Served with hand cut chips: technology implants raise important social and ethical issues

BioNyfiken, a Swedish biohacking group, has embedded radio 1432966895548frequency identification (RFID) chips in the hands of its office workers (Cellan-Jones 2015). The chips, inserted under the skin by a professional tattooist, enables staff to open doors, operate photocopiers, pay for lunch and log into computer systems (Cellan-Jones 2015).

As part of the evolving Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, an increasing number of humans are implanting technology into their bodies, not for medical reasons but simply for greater convenience in everyday life. In the near future, these RFID chips will seamlessly interact with all of the other devices that are becoming connected to the Internet and will be used, for example, to turn the house lights on or to start the car ignition (Thompson 2015).

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The main ethical concern exists, however, whether all the benefits of RFID are worth the compromise to our freedom, privacy and autonomy. With these chips, an individual becomes a walking transmitter of their personal data and can be profiled and tracked without their knowledge, potentially feeding into a government database (Liao, Smith & Wang 2010, p.7). Given the implants are not shielded, the RFID chips can also be hacked and personal data such as contact information, website login data or credit card details stolen (Mearian 2015). RFID chips are also vulnerable to theft and abuse as people can copy the information from one chip and duplicate it on another, claiming it as their own (Liao, Smith & Wang 2010, p.7).

As bio-hacking groups such as BioNyfiken continue to uncover the realities of connecting365320-2b783eb6-02a1-11e5-a77a-4446024238be our bodies to the Internet, the line between human and machine will become increasingly blurred. Despite the potential benefits of human chipping to increase efficiency and simplify mundane tasks, there is still important ethical and social issues to address as human beings morph into cyborgs. Indeed, the human body may just be the next big platform, and the Internet of Things will evolve to become the Internet of Us.

Check out the video I made on this subject here (beware of potentially disturbing footage):

Reference List:

Cellan-Jones, R 2015, ‘Office puts chips under staff’s skin’, BBC News, 29 January, accessed 21 October 2015, <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31042477>.

Liao, P, Smith, A & Wang, C 2010, ‘Convenience and Safety vs. Privacy: The Ethics of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)’, Ethical Publication, accessed 21 October 2015, <http://www.ethicapublishing.com/confronting/5CH13.pdf>.

Mearian, L 2015, ‘Office complex implants RFID chips in employees’ hands’, Computer World, 6 February, accessed 21 October 2015, <http://www.computerworld.com/article/2881178/office-complex-implants-rfid-chips-in-employees-hands.html>.

Thompson, C 2015, ‘Here’s why the strange practice of body hacking is taking off’, Business Insider Australia, 29 July, accessed 21 October 2015, <http://www.businessinsider.com.au/heres-why-body-hacking-is-taking-off-2015-7>.

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14 thoughts on “Served with hand cut chips: technology implants raise important social and ethical issues

  1. Fantastic blog post Giverny!
    I never would have thought to use body hacking as an appropriate example demonstrating the possibilities of an internet of things but it works on numerous levels. Funny enough, I had only learn’t about body hacking quite recently through a short national geographic documentary. The implants are slightly different, but the concept is the same if you were interest in external research http://www.natgeotv.com.au/videos/american-taboo/body-hacking-2495.aspx.
    The video format you’ve taken here is extremely appropriate for this topic as well, although you clearly have the potential to pursue this topic as an extensive series if you wished. And I have to say, if there was an award for best blog post title you just won it!
    Awesome work again

    • Thank you for your comment Jesse and wow, what an interesting video! It is certainly evident that all sorts of things are now possible, but as the biohackers in the video identify themselves, whether it becomes culturally acceptable to insert technology beneath our skin is a whole other matter.

  2. This a really interesting post! Great work. I liked your video (and thanks for the ‘potentially disturbing footage’ warning). This totally freaks me out. I had never heard of this and now I’m totally fascinated. When I started reading, for some reason I was just picturing a doctor octopus situation but i think this is weirder.

    You might be interested in this article. I have to give you a heads up though. If you thought your video was disturbing, just wait until you watch these ones. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2015/aug/14/body-hackers-the-people-who-turn-themselves-into-cyborgs

    • Hi Jacqueline! Thank you for your comment (and the heads up!) What an incredible (and disturbing) range of innovations the article presents. A USB finger drive! Night vision eyedrops! An electronic ear implant! It is hard to believe that people are actually experimenting with these ideas, let alone implementing them into their bodies!

  3. A very fascinating topic to explore extending from the lecture.
    I’m interested to know your opinion on IoT?

    It is interesting to know these concepts aren’t as far fetched as I originally thought, and that they are somewhat being implemented already.

    The fact that people feel the need to collect and gather all this data and examine it kind of blows my mind, especially when the lecture and readings revolved around identifying and profiling objects! The practical uses for these advancements has me in two minds; I can see where, in some cases, it would be useful and beneficial to have all that data, though on the other hand I question when we stopped enjoying the little things in life.

    Punny titles always get me,
    Well done on an awesome post.

    • Thank you for your comment Amanda! I find the Internet of Things quite scary to consider. It is not necessarily the vulnerabilities that frighten me, such as a hacker breaking into my home’s security system, but more the effects of these technologies on our everyday life. I am really quite happy to have a fridge which is just a fridge and a watch that does nothing more than tell the time. From the videos by Ericsson and Sen.se Mother that we watched in the lecture, it seems these IoT devices are too ‘smart’ – there is the feeling that they will overpower our lives (and our bodies) and all of the simple things we have to enjoy in our daily lives. By trying to make our lives simpler, they have made it seem much more complex, disconnected and inhumane. I’m not yet convinced that this is an entirely welcoming change.

  4. Hi Giverny,
    Great post this week! Such an interesting example to reflect on the concept of the IoT. This is SO fascinating! I had never heard of these RFID chips prior to reading your blog. It is difficult to determine if these chips are the key to gaining or loosing our freedom as individuals. It seems that this technology does not have a unified positive following as I found this interesting article while researching more into this new phenomenon. The article essentially educates people on the dangers associated with this technology and how to block or kill RFID tags. You may want to take a look, I found it to be a super interesting and relevant source (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-blockkill-RFID-chips/).
    Thank you for a great read!

    • Hi Lara! Thank you for your comment and the interesting article that you linked to. The potential for enormous amounts of my personal information to be stolen every day through quite mundane items such as credit cards and passports is truly remarkable. It would be interesting to know how many people actually try to block these signals. Are people unaware of this happening, or are we simply convinced that such a thing would not happen to us individually?

      Unfortunately, RFID chips inserted under your skin cannot be placed in sleeves or protective wallets that block RFID signals. This raises the question of whether an entirely new method of blocking RFID signals will need to be explored as biohacking practices potentially become more mainstream.

  5. Wow this is the Internet of Things on a whole other level! Your example in relation to the weekly topic is really well chosen so I commend you on that. This is insane though! I thought it was funny how the on your poll, all of your respondents so far have chosen a resounding ‘no’. Makes me wonder if future generations will think us stupid to have said no? We all have such major concerns will all this, as you have accurately pointed out. But it does make me wonder: is this a real possibility of the future?

  6. This is such a unique example of IoT and it really is an advancement for humankind; the ability to allow such capabilities in a tiny chip! Your use of referencing only prove that this is a well researched topic by you which only makes it a more reliable source. Your video and poll are also very engaging for readers and overall your post it excellent.

  7. Hi Emma! Thanks for your comment. I agree, the whole idea is rather outlandish and I find it hard to believe that it will ever become mainstream. However, BioNyfiken, the creators and manufacturers of the technology, expect big corporates and governments to one day come to them and say that everyone should get chipped!

  8. Great post and interesting read! Your post reminds me that I used to ask (no one but myself) Will that be one day, we can have some chips which information is stored, and embed inside our brain? So we don’t have to memorize excessive data, or afraid of forgetting it when we sit for an exam. The innovation of the Internet of Things makes me feel like sci-fi is not only going to be showed in the movie; but we can experience it by ourselves in the real world. However, this blurs the line between human and machine whilst it makes me feel like whether it is great to have such ‘smart’ life as we can see how smart phones change our lives. We definitely can’t get enough of ‘smart devices’ (smart car, smart fridge, etc.), and I feel like human will become lazier and lazier to accomplish tasks. Needless to say, there will be less REAL connection between each other. To some extent, it does make me feel like the future development of world is going to be extremely different than now. And I think perhaps we are not able to imagine how different it is going to be.

    • Hi EmiLee! Thank-you for your comment. The idea of embedding chips into our brain is a frightening prospect. It is interesting that you have mentioned how smart devices are making us lazy. An interesting study (http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/heavy-smartphone-use-linked-to-lazy-thinking-study-finds-1.2988195) discovered an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence. Although this is a correlation, not a causation, it still brings into question the repercussions of using our smartphones as an extended mind. After all, why do we need to remember an address when our GPS will record it and lead us there instead?

      At the same time, however, humans have designed and invented things to make our lives easier, faster and smoother since the dawn of time. So is this simply a moral panic? Now that we have washing machines, dishwashers and fridges, we wonder how people ever lived without them. In this way, I think our dependency on smart devices will become a major concern. Perhaps in 50 years, people will be asking how we never had a toaster that talks to the refrigerator or a car connected to the home heater. We are all in pursuit of a seamless, hands-off lifestyle, but what will we do when our robot vacuum malfunctions or our smart fridge overloads? Technology is not reliable. Our growing dependency on it, thus, comes at a price.

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