People walking around with a microchip in their hands sounds like a storyline out of a futuristic sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? In reality, there isn’t anything fictional or futuristic about it: There are thousands of people with implanted microchips already. Proponents of the implanted microchips say that they make people’s lives easier, but naturally, there are plenty of others who question their safety and security. (1)
Implanted Microchips Are Big In Sweden
Implanted microchips have been noted for their popularity in Sweden. However, they’re not that new – and have been around since 2014. Swedes use them to get into their homes, offices, and gyms. They are used to store emergency contact details, social media profiles, and event tickets. They even use them to take the train. (1)
According to Jowan Osterlund, former professional body piercer and founder of microchipping company Biohax International, the implanted microchips make people’s lives easier. (1)
“Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense. Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined,” he explained. (1)
In fact, as of 2018, 5,500 Swedes have already adopted the technology. (2) Known for being at the forefront of new tech, this does not come as a surprise. The wealthy, well-educated nation is full of early-adopters to technology. Swedish citizens also have a high level of trust in their companies, banks, large organizations, and their government. (3)
Relatively speaking, implanted microchips have been welcomed in Stockholm, the Swedish capital. This is likely not the case for many other places. (3)
“This experiment has so far happened in a wealthy country, among very digitally savvy people,” says Urs Gasser, executive director at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. “And while having a chip may play out nicely for well-educated people in Sweden who are part of a digital hub, I question how this will play out for, say, a worker in a warehouse.” (3)
The Pros and Cons of Implanted Microchips
As with all technology, there are both positive and negative sides to implanted microchips.
According to the proponents of the microchips, pros include:
- You no longer need to carry keys, cards, and other items that are easily lost. (1)
- Increased security for various facilities. If entry requires an implanted microchip, it will be much harder for others to access those locations. (4)
- The technology is safe and low-cost. (1)
- An extra way to identify people. (4)
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the microchips are capable of. Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University, was actually the first-ever person to have a microchip implanted in his hand all the way back in 1998. He is excited about the technology and the benefits it can provide to a number of industries. (4)
“there’s the potential of this technology to help dementia patients. An implant could enable sufferers to operate a virtual fence, thereby giving them much more freedom to wander on their own,” he says. “Conversely, the implants could be used to restrict movement, to act as a tag for prisoners either as a means to stop them leaving an establishment or rather to indicate when they try to enter somewhere off-limits.” (4)
Currently, none of the implanted microchips have location tracking capabilities; however, that doesn’t mean that this couldn’t happen in the future. This is the primary concern of those opposed to the technology, as well as the potential for hacking. (4)
While yes, your smartphone already gives over plenty of your personal data, including GPS tracking, you can turn it off, put it in a draw, and completely unplug. You can’t do that if you implant that technology into your body. (4)
Human enhancement and bioterrorism researcher Richard Wordsworth cautions that the potential dangers of these chips being hacked could outweigh the benefits. (4)
“Why does this matter for a chip that opens the door to your office? It probably doesn’t. Where it absolutely does matter is in the context of, for example, digital health devices – implants that might be used to monitor patients’ medical conditions or provide regular doses of medication from a built-in drug reservoir.” he says. (4)
He refers to hackers’ abilities to tamper with those functions, such as turning off someone’s pacemaker or delivering a lethal dose of a drug. (4)
His final concern is with updates. Technology is always improving, so what happens when a better version of your microchip comes out? You don’t just have to change out your old phone for a new one. You have to actually remove the chip from your hand and implant a new one. (4)
Microchipping In America
As you may have guessed, implanted microchips are not widely accepted in the United States. In some states, such as Nevada, lawmakers have made implanted microchips illegal. Arkansas, New Jersey, and Tennessee are all drafting legislation surrounding the microchips.
That being said, there are some Americans who work for specific companies who have had them implanted.
Three Square Market in Wisconsin had a voluntary microchipping party for its employees. Those who decided to receive them can now operate the vending machine, printers and access the building with just a tap of their hand. (2)
When they shared news of the event on their Social Media, they received extreme backlash from Americans. Based on the general public’s response to this experiment, it doesn’t look like implanted microchips will become mainstream in America, at least not anytime soon. (2)
Osterlund has had a chip in his hand for over six years now. He says people’s concerns aren’t as valid as they think they are.
“Microchips are inert and passive, basically like swipe cards that you can’t lose. So I find it ironic when people with an iPhone and a Gmail account get on Facebook to scream about privacy just because they’re freaked out by the incision,” he says. (2)
Gasser agrees that it seems the fear isn’t actually about the tech itself, but more so the inability to turn it off. (2)
“The fear we feel in relation to microchips is less about a particular technology and more about that technology in the context of power and uneven power structures, like employer and worker,” he said. “And when those dynamics are implanted in our bodies, there is a line we cross that simply feels different.” (2)
- “Thousands Of Swedes Are Inserting Microchips Under Their Skin.” NPR. Maddy Savage. October 22, 2018.
- “TRUE: “MICROCHIPS ARE GETTING UNDER THE SKIN OF THOUSANDS IN SWEDEN” EU Fact Check. May 23.
- “The rise of microchipping: are we ready for technology to get under the skin?” The Guardian. Oscar Schwartz. November 8, 2019.
- “The Pros and Cons of Inserting a Smart Microchip Into Your Own Body.” VICE. Richard Wordsworth, Kevin Warwick. March 7, 2015.
- “People Are Getting Microchipped in Sweden, and It’s Pretty Normal.” VICE. Stacey Naggiar. March 5, 2020.