Google has created contact lenses that can monitor your glucose levels for diabetes control. Fitbit and Jawbone’s Up monitor functions like heart rate, calorie intake and sleep patterns. MC10 created BioStamp, a digital tattoo to collect data on body temperature, hydration levels, UV exposure and more. Proteus has developed a pill with sensors that work with a patch on the skin to measure a range of bodily functions. Or it can tell your doctor that you forgot to take your medicine.
All of this data can be uploaded, hopefully only to someplace you trust.
The next obvious step is already in use in Sweden: a chip implanted under your skin to allow you access to your office building, a cup of coffee, or the copier. Wave a hand to get entry, pick up your phone or tablet to unlock it, wave at your bicycle to unlock it, and soon pay for lunch in the cafeteria.
The implant is an RFID chip the size of a grain of rice. The chip has no battery: it is powered by the radio energy transmitted by the reader. All it contains is a unique number. The building’s servers are told which chips are allowed to open each door, make a copy on a particular copier, or what checking account to debit for lunch.
The Swedish Biohacking Group BioHyfiken manages this particular experiment at the Epicenter building complex in Stockholm. They view this office building as the start of something big. As Hannes Sjoblad, Epicenter’s chief disruption officer and a member of BioHyfiken said, “We want to be able to understand this technology before big corporates and big government come to us and say everyone should get chipped — the tax authority chip, the Google or Facebook chip.”
The Epicenter systems require that the chip be virtually touching the reading device, which sometimes means getting your wrist twisted to just the correct angle. But the range of these passive RFID chips can be up to 12 meters (almost 40 feet). For practical access control and security reasons you probably want to only read chips that are very close to the reader in order to only open a door you are really going to enter, not just because you walk by down the center of the hall. These chips are very inexpensive, currently about US$0.15 each. Expect that price to drop by at least 50% over the next couple of years.
But RFID is the technology that works with E-ZPass, the northeast US gadget that lets you drive under a road sensor at 65 miles per hour to pay road tolls without stopping, or the more complicated transponders used for PrePass to allow trusted truckers to bypass the long lines at weigh stations.
The uses of this kind of technology are as wide as your imagination. I once worked on a school attendance recording and reporting system that had to keep track of student’s attendance down to the tenth of an hour. If each student had an implanted chip, we could have easily captured when he entered and left the room, eliminating a lot of manual and error-prone effort by the teachers or aides. It would also have been difficult for a student to cheat by having someone else attend in his place.
For health care, having an embedded chip would allow any health care provider to immediately access that individual’s health care data even if the patient had no identification and could not respond to questions. This could eliminate the check-in process, whether for a normal office visit or a ride in an ambulance, and help in correct administration of medicine and procedures.
US Passports, along with those of many other countries, now contain a chip that is really a computer with its own storage of biometric and other identification data. A chip-enhanced passport goes by many names, including “biometric passport”, “e-passport” and “digital passport”.
It is reasonable to assume a future where every child is implanted with a chip at birth, and that chip becomes the driver’s license, voter registration, credit card, and health record for the individual until they die.
What do you think of this future? Oh, and by the way that future is probably less than 10 years away.
The last word:
Security is a big issue, especially with simple RFID chips like those used in the Stockholm Epicenter building. It would be trivial to capture the id number from your chip with a reader hidden in the pocket of someone just walking by on the street. You would never know it happened, until the criminal created a duplicate chip and started using it. Suddenly, you can be placed at the scene of a crime when you were sleeping miles away, or have you bank account drained. It is possible to have fairly good security, comparable with what biometric passports have. But that comes at a higher price, and can still be compromised.
Speaking of passports, if you have a digital passport make sure you keep it in an RFID shielded sleeve except when actually in use. You are already doing that with any smart credit cards you have, right?
Keep your sense of humor.