It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. Shoving a syringe in your hand and injecting a microchip under your skin. It seems like something the bad guys would do to you. But people are willingly undergoing what’s known as ‘biohacking.’
What is Biohacking?
Biohacking is the term that has been given to the work that focuses on enhancing human capabilities by implanting devices which are designed to be frictionless extensions of your innate faculties as a biological entity, interacting with an ever increasingly digital world. (3) In layman’s terms, this means they use tech to make the human body better. One such example of this is microchipping. You may already be aware of microchips as a concept. We use them for pets all the time. Registering their address and ownership to a small readable chip is a regular thing that we do without thinking too much about it. But, what if we could do that to humans too? Turns out that we can.
In a world where posthumanism is seen as the future, biohackers consider themselves trailblazers. They argue that biohacking is the natural progression of humanity interacting with technology. Amal Graafstra, the CEO and founder of biohacking retailer Dangerous Things, says that they ‘believe biohacking is the next phase of human evolution.’ (3)
Legal, but Ethical?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved RFID tags for human implants in 2004. There are concerns according to the American Medical Association. The minute size of the device could allow for it to move under the skin making it difficult to remove. The RFID tags could also cause electromagnetic interference with medical devices like defibrillators. There’s also a small pocket of people concerned that some could use these chips to steal information or that people could force others into getting them. This is in addition to those who think it goes against God’s will. (1, 2)
Dangerous Things sells DIY kits for implantable devices and also helps connect customers with professional piercers and body modifiers so that they can have the devices implanted safely. Some of their implantables can be done safely by the user, but it’s usually worth going to a professional for any kind of procedure like this. (3)
So, you may be wondering, what’s the point of these chips? Well, near-field communication (or NFC, as they’re known) chips can be programmed to do a myriad of things, from paying for items, turning on lights and even unlocking your car. Mostly, they’re primarily being used to seamlessly interact with all of the devices that are becoming a part of the Internet of Things. This is the term for the wave of everyday devices like lightbulbs and thermostats becoming connected to the internet.
Wearables or chips?
We already use wearable technology for things like monitoring heart rate and the number of steps taken in a day. But imagine if you didn’t even have to wear anything to do that. Experts suggest that within ten years, implantables will be the norm. (4)
One Swedish rail company is offering passengers the option of using a biometric chip implanted into their hand instead of a paper train ticket. SJ is the first travel company in the world to let people use this method. The tiny chip implanted in users’ hands has the same technology as contactless bank cards and can be ‘swiped’ or ‘tapped’ to be scanned. By 2017, around 2000 Swedes had the chip implanted in their hands, with 200 expected to utilize the technology for travel.
SJ’s spokesperson says: ‘As north Europe’s largest train operator and one of the top 10 digital companies in Sweden, we are at the forefront of digital developments.’ When asked about the reception of the idea, they said ‘Some people are confused and think they can be tracked via microchip – but if that’s something they’re worried about, they should be more concerned by their mobile phone and credit card use. You can already be tracked in many different ways other than a microchip.’ (5)
Other applications can include access to buildings or really almost anything else you can think of. The possibilities are endless and this is just beginning. What do you think? Is this something that interests you or frightens you? Personally, I think I’ll stick to my wearables and Alexa for now, but never say never!