Sticking a syringe in your hand and injecting a microchip into your flesh might sound slightly unnerving. But there’s a growing number of people doing just that.
Biohackers, people who modify their body with technology like chip implants, are going to tattoo parlors, conferences, and “implant parties” to get these kinds of devices implanted.
While meshing machine with human flesh sounds outlandish to some, biohackers consider themselves pioneers and argue the practice is actually the natural progression of how we will interact with technology.
“The human body is the next big platform. The connected body is already a phenomena. And this implant is just a part of it,” Hannes Sjöblad, founder of the Swedish biohacking group Bionyfiken, told Tech Insider in an interview.
Implant parties are becoming a thing
About a year and a half ago, Sjöblad started organising implant parties where groups of people attend and get near-field communication (NFC) chips embedded into their hands. The chips are about the size of a grain of rice and enable users to send and receive data wirelessly using radio frequencies.
Sjöblad has helped host these gatherings in Mexico, France, Greece, Germany, England, Denmark, and even in the United States.
A lot of times these parties are hosted as part of a larger conference related to tech or body modification. But Sjöblad said a growing number of companies are also beginning to request these parties so that their employees can get implanted.
Bionyfiken has already helped one Swedish company called Epicentre fit some of its employees with NFC tags.
The company hosted a party last November where employees could volunteer to get the implants, which enable them to do things like get access through security doors, pay for lunch, use copy machines, and share contact details.
More people are getting these implants
The types of people getting these chips implants is definitely evolving, said Amal Graafstra, the chief executive officer and founder of the biohacking retailer Dangerous Things, in an interview with Tech Insider.
“It started out with a very narrow subset of people that already knew about RFID technology and all of that. But over time it’s evolved into people who are more generally technically aware,” Graafstra said.
Dangerous Things sells do-it-yourself kits for implantable devices and also helps connect customers with professional piercers and body modifiers so that they can the devices implanted safely.
Graafstra said it’s not just consumers who have taken an interest in this kind of technology, though. Major companies are also beginning to explore the potential of implantables.
“The clientele are changing, we have had interest from various companies. Google, Samsung, Apple they have all bought products from us from their corporate purchasing department, so there are big companies looking at this kind of technology,” Graafstra said.
The procedure is similar to that of a piercing and the procedure is legal in many cases. But the law varies based on geography and in some US states it is illegal for a professional piercer to perform the procedure, but not for a person to perform the implant on his or herself.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved RFID tags for human implants in 2004. While the devices are legal, there are some minor safety concerns according to the American Medical Association. Primarily, the small size of the device could lead to it moving under the skin making it difficult to remove. The tags could also cause electromagnetic interference with medical devices like defibrillators.
How the implants are used
In the near term, NFC chips are primarily being used to seamlessly interact with all of the devices that are becoming a part of the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the wave of everyday devices like lightbulbs and thermostats becoming connected to the internet.
“Ten years ago, chip implants existed and they looked pretty much exactly the same. But what has changed is our world. Suddenly in our offices, in our homes, in our cars and in public places we are increasingly surrounded by smart devices that we need to interact with in various ways,” Graafstra said.
For example, you could unlock a door or your smartphone with a wave of your hand or potentially use the chip to make transactions.
However, implantable devices may increasingly be used for health purposes. For example, MIT is developing an implantable device that is aimed at helping monitor cancer and other diseases that cause inflammation. And the drugmaker MicroCHIP Biotech is even working on an implantable contraceptive for women.
Eventually, implantables may even replace consumer health trackers, Sjöblad said.
“We are updating our bodies with technology on a large scale already with wearables. But all of the wearables we wear today will be implantable in five to 10 years,” Sjöblad said.
“Who wants to carry a clumsy smartphone or smartwatch when you can have it in your fingernail? I think that is the direction where it is heading.”
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