Human microchipping: a futuristic utopia?

By Silvia Martelli

British scientist Kevin Warwick is the very first human to have a microchip in his body. He injected it into his own hand in 1998, with an operation that took him around 20 minutes – easy as. The chip emitted an identifying signal that computers could recognise to then activate various electronic devices in his house, such as door locks, room lights, or lifts.

Since then, thousands of biohackers have been experimenting with this new technology and all its possible uses, from domestic to medical. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are currently between 30,000 and 50,000 humans who already have a microchip in their body. It seems that the invention is now further expanding to the professional environment, with Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, recently offering its employees to have a rice grain-sized chip injected between their thumb and index finger. Over 50 of its 80 employees agreed to it, believing the chip would make their life more practical – paying for food in the cafeteria, swiping into the office building, all with a simple wave of hand.

Making life easier seems the motto of many of the existing human microchips. Biohacker Hannes Sjöblad knows this well, with the microchip in his hand replacing all the keys and cards he used to carry with him. The young man no longer needs to worry about forgetting the keys at home or having his wallet stolen. So is it surprising that this innovative technology is now expanding quickly, and how it may be something that will become common and widely accepted in the society our kids will grow up in? Probably not: nowadays, engagement and fascination with technology are evident and contagious, and so are the craves for the latest innovations – whether that’s an I-phone or an under-skin microchip.

So what are the possible uses of microchipping? As mentioned, microchips make cards, keys, and wallets completely useless, by allowing you to pay in shops (after having your chip scanned, a computer will automatically debit your bank accounts), borrow books from the library, gain access to buildings, and take public transports. Furthermore, they contain information such as that in passports, IDs and driving licences – rather than scanning your documents, you’ll now walk through a reader. They are also becoming popular in clubs (especially in Spain) to avoid long queues and keep track of orders, to then pay them all in the end.

Yet, the real potential of microchips has nothing to do with activating devices, dismissing contactless cards (which are already quite efficient) and avoiding twenty minutes of queues. Rather, they can be extremely helpful when used for medical and safety reasons. For example, in cases of unconscious patients, microchips quickly give access to their medical history – medications, illnesses, previous episode. Microchips can therefore considerably increase safety of individuals suffering, for example, from diabetes, Alzheimer’s or cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, they can play a pivotal role in locating kids lost in crowds, elderly people who wandered out of care facilities, or in cases of kidnappings and more generally disappearances.

Surely, it must be questioned whether microchips limit our privacy and freedom. Despite this, on the whole, their pros cannot be ignored. Furthermore, although many argue having a chip injected is incredibly unnatural, it should be acknowledged that it is not much different from implanting any other devices we use today, such as pacemakers.