Swedish firm trials innovative chip implant, but is it really useful and to whom?
Today, emerging technologies enter and impact upon our daily lives at such a speed that the limits of what is possible seem too distant for most laypeople to consider. In turn, our ability to understand them and recognise their inherent dangers decreases just as quickly.
When innovative, smart devices are thrust upon us, our initial astonishment rapidly cedes to tacit subservience and over-dependence. We take no heed of the risks and accept anything that promises to relieve us of minor daily stresses.
Up until now, to say that these technologies have gotten under our skin has been purely metaphorical but today, this figure of speech has a whole new literal meaning.
At Epicenter, a new state-of-the-art office complex in Stockholm, Sweden, biohackers are implanting volunteers with microchips that allow them instantaneous access to their offices and use of equipment, all with a simple hand movement.
Speaking to the BBC, Hannes Sjoblad, Epicenter’s chief disruption officer and member of the biohacking group BioNyfiken, demonstrated using his own implanted Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip to open doors and operate hardware around the office.
Sjoblad extolled the benefits of his new accessory: “Instead of having some clumsy device in my pocket, I just put my hand on the reader.”
He continued: “If we help show people that it is really not that complicated, that it’s making our lives easier, I think people will actually welcome this tool.”
RFID technology works using electromagnetic correspondence between microchips and readers.
It has its omnipresence in devices such as mobile phones and credit cards, is widely used in industry and is even used to identify household pets.
However, Hannes Sjoblad and the other volunteers at Epicenter are not the first humans to receive RFID implants.
Dr Mark Gasson, of the University of Reading, was already implanting volunteers with similar chips in 1998, and in 2009 became the first person to contract a computer virus from his own chip.
How innovative, then, really is this most recent case of human RFID implants? Ostensibly, not very. However, the significance of Sjoblad’s use of RFID’s is that it represents their transgression from the experimental laboratories of universities to mainstream life.
Speaking in 2012, Gasson predicted that, like mobile phones, once RFID implants infiltrate our daily lives “it would be such a disadvantage not to have the implant, that it essentially becomes non-optional”.
With the usefulness of this technology iterated, more pertinent questions present themselves: to whom are these implants most useful, and should people resist them? Indeed, will we have an option?
In a time when personal security is the highest priority, RFID chips represent a weak point in the front line against the threat of privacy invasion.
Indeed, Dr Gasson explained: “A lot of implantable medical devices have no access control, they have no security, so if you know how to talk to them, then it’s possible to gain access and turn them off, turn them on, or manipulate their settings.”
Once a chip is implanted into a human, “to attack the device, really is to attack the body of the person,” Gasson explains.
Facilitated by free and affordable RFID-reliant technology, people already willfully store and often share personal information that, if accessed without their consent, could be used against them.
It may not be very long before governments and, as Sjoblad describes them, “big corporates” harness these “non-optional” implants for the purposes of surveillance and manipulation of unwitting citizens.
Personal information reveals who we are, it’s not invaluable to safeguard our sense of self but it’s also a gold mine for those who wish to exploit its value.
If we are not careful and fail to consider the implications of invasive RFID implants, we risk becoming helpless pawns in a game, the fate of which lies outside of our control.
As author James Gleick said in his 2011 book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood: “Information is what our world runs on: the blood, the fuel, the vital principle.”
These implants threaten to bleed us dry.