No more house keys, car keys, office keys, or airport boarding passes. Now a microchip injected between your thumb and index finger is just about all you require to identify you positively and replace all of your secure access needs.
Microchipping of humans with implants designed to replace modern access controls is now gaining traction and snowballing across the world. Despite the fears and usual outcries against privacy violations, medical risks and 'big brother' tracking and surveillance, there seems to be no stopping this fad.
Maya Shwayder for dw.com (DW) recently shed some light on these developments and shared findings of a bio-implant specialist in Seattle: Amal Graafstra, founder of 'Dangerous Things' - a start-up dedicated to normalizing bio implants. Graafstra works with his German partner Stephen Kramer.
"We are putting the power of cryptography and privacy in your hands," Graafstra told DW in a statement that applied both figuratively and very literally. Shwayder further reported that Graafstra is convinced bio-implants and bio-hacking are the unavoidable way of the very near future. He himself has four chips: one is his right hand, two in his left, and one - the latest prototype - in his left arm.
According to Graafstra, it's all about the interplay of security, access, and identity: "In a human context, identifying someone means giving them access. Identity is about controlling access...whether that be access to bank accounts, smartphones, or simply buildings", he said. Implants - and by extension becoming a "cyborg" - are all about merging your biological and digital identity.
One way he has been doing this is by exploring radio frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC) technologies as an alternative to carrying a set of keys in his pocket. It's the type of technology that allows a door to open when you swipe your work ID against a scanner.
NFC allows two devices that are NFC-enabled to share information with a simple tap. Think of tappable credit cards or the iPhone 3GS, which allow users to tap their phones together to trade contact information.
Graafstra began raising funds and partnering with doctors and professional piercers to develop implantable RFID chips as he worked towards his goal of transferring access controls from external gadgets to internal biochips.
Shwayder is one of two DW reporters who underwent the procedure to become certified cyborgs. After taking the plunge, she stated, "...this reporter can say that no one has taken control of her brain, no one has hacked her bank account or chopped off her hand because of her new cyborgian outfittings".
According to Shwayder's report, the chip can instantly be programmed with your business card information, or be used for two-factor sign-in authentication with apps like Google Authenticator. Tap your phone to your hand, and it will generate a one-time password that no one else can access.
"If someone steals or hacks your phone, they won't be able to get into your personal information and log into any accounts as you," Graafstra said.
The next chips will have apps, too. Graafstra scans another spot on his arm where he recently inserted a more recent prototype. The scan brings up a bevy of what he calls "microapps" on his phone, ranging from a bitcoin wallet to an email PGP encryptor.
And the next step beyond that might be, of course, brain implants. They already exist to a certain extent and are mostly used to treat neurological diseases like Parkinson's. But Graafstra envisions devices that would take us beyond quotidian tasks like maintaining memories or manage disease symptoms. "We're talking about human augmentation and cognitive augmentation," he says. "Our brains are due for an upgrade."
There are clear indications that Graafstra's ideas and practices are by no means rare, isolated or new. Adam Justice for the ibtimes.co.uk reported in February of 2015 on a newly-opened Epicenter office complex in central Stockholm, where office workers have been opening doors and operating the photocopier with a chip implanted in their hands. This approach bypasses and eliminates the need of using identification cards and pass codes.
The radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip is made from Pyrex glass and contains an antenna and microchip, with no need for batteries. "The chip is about 12mm in size and put in with a syringe," said Epicenter co-founder and CEO Patrick Mesterton. "It sends and RFID code, so it's an identification tool that can communicate with objects around you. So you can open doors using your chip, you can do secure printing from our printers with the chip but you can also communicate with your mobile phone, by sending your business card to individuals that you meet."
Reception to the system at Epicenter was warmly received despite a measure of nervousness. "It felt pretty scary, but at the same time it felt very modern, very 2015," said Lin Kowalska, who works for the charity GiveSome in the building, shortly after she was chipped.
Mesterton said that unlike a mobile phone, the chip could not be tracked, and he did not see any integrity issues. The chipping is entirely voluntary and, according to the manufacturers, completely safe.
Little wonder then that acceptance has become so widespread that even airports are allowing the use of security access via biochips instead of paperwork and the usual forms of physical identification. Stacy Liberatore for Dailymail.com reported on the case of Andreas Sjöström, who implanted a near-field communication chip (NFC) in his hand before going to the airport to catch a flight.
Sjöström took viewers on a journey as he waved his hand over a scanner, allowing him to slide through airport security and right to his seat on the plane. The chip held his Scandinavian Airlines EuroBonus member ID, and since the airport has NFC readers all the way from security to the gate, Sjöström didn't need the traditional boarding pass - just a flick of his wrist to place the microchip on top of the scanner.
The microchip used in this experiment was an xNT implant from Graafstra's 'Dangerous Things' practice, which also provides for a Do-it-yourself (DIY) approach with full instructions for those who wish to order directly through the Dangerous Things website.
A kptv.com story filed late February this year by Fox12 staff in Oregon gave yet another recent illustration that the chipping fad is still alive and well. James Newman, a Canby man, says he can open his door - even unlock his cell phone - with just the swipe of a hand. It's because he has a microchip implanted in his hand - courtesy of Graafstra's services.
Aside from benefits like keyless entry, Newman said there are some social perks to having a chip.
"I'm the only one that I know that has one, it's kind of unique," he said. "A lot of people say that's weird, no way. Then after they see me do it once or twice they say OK that's kind of cool."
But Newman knows not everyone is a fan of the technology. "When it comes to the Mark of the Beast type of thing, that seems to me a literal interpretation of Biblical text and if you really read it, it says it's on the right hand or the forehead," he said. "Mine's on my left."
Newman said for now he is taking his chances, and has no plans to remove his chip. "I figured worst-case scenario I could take a scalpel to it and cut it out," he said.