The U.S. has its first people of the microchip. Corporate employees are allowing their parent company to insert RFID microchips into their hands to make a range of workplace tasks easier.
So what futuristic company is leading this transhuman trend? SpaceX? Neuralink?
Nope. It’s a company that installs snack vending machines.
For those who choose to accept it, the microchip goes into that meaty part of your hand between your thumb and index finger. Be honest—you aren’t using that spot for much else. Prime real estate.
Microchipped employees aren’t even a new thing; they’re just new to the United States. Swedish company Epicenter has been implanting employees for two and a half years now, and around 150 of their employees have the chips.
Why is the vending machine company leading the charge here? The CEO say it’s to improve efficiency and the lives of employees. I think it’s smart advertising. Roughly a zillion articles have appeared about this company in the last week or so.
Go to their website. What’s the first thing you see? Not a vending machine, but a picture of the microchip with the text “Exciting about RFID? We are too!”
But this post isn’t about advertising. It’s about the human race and its relationship with technology.
So how significant is this?
Many of the articles about the microchip program offer a variation on the phrase “once the microchip is implanted, a cyborg is born.” Maybe. I’ve written about the highly malleable definition of cyborg before, and I’m still not convinced this qualifies.
But it’s not insignificant, either.
You probably expect me to wax on about how creepy this is or how it’s a precursor to the end of the human race. But I’d like to take a different track and try to understand why people are choosing these implants. The numbers are real—hundreds of people either have the implanted microchips now or have volunteered to get them.
Ok, so you work at the vending machine company. You love the place. Fantastic culture, good salary, great snacks. You plan to spend years more there, possibly your whole career. As a full-time employee, you spend a minimum of 40 hours a week inside the office, and likely more than that.
The microchip is offered as a completely voluntary implant paid for by the company. It’s essentially a security access swipe card crossed with a credit card. Open locked doors, log into your computer, operate the printer, and buy food sold on the premises. It’s a short list, but these annoying tasks are things you experience every day, multiple times a day.
It may not seem like a lot of added convenience, but it’s not nothing. If you regularly fumble with keys and cards and logins all day, it would be tempting to get a one-time injection to make it all go away.
The microchips are completely voluntary and reversible—the company will take them out if you change your mind down the line. And as we’ve established, they make some things easier. But is that it? Hundreds of people have implanted microchips in their bodies so they don’t have to use keys or type a password?
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the company is offering some undisclosed incentives for those who get the implant. A bonus, a better shot at promotions, etc. This is pure speculation, and I’ve seen nothing to confirm such a move, but I have to wonder.
Here’s my favorite passage from the Science Alert article: “As if to prove the safety of the technology, the CEO says his wife and children will also receive the implants next week, coinciding with a “chip party” being held at the company’s headquarters in River Falls, Wisconsin.” (Peter Dockrill)
Chip party! I’ll bring the salt.
We’ve established the basic “pro” argument for getting the chip: improved convenience at no obvious costs and with no adverse health benefit.
Let’s try to puncture the “con” arguments. Firstly—that it represents some new and scary point of no return for humanity. But people have been getting medical implants—and microchips—far more advanced than these for some time. Yes, the difference is necessity vs. convenience, but the outcome is similar.
What about privacy? This is the big one. The chips don’t have GPS tracking, but theoretically, the company could use data from the chips to track and analyze your habits—when you take breaks, go to the bathroom, enter certain doors, use your computer, etc.
But we’re doing this already. The microchips might collect the data in a slightly more convenient format for a company, but the chips aren’t gathering and transmitting anything that we don’t already do through phone, computer, and credit card use. Privacy? That ship has sailed.
Admittedly, this is based on current capabilities of the chip, and here’s where you get into the “slippery slope” argument. If hundreds of employees have been using the chips for years and have come to enjoy the added convenience, and the company announces (or doesn’t announce) a new and troubling functionality, how likely are people to give them up?
If Apple announced tomorrow that it was going to start collecting and storing GPS data on all its consumer iPhones—including the ones already in service—for “research purposes,” how many users would care enough to give up their iPhones?
Fifteen percent? Ten?
A ton of articles have been written about the microchip program, but odds are you hadn’t heard of it before reading this post. These were not front-page news items in major media outlets, or second-page, or even third page. The story is no more than a curiosity, a “hmm, that’s weird” anecdote. I think the vast majority people (even those who aren’t futurism freaks like me) understand what’s inevitably coming in a broad sense, and even Black Mirror can’t scare them enough to care in any actionable way.
So yes, when you play the slippery slope game, some troubling futures materialize. But as Dr. Eldon Tyrell said, “all this is… academic.” We could no more stop this progression of human-machine integration—through legislation or any other means—than we could stop donuts from tasting amazing. (Someone is eating a donut at the table next to me as I write this. I need a microchip that stops food craving NOW)
I hope I’ve made a somewhat convincing case for why it isn’t that strange that these people would volunteer to get microchips implanted in their hands. I’m not trying to argue that it isn’t scary, only that I understand why someone would do it.
So would I get one?
No way. Creeps me out.
Would you? Before you say no, let me sweeten the deal. With my fictional chip, you can bypass all security lines in airports. All security lines anywhere, really. Every time you try to get out of a parking deck and fool with that machine to get the cross-bar to raise? That’s gone. Taken care of. Forgetting your wallet, or cash, or ID anywhere? Not an issue, because you don’t need them anymore.
How about now? No?
Try this—every single person you know has one. You’re the last holdout. Now you can’t go through security at airports at all. You can’t get out of the parking deck (or into it in the first place). No one will sell you donuts because the donut-sellers aren’t equipped to take cash. No company will hire you because its standard policy to get a proprietary microchip.
Still no? You’re amazing.
How good are you with a bow and arrow?