The corporate tenants of a Swedish high-tech office complex are having RFID chips implanted in their hands, enabling access through security doors, as well as services such as copy machines, all without PIN codes or swipe cards.
The employees working at Epicenter, a 15,000-square-foot building in Stockholm, can even pay for lunch using their implants -- just as they would with the swipe of a credit card.
The owners of Epicenter say they want the facility to be a "magnet for fast growing digital companies and cutting-edge creative corporate initiatives."
"The fact that some people at the Epicenter office have chosen to replace their key fobs with NFC implants is their own personal choice," said Hannes Sjöblad, founder of Bionyfiken, a Swedish association of Biohackers. "It's a small, but indeed fast-growing, fraction which has chosen to try it out."
Sjöblad said there are also several other offices, companies, gyms and education institutions in Stockholm where people access the facilities with implanted RFID/NFC chips (near field communication).
Sweden has a global reputation as a leader in developing innovative technologies. But will a trend for inserting microchips in the human body catch on? The Local spoke to one of the first Swedes to choose an implant to unlock her office door.
Emilott Lantz, 25, from Umeå in northern Sweden, got a microchip inserted into her hand last week.
She became a guinea pig during Sime 2014 in Stockholm – a conference about digitalism, the internet, and the future. In line with the goals of the event, participants were offered to get a microchip fitted for free – an opportunity Lantz jumped at.
“I don’t feel as though this is the future – this is the present. To me, it’s weird that we haven’t seen this sooner,” she tells The Local.
There is evidence that the number of chip-wearers in Sweden is growing rapidly.
"This has very much been an underground phenomenon up until now, but there are perhaps a 100 people with the chip in Sweden," says Hannes Sjöblad from the Swedish biohackers group BioNyfiken.
In the last month alone 50 people from the group underwent the procedure.
The technology has previously been used for key tags or chips in our pets’ necks to let them through cat flaps. What is relatively new is inserting the chip in human hands.
The idea is that instead of carrying keys or remembering pins or passwords for our phones or doors, people fitted with microchips can use them to unlock rooms or lockers, by placing their hand against a machine that reads the information stored in the chip.
It was the appeal of minimizing the number of keys she needed to carry around that was the deciding factor for Lantz.
But her decision to go through with the procedure has brought mixed reactions from her friends and family, some saying she’s been foolish while others argue it’s a cool idea.
“The technology isn’t new but the subject becomes sensitive just because it’s in the human body,” she says.
The chip, which is the size of a grain of rice, has been designed to stay in Lantz’s hand for the rest of her life.
“I’m not surprised that people think it’s a big deal – it’s not that common yet, but I think it will be. We’re already modifying our bodies, why should this be different?”
Lantz first came in contact with the idea while attending the conference Geek Girl Meetups last year, where she heard speaker Carin Ism talk about transhumanism.
Transhumanism is a movement that explores science and technology innovations and their relationship to humanity. Its goal is to challenge humanity by using emerging technologies that enable humans to go beyond their current limitations.
“I’m super stoked to have had this done – I can’t wait for the property agent to get back to me about letting me into the system so that I can use my chip instead of my keys to get into the office,” says Lantz.
BioNyfiken's Hannes Sjöblad says it makes sense that Sweden is starting to embrace the technology.
"There's a reason that this is happening in Sweden first and not anywhere else. Swedes have a proven track record of being very early adapters of new technologies and the current mood is very conductive to this type of experimenting," he says.
Lantz adds: “besides having a chip in my hand, I’m a pretty normal person."
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Workers at a new high-technology office building in central Stockholm are doing away with their old ID cards on lanyards, and can now open doors with the swipe of a hand — thanks to a microchip implanted in the body.
The radio-frequency identificatio (RFID) chips are about 12 mm long and injected with a syringe.
"It's an identification tool that can communicate with objects around you," said Patrick Mesterton, CEO of the building, Epicenter Office.
"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," he said.
Mesterton thinks some of the future uses for implanted chips will be any application that currently requires a pin code, a key or a card, such as payments.
"I think also for health-care reasons ... you can sort of communicate with your doctor and you get can data on what you eat and what your physical status is," Mesterton said.
"You have your own identification code and you're sending that to something else which you have to grant access to. So there's no one else that can sort of follow you on your ID, so to say. It's you who decides who gets access to that ID," he said.
The implant program is voluntary for the workers in the office complex.
"It felt pretty scary, but at the same time it felt very modern, very 2015," said Lin Kowalska shortly after she had a microchip implanted in her hand.
The chip allows employees to open doors and use the photocopier without a traditional pass card
Want to gain entry to your office, get on a bus, or perhaps buy a sandwich? We're all getting used to swiping a card to do all these things. But at Epicenter, a new hi-tech office block in Sweden, they are trying a different approach - a chip under the skin.
Felicio de Costa, whose company is one of the tenants, arrives at the front door and holds his hand against it to gain entry. Inside he does the same thing to get into the office space he rents, and he can also wave his hand to operate the photocopier.
That's all because he has a tiny RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, about the size of a grain of rice, implanted in his hand. Soon, others among the 700 people expected to occupy the complex will also be offered the chance to be chipped. Along with access to doors and photocopiers, they're promised further services in the longer run, including the ability to pay in the cafe with a touch of a hand.
On the day of the building's official opening, the developer's chief executive was, himself, chipped live on stage. And I decided that if was to get to grips with this technology, I had to bite the bullet - and get chipped too.
The whole process is being organised by a Swedish bio-hacking group which was profiled by my colleague Jane Wakefield recently. One of its members, a rather fearsome looking tattooist, inserted my chip.
First, he massaged the skin between my thumb and index finger and rubbed in some disinfectant. The he told me to take a deep breath while he inserted the chip. There was a moment of pain - not much worse than any injection - and then he stuck a plaster over my hand.
Before trying my chip out, I wanted to know more about the thinking behind it. Hannes Sjoblad, whose electronic business card is on his own chip and can be accessed with a swipe of a smartphone, has the title chief disruption officer at the development. I asked him whether people really wanted to get this intimate with technology.
"We already interact with technology all the time," he told me. "Today it's a bit messy - we need pin codes and passwords. Wouldn't it be easy to just touch with your hand? That's really intuitive."
When I tested my chip, I found that it was not all that intuitive - I had to twist my hand into an unnatural position to make the photocopier work. And while some of the people around the building were looking forward to being chipped, others were distinctly dubious. "Absolutely not," said one young man when I asked him if he'd sign up. An older woman was more positive about the potential of the technology but saw little point in being chipped just to get through a door.
But Hannes Sjoblad says he and the Swedish Biohacking Group have another objective - preparing us all for the day when others want to chip us. "We want to be able to understand this technology before big corporates and big government come to us and say everyone should get chipped - the tax authority chip, the Google or Facebook chip." Then, he says, we'll all be able to question the way the technology is implemented from a position of much greater knowledge.
I've returned to Britain with a slightly sore hand - and a chip still under my skin which has my contact details on it. Not that useful, but no doubt more sophisticated chips will soon replace wearable technology like fitness bands or payment devices, and we will get used to being augmented. All sorts of things are possible - whether it becomes culturally acceptable to insert technology beneath our skin is another matter.
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