Trying to remove an implant on your own accord equates to self-harm. Relying on third parties to remove an implant mean you are at the mercy of some one else and instantly limit your freedoms.
Micro-chip implants for making payments and locking doors are the next frontier, but are the pitfalls worth it?
Amal Graafstra holding a large hypodermic needle - the kind needed to inject an RFID chip into your hand. Photo: Supplied
Most tech-heads like to tinker with the inner workings of iPhones or clapped out VCRs.
But Amal Graafstra is different. For the last 10 years, he's been busy hacking into his own body.
His US company Dangerous Things specialises in manufacturing rice grain-sized computer chips designed to be implanted inside the delicate webbing between the thumb and forefinger.
[Dangerous Things founder Amal Graafstra has an RFID chip implanted in each hand.]
Dangerous Things founder Amal Graafstra has an RFID chip implanted in each hand. Photo: Supplied
"Getting an ear piercing is many times more risky," he says, reassuringly.
The bionic-grade glass chips use radio-frequency identification (RFID) to control electronic objects with the swipe of a hand - from the lock on a front door to a car ignition or a personal computer.
It's the same kind of technology used in pet ID tags; by itself, the chip doesn't do much, but when it comes into close contact with a "reader" device, it will transmit information that can then trigger commands.
[The bionic glass chips are about the size of a grain of rice.]
The bionic glass chips are about the size of a grain of rice. Photo: Supplied
The chips only cost $US99 a pop, and while their core market is a handful of dedicated geeks - including a few in Australia - Graafstra says he's increasingly noticing a new kind of customer.
"What is becoming clear is there are more individuals purchasing the chips who have less knowledge about the technology," he says.
"They're into gadgets and they're geeky but they're not necessarily building their own stuff, so the type of customer is expanding slowly."
[NFC chips are increasingly used for instant payment methods, including via smartphones.]
NFC chips are increasingly used for instant payment methods, including via smartphones. Photo: Visa
RFID chips are becoming more common elsewhere, too.
The most well-known standard of RFID is near-field communication (NFC), increasingly used in instant, digital payment transactions, which facilitate credit card payments in a matter of seconds with a simple tap.
Visa this week announced a partnership with the University of Technology Sydney to develop new wearable technologies.
Alongside the announcement came a sensational figure from its own research, purporting to show that a quarter of Australians were "at least slightly interested" in having an NFC chip implanted in their skin for payments.
Visa and UTS have since clarified they were not actively developing implant technologies themselves, but the alarm bells are already ringing.
Social futurist Mal Fletcher, who heads up the London-based think tank 2020 Plus, responded with an Op Ed warning of the potential pitfalls of "subcutaneous spending devices".
These included bodily hacking; mass surveillance from commercial parties collecting our personal data; rising instances of "digital debt" thanks to the abolition of physical money and its tangible value associations; links between implants and cancer; and even the potential to cause early-onset dementia.
Fletcher insists he's not an alarmist - just cautious.
"We have to look at not just where technology is now but the principle behind it," he says.
"I'm not trying to make payments companies into the bogyman," he says. But he points out that it is in their interests to lead the push towards a cashless society, where ease of transactions and detachment from money encourage impulse spending - and everyone's spending habits are dutifully logged.
Graafstra counters that chip implants are not too far removed from where we are today, where day-to-day living depends on the binary transactions of bank cards, swipe cards and serial numbers - all traceable back to our ID.
"We're already in a position where we have no real control over our digital assets," he says.
At least chip implants can eliminate the stress of being mugged - or can they?
The threat of hacking RFID chips is real, says Linus Information Security Solutions director Mike Thompson, and the upsides may not be worth it.
The assumption that NFC chips can only be read at very short distances is misplaced, he says, citing "plenty of examples" where people have accessed them over distances of several metres using specialised antennas.
These security flaws can be mitigated with the addition of passcodes or PINs - which can be added to smartphones or wearables, but not to the palm of your hand (yet).
An aluminium shield also works; for instance, a special aluminium wallet to protect your NFC-enabled credit card from would-be hackers.
Thompson is sceptical of the advantages of embedding chips into one's body over, say, clothing or other wearable devices.
"Is opening a door automatically when you are naked that important?"
"By day there were tech entrepreneurs, students, web designers and IT consultants - but that night they were going to be transformed into cyborgs.
It may sound like the beginning of a science-fiction novel, but in fact it is a recollection of real events, by bio-hacker Hannes Sjoblad.
He organised the so-called implant party, which took place in late November and was one of several he has arranged. At it, eight volunteers were implanted with a small RFID (radio frequency identification) chip under the skin in their hand. Mr Sjoblad also has one.
He is starting small, aiming to get 100 volunteers signed up in the coming few months, with 50 people already implanted. But his vision is much bigger.
"Then will be a 1,000, then 10,000. I am convinced that this technology is here to stay and we will think it nothing strange to have an implant in their hand."
Thanks for the link SB.
This "conversation" and "debate" began a long time ago... it is not new. Just take a look at http://ro.uow.edu.au/kmichael and http://www.katherinealbrecht.com/about-katherine/books-and-book-chapters/first-chapter-of-spychips/
"Mr Sjoblad also hopes that his implant party will spark a conversation about our possible cyborg future.
"The idea is to become a community that is why they get implants done together," he says.
"People bond over the experience and start asking questions about what it means to be a man and machine.
"Curiosity is one of the biggest drivers for us humans. I come from a maker hacker culture and I just want to see what I can do with this."
For those who decide life as a cyborg isn't for them, the procedure Mr Sjoblad uses is reversible and takes just five minutes.
But he has no intention of removing his.
"We've been putting chips in animals for 20 years," he points out.
Now it is the turn of the humans.
"This is a fun thing, a conversation starter. It opens up interesting discussions about what it means to be human. This is not just for opening doors."
Mobile devices and wearable technology are redefining the phrase "personal computer" - no longer conjuring up thoughts of desktop or even laptop devices, but rather devices smaller - and more powerful - than many ever dreamed possible. The mobile phone in your hand - the one that has more computing performance than a 1979 Cray Supercomputer - is quickly being transformed into a mesh of wearable devices, allowing you remain connected 24x7 and throw off more private data than ever.
With the rise of mobile and wearable tech comes the ability for services providers, their partners and, well, just about anybody with a few dollars, to track where you are, what you are doing, who you are doing it with, where you've been and how quickly you're likely to be doing it again at your next "habitual" destination. Oh, and the likely route you are going to take.
Issues abound: what really differentiates mobile devices from wearable tech, and how are their privacy issues different? Why are we being pushed into an always-on/always-tracked society, and what is this data likely to reveal about ourselves over time?