Would you get the 'Mark of the Beast'?
If you Google ‘microchipping humans’ some of the top autofill suggestions are ‘microchipping humans 666’, ‘enslaving the human race with microchip technology’ and my personal favourite ‘microchipping humans mark of the beast’.
Most of these refer to conspiracy theories which believe we’re on the road to getting compulsorily – or even secretly – microchipped, and as a result become followers of Satan.
Despite this, about 10,000 people worldwide have apparently gone part-cyborg already thanks to microchipping and ‘biohacking’ is one of the buzzwords of 2017.
Swedish start-up hub Epicenter has been microchipping employees and members since 2015, with 150 opting in so far.
The chip – which is the size of a grain of rice and inserted between the thumb and forefinger – can open doors, operate the printer, buy lunch and track toilet breaks.
Epicenter isn’t alone either – in July Three Square Market became the first company in the US to offer employee chipping and so does a company in Belgium.
Aside from Satan, the main concerns for the wider public seem to be that yes, it could become compulsory, that it’s going to make humans trackable and that it’ll be unsafe from a cyber security/privacy point of view.
So when I heard that the Steven Northam, founder of UK-based microchipping company BioTeq, had actually been chipped himself I wanted to find out whether it was as sci-fi as it sounds.
I’d assumed that Steven would be a tech futurist who wanted to become part-cyborg. Actually, he has a background in start-up investment and began the company as a curiosity project.
Getting chipped himself was more a bit of fun than anything else.
“I thought it was quirky and that there were interesting things you could do with the tech,” he said.
“I had the chip fitted almost a year ago and recently bought a house, so I thought instead of fitting a lock I’ll fit a swipe-card entry so I can get in with my hand, start my car, all sorts of stuff.
“I didn’t really have any concerns about having it done, it was quite straightforward.”
The whole thing sounds so low maintenance – it takes about 30 seconds to do and is a similar process to having the contraceptive implant – that maybe it’s not surprising Steven says it hasn’t really made much of a difference to his life.
Having said that, his wife wasn’t keen on getting the tech and apparently thinks he is “barking mad”.
Steven’s real reasons for all of this though are the possibilities the tech opens up for people with disablities.
“We’ve already started doing it,” he said.
“There are some high-profile cases coming up. The BBC’s One Show is going to profile Alex Lewis, who lost both legs and arms, as we fit a chip in his shoulder. This means things like his front door will open as he approaches.”
This could all play a massive part in how the public feels about the tech, and for people with disabilities who struggle with doors or carrying keys it could be a game-changer.
There are lots of other potential uses that Steven and his team are looking into, like chipping people who are worried about losing their memory as they age. If their memory does get worse and they wander off their chip can be scanned to find out who they are.
Similarly, if you arrive unconscious in A&E doctors could scan your hand for your medical records to speed up treatment, and it sounds like contactless payment isn’t too far off either.
Luckily you can’t tell who’s been biohacked so you won’t get people grabbing your hand and forcing you to pay for things.
Steven says that the big divide in opinions is down to age. He’s found that younger people think it’s cool and older generations think it’s a bit ‘Big Brother’.
As a millennial I’m actually somewhere between the two. I do think it’s cool, but I’m not quite ready to get implanted myself either.
BioTeq’s chips are medically safe and all data stored on them is password protected and encrypted. They don't have GPS capabilities either, all of which does help put some of my fears to rest - but this might not be true of every chip out there.
Steven reckons that in 10 years no one will bat an eyelid at biohacking, but at the moment even he’s not sure if the whole thing – including his recently launched crowdfunding campaign – is a bit risky and “wacky”.
I hope not, as it could make a huge difference for groups of people like the elderly or those with disabilities.
Like anything else, the tech just needs to be safeguarded as it grows and it should never get to a point where we have to have it, avoiding a situation that is, quite literally, forcing our hands.