In 2021, an Anglo-Polish company known as Walletmor announced that it had become the first company to sell implantable payment chips to everyday consumers.
While the first microchip was implanted in a human being in 1998, according to BBC News – so long ago it might as well be the dark ages in the world of computing – it’s only recently that the technology has become commercially available (Latham 2022). People are voluntarily have these chips – technically known as “radio frequency identification (RFID) chips” – injected under their skin, as these microscopic silicon chips allow them to pay for purchases at a physical store simply by waving their hand over above a scanner at a checkout, completely skipping the use of any type of credit card, debit card, or mobile phone app.
While many people may initially recoil at the thought of having a microchip inserted into their body, a 2021 survey of over 4,000 people in Europe found that over 51% of respondents said they would consider this latest form of contactless payment for everything from buying a subway card to use instead of the key fob to unlock a car door. (Marqeta/Consult Hyperion 2021).
In some ways, using RFID chips in this way is just an extension of what came before; chips are already widely used by pet owners to identify their pet when it is lost. Chips come in many sizes and versions and are much more common than most consumers realize – they are sometimes sewn into clothing so retailers can monitor their customers’ shopping habits long after a purchase has been made. And Amazon has now released its button-sized RFID chips, which it dubs “air tags”: Clip one onto your keys, and the air tag will help you find where you need them. accidentally dropped, while making it easier for anyone to follow up, says the Washington Post in “Apple’s AirTag trackers made it frighteningly easy to “stalk” me during a test(Fowler 2021). All for less than $30 per air tag.
So, to some extent, man-machine products and the use of RFID chips are outdated; the underlying engine has always been the goal of expanding the abilities and powers of humans by making certain tasks easier and less time-consuming.
Therefore, such mainstream technology may seem like the next logical step, especially among those who already favor piercings and tattoos. But on the face of it, the insertion of human ID microchips also appears to harbor the seeds of a particularly intrusive form of surveillance, especially at a time when authorities in some parts of the world are forcibly collecting DNA. and other biological data—including blood samples, fingerprints, voice recordings, iris scans, and other unique identifiers—of all their citizens, in an extreme form of state surveillance. Before deciding what to make of the technology, we need to look under the hood and learn more about some of the nuts and bolts of this human-machine hybrid technology.