Picture the scene.
It’s the year 2026.
On an anonymous Friday afternoon you down tools for the weekend, you sweep your hand in front of your computer terminal and it shuts down. You walk through the lobby heading for the car park. As you pass through the doors, the firm’s computer links with the microchip embedded in the back of your hand. In an instant it tallies up your hours and downloads the requisite credit to your bank account. You walk to your car, it unlocks and starts as you approach (don’t worry about theft or hijacking it requires an additional retinal scan before the parking brake is released). You stop off to do some shopping on the way home, as you carry your bags through the checkout the automated cashier system scans the back of your hand and makes the appropriate deductions from your account.
You elect to have a quiet night indoors, in your climate controlled apartment (which you once again access with a sweep of the hand). A night in front of your super widescreen wall sized television. You can’t find the remote though but it doesn’t matter. The chip in the back of your hand is hot wired to the electrical signals generated by certain movements of your fingers. Holding up one finger gives you BBC1, two gives BBC2 and for the Playboy channel you make a hand gesture reminiscent of the Gareth Hunt coffee bean shake of the 1970’s.
This scenario is of course pure conjecture. Last time I looked out of the window it was still 2006. And the prospect of a fully automated life is some way off (and let’s be right the future often has a tendency to disappoint, after all where are the flying bubble cars people in the fifties thought would be here in the 90’s?).
However there are grains of possibility are already in evidence, thanks to the presence of the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip. The chip is already a surprisingly commonplace item and if you own a pet that comes courtesy of the RSPCA then more than likely it will already be the proud owner of an electronic tag. It’s also present in a variant form in any number of locations ranging from security pass swipes right through to parcel tracking.
Yet now there are some people who have decided to take things just a little further. In an age where many are concerned about the potential loss of civil liberties and the watchful eye of the state keeping us all in check with ID cards (which could potentially be RFID based). Some people are taking baby steps into the world of cybernetic body modification. The process of implantation is relatively simple however common sense tells you it should only be done by a trained professional (such as a reputable body piercer or a Doctor).
The actual chip most commonly used in implantation is approximately the size of a grain of rice. And is generally inserted near the web of skin between the thumb and forefinger, although some have gone for a patch of skin on the forearm. Apparently risk of migration (the chip moving around of its own accord when in place) is minimal and providing the insertion has been conducted in a sterile environment then all that is required is a small scalpel incision, an insertion under local anaesthetic followed by a couple of stitches and you are on your way.
You might be wondering what the exact capabilities of an implant might be at this present time. Well, despite the limitations of the chip (an extremely limited storage capacity being the main one) and the fact that the implant scene is still in its relative infancy people have successfully undertaken a number of projects. The most obvious uses so far have been in the field of security. Using chip reader individuals have added another level of security to their home computers. With the chip in place, all it takes is a swipe of the hand and the machine unlocks in a manner very reminiscent of early Star Trek. Some of the braver souls have applied the locking systems to their front doors and cars. One of the most high profile examples of this technology came courtesy of the Baja Club in Barcelona who offered implantation as a means to acquiring VIP status within the club. Those who took advantage of being chipped up could pay their tab using their chip and simultaneously gain access to a reserved VIP lounge on the club’s premises.
Some have expressed concerns that a “chipped up” society represents a step towards some kind of Orwellian nightmare in which we won’t be able to go to the bathroom without the powers of the state knowing exactly what we are doing. Others have located an inherent problem with the technology itself stating that RFID as it stands possesses little in the way of security and is open to cloning as a result.
While the chips have been successfully cloned under certain conditions, as a rule RFID chips only work in very close proximity to a reader (say two inches). So the only time to get suspicious is when someone is really inside your personal space (and at this proximity I doubt you’d be thinking about a piece of silicon wedged in your arm) or there are black helicopters hovering outside your windows.
In essence what we are looking at here is I suspect the latest fashion accessory to emerge from geek culture. At present its functions do possess a little bit of a “wow” factor but quite possibly only to other members of the geek/cyber Goth/self harming community. But saying that if we can get past the potential “invasion of privacy” issues that future incarnations of RFID might present then it might truly become something beneficial.