Under-the-Skin Surveillance Is Coming Quickly
In late 2018, NPR broke a story about how thousands of Swedes are inserting microchips under their skin to make payments without the need to carry a credit card.
British companies have already started micro-chipping employees. Bill Gates is funding a remote-controlled contraceptive microchip. Indonesia has debated forced implantation for sex offenders. Elon Musk is already implanting computer chips in pig’s brains.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon revealed it has developed a disease-detecting implant for under-the-skin monitoring of the human population. Their stated intention is to protect the populace from future outbreaks and pandemics.
In a twist not seen before in science-fiction dystopian fantasies, rather than appearing as a dreaded microchip, the Pentagon’s new technology is a “tissue-like gel engineered to continuously test your blood” with a transmitter to relay the data.
It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream scenario.
But we’d like to take a more reasoned approach to the growing trend of under-the-skin surveillance. Like all technologies, this one has obvious and non-obvious costs, some clear benefits, and a laundry list of unforeseen risks.
Don’t believe the evangelists who can forecast no harms.
Don’t believe the conspiracists who can see no good.
Like the Amish, we must weigh as a society whether or not we should adopt new technologies on a global scale. (I, for one, don’t believe the convenience of ditching my credit card outweighs the risks of embedding Visa or Mastercard in my wrist. Nor do I believe we need to fall prey to the false dichotomy that there aren’t other non-under-the-skin ways to prevent pandemics, store passwords, prove digital identity, or unlock our cars.)
Regardless, I’m just one vote among eight billion.
In order to judge the sum total merits of any new invention or innovation, we must understand three fundamentals about all forms of technology:
1. Technology isn’t neutral
Never believe the popular delusion that technology is neutral.
Guns are designed to kill mammals.
Push notifications weren’t created to leave you alone with your thoughts.
Nukes weren’t created to fold your laundry.
All technologies can be judged based on their long-term “tilt.”
Sure, a stainless steel water bottle can be used to bludgeon someone to death, but the more likely scenario in the case of widespread adoption is less sea plastic and a better-hydrated populace.
Over maximal terms (think: 100+ years), technologies tilt in either a net-negative or net-positive direction.
The question we must ask: Which way does under-the-skin surveillance tilt over long-term scenarios?
The answer is unclear.
2. Technologists have an agenda
The makers of new technologies always have an agenda.
Social media was designed to addict you and advertise to you.
Monsanto seeds are engineered to maximize farmer reliance.
Netflix wants you to binge.
Sometimes the technologist’s agenda is good. Sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it’s misguided. Sometimes it’s downright malevolent.
The question we must ask: What is the agenda of those who control under-the-skin surveillance technology?
The answer is unclear.
3. Technology is easily weaponizable
Even when the technology is a net benefit over the long term and the makers have a fairly benign agenda, we can never rule out the predator parties that hijack the original intention and attempt to weaponize each new technology.
Not all technologies are equally weaponizable. Gunpowder has the ability to kill more people than, say, paper origami. Ricin gas is more easily weaponizable than Dawn dish detergent.
The easier it is to weaponize something, the higher the likelihood that sociopaths will find a way to do so.
The question we must ask: How easily weaponizable is under-the-skin surveillance technology?
We have an answer for this one.
Without a doubt, under-the-skin surveillance is one of the most easily weaponizable technologies ever invented. It has the potential to track and surveil every single person on earth for the rest of human existence.
It is therefore a near-mathematical certainty that under-the-skin surveillance will be weaponized by powerful elites and the governments they control.
Within ten years, totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea will microchip their subjects whether they like it or not. In corporatocracies like the U.K. and the U.S. — land of the autonomous and home of the distrusting — expect adoption to move slightly slower… and likely under the fear-fueled guise of safety.
Which is exactly how the Pentagon is framing the conversation.