You may reject the idea of a microchip implant, but your grandchildren could embrace them, according to an Australian professor.
Katrina Michael, associate professor of the University of Wollongong’s school of information systems and technology, and author of scientific paper Towards a State of Uberveillance, said subdermal chip implants in humans could be commonplace within two to three generations.
But at present, she regards the device as a threat to life and liberty because technologists and politicians largely do not know if silicon chips could harm the human body and have not determined the terms in which the devices can be used.
“You will have a new breed of tech-savvy individuals that are more adaptable to technologies. But you could forget about getting Australians to have chip implants now,” Michael said.
“For instance [microchips] are problematic for motoring patients with psychological conditions. You may need to balance the patient’s well being, public safety and their ability to consent to the implant.”
Michael said human microchips could rid chronic illness sufferers from the need to visit hospital by sending simple data on their health to a doctor.
However, she said chip implants presently cause damage to the human body because they fuse with tissue and cause damage when removed.
“At this moment, there will be no contingency plan; it will be a life sentence to upgrades, virus protection mechanisms, and inescapable intrusion,” authors, Katina and M.G Michael wrote in their paper.
She noted that some 900 US hospitals have registered for a microchip-based patient identification system to more quickly identify patients admitted to emergency.
“There hasn’t been 50 cases of people using microchips in Australia, which is a fundamental problem for politicians because they do not want to touch the issue if it isn’t detailed in black and white,” Michael said.
She described seeing “a lot of blank faces” when she spoke to politicians of the privacy implications of wearable and implantable Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) chips, but noted “new breed politicians” such as Labor Senator Kate Lundy understood the technology and its dilemmas.
“It is a fallacy to speak of a balance between [freedom, security and justice] in the microchip scenario, so long as someone else has the potential to control the implant device,” the authors wrote in their paper.
The microchip devices could see a new social segregation in the form of “electronic apartheid”, computer virus infections that interfere with pacemakers, and a wealth of unknown health problems, the authors contend.
The advent of subdermal microchips is part of what the authors call 'uberveillance,' which connotes the ability to automatically locate and identify individuals, and can be used to as a predictive mechanism for behaviour and traits.
Google Latitude typifies the term at present, Michael said, along with subdermal microchips and social networking tools.
She is currently testing the appeal of location-tracking through a pilot in which university students signed-up to the mobile location tool, Google Latitude, and recorded the amount of times they checked on the whereabouts of other participants.
Michael said students and respondents to earlier trials were surprised by how often they used the tool. Yet for all the data collected by 'uberveillance' technologies, Michael warns the actions or whereabouts of individuals cannot be guaranteed.
“There will be problems. We will have too much data and not enough knowledge,” she said.
Michael is speaking at the 2010 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society.