by Daniel Barker
The technology has been around for some years now, but the use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips and other beneath-the-skin implants has only recently become more widespread.
A high-tech office complex in Sweden is now offering tenants’ staff the option of having a small RFID chip implanted in one’s wrist that allows certain functions in the building to be performed with a wave of the hand, such as opening doors and operating photocopiers.
Epicenter office block developers are in support of the implanting program, which is being made available through a Swedish bio-hacking group. The group promotes the use of bio-enhancement technology and predicts a future in which sophisticated implant systems will closely monitor a range of inputs from body sensors while interacting with the “internet of things.”
In other words, we will soon have the option of being physically connected to the Internet as well as to an increasingly widespread network of smart devices.
For many, the idea of having an implant containing personal information inserted under the skin is not a welcome option. Not only is there maybe something creepy about the whole idea to begin with, but the fact is that a lot of us feel our privacy and autonomy has been compromised enough already, without voluntarily becoming walking transmitters of our personal data.
Some predict that one day it won’t be a matter of choice, or that the use of implants and other types of bio-enhancement and connectivity will become so commonplace as to be expected, if not required. The fear is that we will lose our freedom and privacy in the process.
Others welcome the prospect of becoming physically connected to the internet of things, such as the bio-hacking group responsible for the office block’s RFID program.
A BBC News feature profiled Hannes Sjoblad, a bio-hacker who organizes “implant parties” where volunteers are implanted:
He is starting small, aiming to get 100 volunteers signed up in the coming few months, with 50 people already implanted. But his vision is much bigger.
Then will be a 1,000, then 10,000. I am convinced that this technology is here to stay and we will think it nothing strange to have an implant in their hand.
Although the RFID chips being used now are capable of little more than opening doors and operating copiers, the potential is far greater. RFID chips will likely evolve into ever-more sophisticated devices, capable of a wide range of interactions.
Already companies are developing technologies that will go a step beyond the already-familiar “wearable” gadgets — examples include a digital tattoo that can be stamped onto skin and can monitor body functions.
It’s certainly easy to imagine that within a few years there will be dramatic advances regarding what this type of technology can do. And since various types of bodily enhancement — bionic limbs, pacemakers and cosmetic surgery — are already commonplace, it stands to reason that many people will have few if any qualms about implants and other bio-hacking tech.
On the other hand, the idea of a central authority having the advantage of direct connections and access to an individual’s physical body with the potential of monitoring GPS position, heart rate, perhaps even brain waves, is frightening to contemplate.
Most of us have embraced the revolutionary technological advances of the past few decades. We’re more connected than ever before, and even if we don’t all agree that this is necessarily a good thing, very few of us would willingly give up our smartphones at this point.
But perhaps we should be extremely careful about making the leap to cyborg status. Is this truly an inevitable and potentially useful tech advancement or is it a step too far?
The time for debate is now, because the technology is already entering the mainstream. And as with most technological revolutions, once it has happened there is little hope of turning back.