A Chip in My Hand Unlocks My House. Why Does That Scare People?

July 30, 2019

Over the past few decades, microchip implant technology has moved from science fiction to reality; today hundreds of thousands of people around the world have chips or electronic transmitters inside them. Most are for medical reasons, like cochlear implants to help the deaf hear. More recently, body-modification enthusiasts and technophiles have been installing microchips in their bodies that do everything from start a car to send a text message to make a payment in bitcoin.

The market for nonmedical implant technology is virtually unregulated, despite the fact that thousands of people around the world got chipped in the past 12 months. That may be about to change: Over the past few years, calls to heavily regulate or even ban voluntary implants have grown increasingly loud. There’s a place for regulating implants, like any technology — but also a need to separate the fear from the reality.

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I was excited to get my implant in 2015 at a biohacker gathering called Grindfest in Tehachapi, Calif. — specifically, in a garage in a dentist’s chair, surrounded by vintage medical posters. These implants — often called radio-frequency ID or near-field-communication tags, depending on the technology involved — are about the size of a grain of rice and are installed in people in seconds via an oversize syringe. They each have a unique identification number and cost as little as $50. Most people get them injected in the tissue between their thumb and index finger.

Microchipping is still a fun part of a semi-underground culture, but interest is growing in more serious quarters. In 2016, the Navy asked me to consult on a study led by James P. Wisecup, a retired vice admiral and the director of the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group. One of the concerns they had was how civilian implants in sailors could affect the workings of a nuclear submarine.

More recently, implanting made national news when a Wisconsin technology company called Three Square Market announced it was having a chipping party for its employees. Workers were offered implants that allowed them to be tracked at work, replacing timecards. Workers could also use the implants to operate copy machines and buy food from the company’s vending machines.

Not surprisingly, such interest from the military and the corporate sector has raised concerns, and not just among civil libertarians. Religious advocates have cautioned against the ethical challenges of implants. In February, Skip Daly, a Democrat in the Nevada State Assembly, introduced a bill to make involuntary microchip implants illegal; he later amended it to include voluntary microchipping as well.

The bill — even though it is in just one state and has yet to pass — set off a storm of concern in the biohacker community because it seemed to be the first step in a crackdown we all fear is coming.

Currently, no state has a law banning voluntary microchip implants, though along with Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey and Tennessee are drafting legislation centered around implants. California, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oklahoma and North Dakota have laws in some form that ban involuntary implants.

I can’t think of many biohackers — or any citizens — who wouldn’t support a ban on involuntary microchipping (though at least for now, that’s a baseless fear). But the fear of government- or corporate-imposed programs should not overwhelm the promise that voluntary, recreational chipping has to offer.

I’ve had my chip for over three years, and I’ve grown to relish and rely on the technology. The electric lock on the front door of my house has a chip scanner, and it’s nice to go surfing and jogging without having to carry keys around.

For some people without functioning arms, chips in their feet are the simplest way to open doors or operate some household items modified with chip readers. The military is considering implants for soldiers that may be useful to monitor their health data and even recovering them if they’re captured or lost in war.

Microchip implants aren’t for everyone, and while the health risks are minuscule, like any technology, implanted chips will grow old, become outdated and need to be replaced — a process that will be moderately bloody and painful. And there are legitimate privacy issues, similar to the current concerns over tracking phones. So far, though, implants can be detected by someone only at a distance of a few feet.

Above all, the microchip implants illustrate a defining principle of the transhumanist movement, popularized by the philosopher and futurist Max More: morphological freedom — the right to modify one’s body in whatever way one wants, so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

The uproar over Mr. Daly’s bill seems to have worked. After being deluged with public comments and emails, he altered his bill yet again, with new wording to exempt implants for self-expression and medical purposes. (The bill recently passed in the Nevada Assembly and is being considered by the Nevada Senate.)

With implant technology becoming smaller and easier to put into bodies, every state will soon have to address the question of recreational implants. The knee-jerk opposition is real, and it could easily lead to overbearing laws. People should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies — and lawmakers, if they study the facts, will quickly realize that the benefits of a lightly regulated biohacking culture outweigh the risks.

Zoltan Istvan writes and lectures about transhumanism.

This article was originally published by: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/opinion/chip-technology-implant.html


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