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  5. Microchip in people in practice. Advantages and disadvantages of having a chip under the skin

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16.08.2022 00:19

Microchip in people in practice. Advantages and disadvantages of having a chip under the skin

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Having a chip under the skin can be a great help in everyday life. With its help, we can confirm our identity, pay for purchases in the store or monitor the level of glucose in the blood. However, will these chip-related facilitations not come with some concessions in the sphere of privacy?

What exactly is a chip?

A biochip, i.e. a type of microchip inserted under the skin, is an electronic element placed in the living tissue of animals or humans. In both cases, it has clearly defined tasks – we will come back to the case of animals in the text, so let’s focus on people. A biochip implanted in a human consists of four main parts: a spiral antenna, a capacitor and a microchip. The fourth element is a biocompatible capsule in which the above three elements are enclosed.

These types of chips do not have an internal power source – they only respond to a radio signal sent from the scanner. The chip, receiving it, activates and sends a signal with information (which is encoded in it) to the scanner. It is worth adding that these types of chips are usually limited by distance – the scanner must be relatively close to be able to send a signal that goes to the chip.

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The origins of chips for humans, or a bit of history

The first person to implant a subcutaneous micro-transmitter was British scientist Kevin Warwick. When in 1998 his body was enriched with a small device, many believed that the transmitter, now called a chip, connected to his laboratory’s network and allowing him to perform a few simple tasks (such as turning on the lights), was merely an amusing leap to the side of a bored scientist. The press, of course, picked up on the topic, giving it the nickname “Captain Cyborg”, but the captain himself did not stay with it for a long time. After nine days of use, the chip was removed from Warwick’s body. The inventor, however, was satisfied with the results of his experiment – he proved in it that communication to and from the implant was possible. The first phase of the experiment has ended, and it has laid the groundwork for the problem that now ignites millions of minds around the world.

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Advantages of biochips – payment “by hand” and what else?

However, let’s move to modern times. How exactly can a biochip implanted under the skin help us in everyday life? Well, it would be a great help in the event that we forgot to take our wallet for shopping. An implant properly attached to our bank account could work on the same principle as a payment card. In fact, it might not even make sense to use wallets – the chip could also have our exact data, all the information we have in our ID cards. The problem with losing your wallet would become a thing of the past – after all, we have all our most important information at hand and we never part with them.

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Hypodermic chips are also increasingly used by companies that value security – the point is that employees are subjected to a chip implantation procedure, which allows you to identify the level of authorization to open a given door on the company’s premises. The first such case took place…15 years ago. A US video surveillance company chipped its employees who had access to the database – all to increase security. Another example is a recent case: Wisconsin’s Three Square Market organized chip implantation for 80 of its employees. The rice grain-size chips were equipped with an RFID module and implanted in the hand – they were to offer access to individual sections in the company, make it easier to buy food in the canteen, and use computers and photocopiers.

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Staff chipping is also very popular in Swedish companies. This has a positive impact on security within the company and reduces the risk of data leakage. The chip implanted in the employee makes the problem with access cards stolen or lost disappear. A chipped employee is either able to open the door or not. Simple and effective.

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VeriChip, the world’s first implantable microchip for radio frequency identification | Source: CNBC

A subcutaneous piece of silicon would also be helpful for doctors – the information it would carry could be readily available during an appointment. By reading them, the doctor would read the course of our disease with great accuracy, learn about basic things such as our blood type, recent treatment, etc. Certainly, it would carry a greater load of information than the interview with the patient (after all, he or she may forget about something important), nor would it require carrying a large number of cards documenting our treatment during visits. Not to mention the dramatic situations during an accident, when emergency services need to obtain basic information about the victim’s physiology – in which case the information from the chip would be an invaluable convenience.

Also noteworthy is the concept of Smith & Wesson, the world’s largest firearms manufacturer. It consists in the fact that a given weapon will be “paired” with the owner’s chip. What is it for? Well, the use of such a weapon will be impossible by other people, except for the one whose chip was assigned to it. This solution is to protect in the event of theft and to prevent accidental shooting, when the weapon is in the hand of a child. In addition, a given gun or rifle can be equipped with a GPS tracker that will allow you to track where a specific model can be and when it was last used. This concept promises to be an extraordinary facility for the services.

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The real dangers of being chipped

We will not dwell on the conspiracy theories that the internet buzzes with – we will focus on the more important issue, which is the real threat assessment of biochips. This technology, due to entering the consciousness of recipients, is often described as dangerous. There is nothing wrong with that, it applies to all kinds of novelties appearing on the market. So what are the main, potentially disadvantages of being chipped?

Wireless identity theft

It is related to the problem of protecting data contained in the microchip’s memory. The information it contains is not protected in any way and may be stolen by unauthorized persons who have the appropriate equipment and knowledge. This can lead to a problem in which all the information that is relevant to us – credit card number, address, personalized data – all this goes into the hands of people who can use it against us. Identity theft is cited as a major chip implementation problem among humans. And it should come as no surprise – it’s safe to assume that we wouldn’t even be able to find out that our chip has been hacked and respond accordingly. Not being aware that our data is leaking (or being changed after a hacker intervenes) could cause many problems. Hopefully, with the adoption of this technology, this problem will be averted by adequate data security.

Side Effects on Health

We can confidently assume that the long-term potential side effects are still unknown. For a very simple reason – it has not been thoroughly tested. Scientific research is known about research on rodents, which indicate a relationship between the application of the chip and the development of cancer at the site of implantation, however, supporters of the technology accuse them of selectivity and a negative attitude aimed at identifying the problem where there is none (omitting the number of rodents in which the tumor had developed without an implanted chip, which made it impossible to correctly determine the true cause of the disease in animals). However, this case is certainly the tip of the iceberg in terms of the safety of human life and health. The development of this technology will involve intensive research aimed at dispelling any doubts and filling white spots on the subject of side effects.

Another reason to think about is the question of the chip “moving” under the skin – after all, it is not attached to anything, so this can lead to a situation where the device simply disappears from where it should be. This situation can cause some complications, but it is still not a problem on the scale of that associated with MRI – nothing that is made of metal should be near a running machine. This problem may be so significant that it will force the temporary removal of the chip from the body of the examined person. The issues related to the epidermal allergic reaction, other types of skin problems and the risk of paralysis also deserve mention.

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Chips around us

Although the technology itself, as has already been written, is not that new at all, some audiences are still not aware of its existence. And yet the chips are literally around us, also under the skin of our pets. Chips have been used for many years to identify found or stolen animals (mainly dogs and cats, but this is not always the case). In fact, such microchips are not much different from those offered to people. Similarly, they do not contain batteries and their implementation is essentially painless for the animal. Electronic tagging of animals is extremely helpful and often allows the owner to return a pet that was found at a considerable distance from him.

Polish-British startup

The company of a Polish entrepreneur and its recent entry into the microchip market deserve a separate mention. We are talking about Walletmor and their biological payment implant based on NFC technology. Placed under the skin of the hand, the chip behaves in exactly the same way as a smartphone equipped with communication technology at close range. Therefore, according to the creators, the implant is able to handle payments around the world, through any terminal that supports contactless payments. The technology is constantly being developed, but it is possible to buy it now – the price is 199 euros. 

The relatively recent market entry also involves some concessions – to be able to use the implant, you must be a citizen (or be in the territory of) one of the 32 countries listed on the manufacturer’s website. So far, these are only countries located in Europe. In addition, the implant must be coupled with the iCard platform, responsible for trading our money, which does not support payments in PLN. The only way out of the situation is payment in euro, but it is associated with an unfavorable cost of currency conversion. However, it is to be hoped that over time the creators will overcome any inconvenience that affects the current limitations of this project.

Being microchipped – a matter of time for each of us?

The problem of human chipping stormed people’s minds, making it comfortable – rather permanently. We can safely assume that the development of this technology will continue and with time it will become something popular, as it was in the case of computers, mobile phones, etc. Remember that there were also many unknowns related to these technologies. However, it is in our nature to question everything, and ordinary human prudence has always accompanied technological novelties. It is absolutely recommended, because technology is to serve us – and not the other way around.

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