovative tools, technologies, and platforms that can be applied to a broad range of diseases.
- Scalable Solutions, which seeks to improve access and affordability and address health ecosystem challenges that impede effective and timely development and distribution of healthcare and disease response at a scale.
- Proactive Health, which seeks to improve personal health and wellness to reduce the likelihood that people require medical intervention or minimize the time that they remain in acute care through accelerated recovery and regeneration capabilities.
- Resilient Systems, which seeks to create capabilities, develop mechanisms, and accelerate system integrations to enhance stability in the face of disruptive events.
Out of the four, Proactive Health appears to have the most red flags in terms of overall digital surveillance and privacy concerns for citizens.
For example, for Proactive Health, ARPA-H is looking to:
- Characterize brain and other deep tissue and organ health with quantitative and accurate outcomes equivalent to invasive health monitoring.
- Develop robotics, wearables, and other devices to enhance independence for aging populations and people with cognitive or movement disorders.
- Develop novel approaches to continuously measure, analyze, and enhance health promoting activities.
Again, these solutions could represent breakthroughs in improving human health, but in order to be successful, they require constant surveillance and data collecting.
With ARPA-H looking to “wearables and other devices,” the government agency is looking to tap into the Internet of Bodies ecosystem of wearables, implantables, and consumables that measures and surveils everything that is going on inside your body.
According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) briefing paper, the IoB is an ecosystem consisting of “an unprecedented number of sensors attached to, implanted within, or ingested into human bodies to monitor, analyze, and even modify human bodies and behavior.”
In 2020, the RAND corporation published a report stating that the IoB “might trigger breakthroughs in medical knowledge […] Or it might enable a surveillance state of unprecedented intrusion and consequence.”
Another observation that Webb made in her 2021 Unlimited Hangout report was that “If ARPA-H/HARPA is approved by Congress and ultimately established [which it now is], it will be used to resurrect dangerous and long-standing agendas of the national-security state and its Silicon Valley contractors, creating a ‘digital dictatorship’ that threatens human freedom, human society, and potentially the very definition of what it means to be human.”
For years, historian Yuval Noah Harari has warned about potential digital dictatorships, and at the 2020 WEF annual meeting in Davos he declared that “We are no longer mysterious souls; we are now hackable animals.”
According to Harari, “To hack human beings you need a lot of biological knowledge, a lot of computing power, and especially a lot of data.
“If you have enough data about me and enough computing power and biological knowledge, you can hack my body, my brain, my life. You can reach a point where you know me better than I know myself.”
The historian even came up with a “danger formula” for hacking human beings, which he believes “might be the defining equation of life in the 21st Century.”
That equation is B x C x D = AHH — which means Biological knowledge multiplied by Computing power multiplied by Data equals the Ability to Hack Humans.
“The power to hack human beings can of course be used for good purposes like provided much better healthcare,” said Harari, adding, “but if this power falls into the hands of a 21st Century Stalin, the result will be the worst totalitarian regime in human history, and we already have a number of applicants for the job of 21st Century Stalin.”
With today’s Open BAA, ARPA-H is looking to invest in research that truly has the potential to fundamentally alter what it means to be human by merging humans with machines and through genetic manipulation.
Apart from funding research into the IoB, ARPA-H is looking to invest in:
- New approaches to accelerate and routinize mammalian and microbial cellular engineering to enable next generation therapeutic applications, develop multiscale interventions, and automate hypothesis generation and discovery to expand those applications to disease states in which cellular therapies have not traditionally been employed.
- Novel methods to engineer resilient tissues, microbiomes, and biophysical systems to combat disease or maintain health.
- Foundational advances in genetic, cellular, tissue, and organ replacement therapies that enable personalized medical interventions at scale.
- Novel techniques to reduce the spread of disease or eliminate risk factors, including new vaccine or therapeutic modalities that block pathogen transmission, induce mucosal immunity, or boost or sustain native immunity without triggering auto-immune dysfunction.
Other areas of interest in the ARPA-H Open BAA include:
- Strategies and technologies to leverage homes, community centers, pharmacies, and other accessible locations as distributed clinical trial sites to diversify participation in clinical trials and integrate end-user feedback to rapidly iterate prototype designs.
- Novel ways to protect, secure, integrate, analyze, communicate, and present health data, including but not limited to advances in privacy, cyber security, artificial intelligence with enhanced patient safety properties, low-code or no-code technologies, semantic approaches, and rapid integration techniques.
- AI-enabled, and empirically validated physiological models that accurately reflect the biological basis of complex diseases, the interface between biological and physical systems, and mimic human response to potential therapeutic or multiscale interventions from the atomic/molecular to systemic/whole human scales.
- Approaches to build trust in the healthcare system and distribute high-quality health guidance in an understandable manner that improves patient outcomes.
The Open BAA comes exactly one year since ARPA-H was established within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on March 15, 2022.