IMPLANTABLE RFID CHIPS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

RFID Implant on finger for scale

Implantable RFID Chips: The source of anxiety for conspiracy theorists, privacy enthusiasts, and strangely enough, Christians. This technology first broke mainstream media in 1998 and has been appearing sporadically ever since. Human microchipping has been a hot debate topic for decades now, but how exactly will this technology be used in our society, and  do we really have anything to be worried about?

In a 1998 experiment called “Project Cyborg,” British Scientist Kevin Warwick became the first human cyborg. Under local anesthetic, a small RFID chip was implanted into the Professor’s forearm allowing him to operate doors, lights, and computers without having to interact physically.

This technology was seen again in 2005 when hobbyist Amal Graafstra implanted a HITAG S 2048 low frequency transponder into his hand. He could once again operate and unlock doors, log onto computers, but more notably – he used his implantable chip to operate a self-built “smart gun” which could only fire after reading and verifying his implant.

It’s obvious how this primitive engineering could be used to make a person’s life more streamlined and accessible, but it wasn’t until 13 years later that a viral PR stunt made society question the implications of microchipping humans on a broader scale.

Tony Danna, left, vice president of international development at Three Square Market, gets a microchip implanted in his left hand.

 In 2018, tech company 3 Square Market made it into thousands of headlines after hosting a ‘chip party.’ Employees of 3SM were given the option to have a small RFID chip implanted into the soft space between the thumb and index finger. Employees used their chips to clock in and out of work, operate their computers, and to buy snacks at the break room vending machine.

 “We started with a simple little chip, and now it’s evolved into a whole other business. We’re in development right now of an actual chip that will be powered by the human body … and it will have GPS-tracking capabilities along with voice recognition,” Says 32M CEO, Todd Westby.

The public didn’t take too kindly to this, raiding the company’s google reviews with 1 star ratings. Just 3 weeks ago, Alex V4 says: “This company is actively developing technologies of a technocratic dystopia. Do I need to say more?” A comment by Benjamin McAvoy reads: “…Support your freedom, not a one world system of tracking with no cash.”

“This company is actively developing technologies of a technocratic dystopia. Do I need to say more?”

Most of the comments are written not by privacy enthusiasts nor conspiracy theorists, but Christians, who fear that these chips are the mark of the beast. “My understanding — I’m not a theologian — but there’s a prophecy in the Bible that says you’ll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark.” Says State Representative Mark L. Cole of Virginia.

Don’t be too hasty when writing this off as a religious conspiracy, cash is in the process of becoming obsolete. Cards, ecommerce, and mobile payments have ushered in a new wave of digital economy where spending money digitally is easier than ever before. God aside, is it a stretch to say that this implantable RFID technology isn’t just another ploy to push for a cashless future?  

This obviously isn’t the only concern when discussing implantable chips – people have also expressed apprehension due to the risk of personal data breaching. As with any technology, chips that are able to hold personal information such as name, health records, and banking information, are theoretically susceptible to hacking.

If there is a weakness, it will be found and taken advantage of. Due to being relatively new tech, there will almost certainly be some issues going forward. “If I use the chip to buy lunch, go to the gym and go to work, will someone have all of this info about me? Is this stored and is it safe?” says British scientist, Ben Libberton. “It’s not just about the chip, but integration with other systems and data sharing.” 

“It’s not just about the chip, but integration with other systems and data sharing.”

Ben libberton, science communicator, phd.

The problem here lies with not understanding who has access to this data that is seemingly only used for simple purchases or for health tracking. “Do I get a letter from my insurance company saying premiums are going up before I know I’m ill?” Libberton adds.  Should society accept the possibly of our data being shared in exchange for convenience? Some may say that this is already an issue and has been for longer than you may be aware of.

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