Tech Innovation

Would You Implant a Chip in Your Body?

Well, why wouldn’t you? More Australians are stepping forward to have RFID microchips the size of a rice grains embedded in their bodies. Convenience – they say, is a huge benefit of getting “chipped”.

From movies such as ‘Minority Report’ to ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘Total Recall’, Hollywood blockbusters have long forewarned the threat posed to mankind by allowing the line between humanity and technology to blur.

But there are others who are less cynical.

Epicenter, a high-tech Swedish office complex, made headlines last year when hundreds of its employees accepted the offer to receive an RFID microchip implant. Employees can access the building, use private printers, photocopiers, and even pay for their lunch with just a swipe of their hand.

Currently, the RFID and NFC microchip implants generally have simpler uses until technology catches up to their potential, according to Shanti Korporaal, co-founder of Australian microchip distribution company Chip My Life.

“The main everyday benefit for most people is that they don’t have to worry about their keys,” said Shanti Korporaal, co-founder of Australian microchip distribution company Chip My Life. “Hopefully soon they won’t need their wallets either.”

The microchip implant is becoming a phenomenon as many companies are planning to adopt it.
The microchip implant is becoming a phenomenon as many companies are planning to adopt it.

While the microchip implants are yet to be adopted on a grand scale in Australia, Shanti says companies are looking into similar programmes to Epicenter’s.

“We know of plenty of companies who are gearing towards it and are readying their legal departments because this is unchartered territory in some ways and – while I can’t name names, there are some major companies involved,” she said.

Safe and Sound?

But do Australians have cause for concern at the increasing adoption of these technologies?

Kayla Heffernan, a PHD researcher in interaction design at the University of Melbourne, got chipped after a year and a half of studying the area, and believes such fears are unfounded.

“People think the government will track you, and that’s the main question we are asked, but it’s a passive chip like in your credit card. They can’t track you and it’s not even active until it’s placed in front of a reader,” she said.

“Compare it with the microchips implanted in cats and dogs – if you lose your pet and you can’t track where it is, it has to be found, taken to the vet, scanned for its unique code, and then compared against the code in the database to find its owner’s contact details.”

Security guard monitoring CCTV screens in data centre
There is less security concern over RFID or NFC microchips

In addition to being untraceable, Heffernan claims it’s less invasive than a piercing.

“Of the 143 people surveyed with RFID or NFC microchip implants as part of my research, none experienced rejection of the chip apart from some bruising. Unlike a piercing, there’s no open wound, so there’s a reduced chance of infection,” she said.

“People can’t tell it’s there unless you tell them. It doesn’t set off airport security alarms or metal detectors, and the pain level involved in the procedure is very low – you don’t need anaesthesia,” she added.

Security Fears

As for security, the information on the chips is considered less likely to be stolen than keys or a bag.

“Reading a chip under the skin is harder than people think. Readers on phones don’t have anywhere near as much power as the access readers tapped into a building’s power grid, plus they’d need to know you have a chip, where it is and where you live,” Korporaal said.

While health, freedom and security appear not be compromised by the chips, Heffernan said the technology is unlikely to see mainstream adoption until its potential applications are expanded.

“I don’t think it will ever be totally ubiquitous. There will always be resistance, just as there is with piercings. The real catalyst for adoption would be the ability to make payments – that’s the recurring theme with people I talk to, that they might get it done if it supplants more than just their keys,” she said.

How soon will this take place? That’s anybody’s guess.

But it’s certain that the allure of getting chipped is very much present and growing.

Feature image: Shanti Korporaal, from Sydney, has two implants inserted under her skin.

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