Are you chipped?
A startup hub in Sweden is literally implanting microchips in their employees.
So now the question is if you, dear reader, are a cyborg yet.
A shot of rice
The Swedish startup, Epicenter, is home to around 2,000 workers, and so far 150 have been chipped. The process is simple and pretty painless.
Self-described “body hacker” Jowan Osterlund comes in with a syringe and something the size of a grain of rice.
He slides the syringe into the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger, and in that moment you enter the world of William Gibson once and for all.
Well, you know, you can open doors and buy stuff with a wave of your hand. It’s basically the same.
This technology isn’t new, but it’s rarely used on humans. Our pets, however, have been cyborgs for years, so that we can find them when they’re lost.
They run away, get taken to a vet or shelter, and scanned for cyborg-ness (AKA microchips).
And now we can be just like Fido. Epicenter and a very few other companies are pioneers of widespread human chipping, and they insist it’s something to celebrate. In fact, workers at Epicenter actually throw parties for the soon-to-be chipped.
“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” says Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”
So that’s cool . . . but privacy?
Remember that? Most new technologies engender some security and privacy concerns, but this thing is literally inside of you.
The implant uses Near Field Communication technology, which is the same thing used in contactless credit cards and mobile payments.
If the chip is activated by a nearby reader, data flows between the devices via electromagnetic waves. These chips are technically “passive,” which means they can’t read info themselves, but can be read by other devices.
That seems safe, right?
Well, maybe. But remember, if you use this chip to unlock the door to your building, your office, and the restroom, and if you use this chip to buy lunch, coffee, and snacks, those reading devices around the workplace have a ton of data about you. What time do you get to work, and when do you leave? Do you take ‘too many’ bathroom breaks? Are you drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee? Are you eating unbalanced meals?
Unlike the data read from your credit card or phone, this data originates from something you can’t easily separate yourself from.
It’s always there, whether you want to use it or not. And to get rid of it, you have to have surgery, not just cut it up.
There’s a difference
Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute says hackers could get a scary amount of information from embedded devices, and the ethics will only get more complicated as the chips get more sophisticated.
“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone,” Libberton says.
“Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that.”
And once that data is collected, who gets to see it? What will it be used for?
It’s hard to imagine that the results will be overwhelmingly positive.
This is the next step on our quest for convenience, and if we collectively decide to take it, we will lose privacy.
It already exists
On the other hand, we seem to be basically okay with this. Our phones often know our location, so that data is out there for someone to find. Our credit cards know what we buy, and when and where we buy it.
As chips are normalized like cards and phones, maybe it’ll seem less weird to have our movements tracked by an electronic grain of rice we stuck in our hands. But for now – yeah, it’s weird.