You might not think twice about chipping your dog or cat. But would you consider an implant that works as an ID, electronic wallet, or health information storage device? Welcome to the brave new world of microchips for humans.
Becoming a Walking Wallet
Microchips for humans use RFID (radio frequency identification) or NFC (near field communication) technology to store your identification, access your transit card or electronic wallet, and store your health history. They can turn your hand into a security card to enter your workplace and grant you access to your computer. You can use them as keys for your front door or your car. Some relish the convenience, but others fear the consequences—does human microchipping threaten freedom and privacy, or is it simply the next step in convenience technology?
Employer Required Chipping Prohibited; Religious Objections Upheld
Eleven states have preemptively banned employers from requiring microchip implants for their employees. Illinois has a more comprehensive privacy statute regulating employer collection and storage of biometric information like fingerprints, which can be used to open doors or clock into work.
In West Virginia, a coal company employee retired because the hand scanning machine the company used to track attendance violated his religious beliefs. He then filed a complaint with the EEOC. He believed using the machine would mark him with “the number of the beast” described in the Bible. The EEOC defended his claim in court, and he was awarded $150,000.
While microchips for humans don’t currently contain GPS technology, some fear they could facilitate a surveillance state in which law enforcement could track and identify people without their knowledge. Three Square Market, a Wisconsin vending machine company, famously placed chips between the thumb and forefinger of employee volunteers in 2017. The company is now working on a new chip that will contain GPS technology and voice activation, powered by body heat.
Implantable microchips also pose medical concerns. They can travel in the body once inside, and they’re not easy to remove in the event that a person needs an MRI scan or a defibrillator.
Fad and Future
When Swedish company Biohax developed an implantable chip for humans, thousands of enthusiastic Swedes had one implanted between 2014 and 2016, when the chips were new. The rate of adoption has since declined. However, the development of implantable medical devices that can do things like monitor vital signs and glucose levels has accelerated. Some external medical devices use silicon microchips (more sophisticated than RFID or NFC chips) to simulate human organs for medical research.
Human-machine integration is advancing beyond cochlear implants and cyborg eyes. Elon Musk has founded a company called Neuralink to explore how to connect the brain to AI and the internet. Additional moral dilemmas, privacy trade-offs, and perceived risks to privacy are sure to follow.