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IP: Brave New World of Implants
From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Brave New World of Implants
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:42:06 -0500
To: [email protected]
Source: Jewish World Review / Oct. 19,1998 / 29 Tishrei, 5759
Can we 'fool Mother Nature'?
Do we want to?
By David S. Oderberg
IMAGINE THAT YOU have been fitted with a tiny
electronic device, measuring nearly an inch long and a third
of an inch wide. This device receives and emits radio waves
in the presence of transceivers in 'intelligent' buildings
fitted to recognize the unique signal emanating from the
tiny 'smart' chip in your body. This chip, implanted just
under the skin on your arm, has immense advantages. With
it you can open and close doors, pass through security
channels set up to recognize your identity, operate
machines such as computers and faxes, and generally
negotiate your technological world with greater ease and
convenience than at present. You can even use your chip to
carry out daily commerce.
Swipe your arm over a scanner and you can make
payments, have your account debited automatically, check
you bank balance. In short, you can do everything which
currently requires you to lug around a walletful of credit
cards. One small catch, though: because of this chip, your
whereabouts are known to others at every minute of every
day. You can be tracked like a car or airplane.
Orwellian nightmare? Delusional apocalyptic fantasy? One
would have thought so, until it emerged in the British press
a short while ago that Kevin Warwick, professor of
cybernetics at the University of Reading -- my own
university, as a matter of fact -- has decided to try out such
a scenario on himself.
Seeing himself as a latter day Edward Jenner -- the
pioneering scientist who tried out the smallpox vaccine on
his own body -- Prof. Warwick has entered the hallowed
halls of self-experimentation by having just such a silicon
chip injected under the skin near his elbow. He is, as far as
anyone knows, the first person to do so. The results of his
experiment are not yet known. He has to take antibiotics
against the risk of infection, and is a little concerned his
body will reject the alien device.
Speaking of the doctor who agreed to implant the chip,
Prof. Warwick says: "If it all goes wrong and my arm
explodes, which I have been warned could happen, my wife
will probably sue...".
The good professor is, nevertheless, sanguine about the
possible side effects. For he sees himself as a crusader at
the cutting edge of cybertechnology. Already famous for his
little machines -- looking a bit like cockroaches on wheels --
which, he glows, behave for all the world as though they
have intelligence (something I and others doubted when we
saw them in action), Prof. Warwick is thrusting forward in
the attempt to fulfil the prophecy of his own recent
best-seller, March of the Machines.
"It is possible," he says, "for machines to become more
intelligent than humans in the reasonably near future.
Machines will then become the dominant life form on earth."
Is this a tragedy? No, he adds blithely: "We are just an
animal, not much better or worse than the other animals. We
have our uses [sic], because we are different. We are
slightly more intelligent than the other animals."
The professor looks forward to the day when machines rule
our lives. The fact that his microchip enables him to be
traced is no great worry. His secretary finds it a boon: "It
was often hard to find Prof. Warwick...but since the implant
we always know where he is."
And so would your employer if you were similarly
implanted. You would be monitored every time you clocked
in and out of work, or left the workplace. Prof. Warwick
surmises the chip could carry all sorts of information, such
as medical records, past convictions, financial data.
"It is quite possible for an implant to replace an Access or
Visa card. There is very little danger in losing an implant or
having it stolen," he said. But it seems Prof. Warwick is alive
to the dangers of the microchip implant: "I know all this
smacks of Big Brother," he comments.
Where the technology will ultimately go "I really don't know
and would not like to envisage."
By now, you may well be feeling a little spooked. This is not
surprising. Nor should the experiment itself be such a
shock. After all, on October 11th 1993, The Washington
Times reported on the "high-tech national tattoo" made by
Hughes Aircraft Company --- an implantable transponder
which the company called "an ingenious, safe, inexpensive,
foolproof and permanent method of ... identification using
In 1994, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was reported that a
local humane society offered pet owners, for $25, to inject
their dogs or cats with a microchip, to prevent their being
lost or stolen. A Dr. Carl Sanders, electronics engineer and
inventor of the Intelligent Manned Interface biochip, told the
Monetary Economic Review that satellites could be used to
track people fitted with the IMI chip: "We used this with
military personnel in the Iraq war where they were actually
tracked using this particular type of device."
Whether soldiers have actually 'volunteered' to be
surgically implanted with the chip, as opposed to carrying it
on their clothing, is not made clear by Dr. Sanders. But what
we do know is that proponents of this technology envisage
first using it on animals (now widespread, particularly dogs,
cats and cattle), then prisoners (more effective than
electronic ankle tags), then children (e.g., newborn babies,
so as to prevent their being switched or lost) and elderly
people suffering from Alzheimer's disease (to prevent their
wandering and getting lost). After that, who knows? The
potential for the chips to replace credit cards and cash is
huge, and will tempt financial institutions in turn to tempt
their customers to 'try out' the chip with no obligation to
carry it permanently, and monetary rewards for those who
Supporters of the injectible microchip say it is just the
logical extension of a technology that already allows the
heavy monitoring of people through pagers, cellular
phones, 'smart' cards, and cars fitted with Global
Positioning System transponders. On the other hand, could
it not be said that the advent of the chip implant is the final
outrage which demonstrates the inherent unacceptability of
its technological ancestors? We are, it seems, fast
approaching a world that even George Orwell was not able
Had the microchip implant been known in his day there can
be no doubt it would have replaced the 'telescreen' in his
dystopian novel 1984. The fact that the corporations and
individuals promoting its use are not being bombarded
daily with protests from millions of outraged citizens is itself
cause for wonder. How, particularly in countries such as
the USA and Britain in which civil liberties are so prized, is it
possible for so much propaganda to reach the mass media
with barely a hint of contrary opinion?
Prof. Warwick has gained enormous publicity, and is
flooded with calls from journalists wanting to know how his
little experiment is going. Until, however, a sufficient
number of citizens make known their implacable opposition
to the totalitarian trend of a technology which threatens to
reduce most humans to the status of cattle, the likes of Prof.
Warwick will go about their evil work unperturbed.
JWR contributor Dr. David S. Oderberg is Lecturer in
Philosophy at the University of Reading, England, and a
©1998, David S. Oderberg
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