The Internet Enabled Human

Picture an uncooked grain of rice. Now, imagine a world in which that tiny rice grain could open doors for you, pay for your groceries, and start your car. This little rice sized resource replaces your giant wallet and a janitor-sized key ring. When you meet someone at an event, a handshake imports their contact information into your phone. In this world, you don’t scan a barcode to access the gym or board a plane because your rice grain is as unique to you as your social security number. This little grain of rice also acts as your personal security safeguard. It ensures that no one but you can use your firearm and will dispatch your location to your loved ones should you ever get lost.

Your rice grain sounds incredibly impressive. The only catch is that you have to have it with you at all times. How would you keep track of such a tiny thing? Well, the most popular solution is to implant it into your skin- right between your thumb and your index finger.

Suddenly- your tiny magical grain seems less appealing, doesn't it?

There is a technology available today that make all of the above listed “what if” scenarios a reality. This innovation is called a short-range radio frequency identifier (RFID). You likely already use variations of short-range RFID technology in your everyday life. The key card you tap on a sensor near the door at work? RFID technology is what “unlocks” the door and lets you in. RFID is the tech that allows you to start the car with the push of a button. It is also the reason you can use the cashless express lane at the toll booth.

The brilliance of RFID is the short-range element of the equation. Unless you are physically next to the object, it won’t function. This extends beyond convenience and into safety. If RFID technology is implemented risk is mitigated, theft is combatted, and accidents are far less likely to happen.

So, if the benefits of this short-range RFID technology are so obvious- what is the problem? Human microchipping is creepy. That’s the problem.

Microchip implanted under the skin © AFP / Adam Berry

Microchips have a stigma. The mere mention of the word conjures images of a gray dystopian landscape where ominous cyborgs with glowing eyes roam the land looking for humans to destroy. Personally, I find the idea of implanting technology under my skin unsettling, to say the least. The concern that employers may be able to track your every movement is a very real threat to your privacy rights. Perhaps presenting greater anxiety than employer control, is the ability of the authorities to monitor and manipulate those individuals with microchip implants. The science behind these implanted microchips is still new and experimental, so it unclear what level of management the manufacturers of the tech will have over the implants.

With so many questions to be answered and so little research/ regulation- I do not think we are ready, as a society, to embrace microchip implants. However, given the convenience and safety benefits of short-range RFID technology, I do not think we should abandon the innovation altogether. I believe there is a “happy medium” between RFID keys as we use them now and RFID implants.

The main issue with RFID cards, as I understand it, is one of efficiency. If you lose your RFID card, you can’t open the door at work. If your hands are full, you can’t fish the RFID-enabled keys out of your backpack to start your car. You may have multiple RFID cards and keys for different environments. Compared to the RFID card, a microchip implant begins to look like the solution to all of these inconveniences. But my question is: why an implant?

I have a ring that my grandmother gave me when I was 15 that I haven't taken off my finger in a decade. I know plenty of individuals who have similar items that they never remove. Piercings are an example. If the only drawback to the RFID microchip is the permanence of the implant, why are we not just fixing these RFID chips to rings, bracelets, or piercings? The same level of efficiency is awarded without the risk that comes with inserting a foreign object under your skin. In my opinion, the aforementioned low-tech option is the solution to this highly technical and ethically questionable problem.