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?"
Is it retail therapy gone mad? The dawn of a new cyborg age? Or a new meaning to going down under?
Whatever the case, a fair proportion of Australians are receptive to technology mixing with their precious human organic flesh, if it means making payments at retail stores is easier.
A survey, commissioned by global payments firm Visa, found 25 per cent of Australians were “slightly interested” in having a commerce-oriented chip implanted in their skin.
Research firm UMR conducted the survey for Visa, interviewing 1000 local consumers.
A subcutaneous chip would let consumers pay at a retail terminal without a wallet, credit card, smartphone or smartwatch. They would simply wave their bare hand over a terminal.
The finding was revealed as Visa and University of Technology Sydney announced a partnership to explore the future of wearable technology. Visa’s research looked at the wearable technology Australian consumers were interested in using for payments.
Thirty-two per cent would be interested in paying with a smartwatch; 29 per cent with a smart ring, and 26 per cent with smart glasses.
It is little wonder Visa regards Australians as adventurous with tech. “Australians are among the world’s earliest adopters of new technology,” said George Lawson, Head of Emerging Products and Innovation for Visa in ANZSP.
There’s nothing new about implanting tags under the skin. The US firm VeriChip obtained approval to do just that more than a decade ago.
Their chip consisted of a tiny antenna and an identification number. It was designed to be implanted in the soft tissue between the thumb and index finger and detected by a radiofrequency identification (RFID) scanner.
Before you see the human species morphing towards a cyborg future, there is a cautious note. Research in the past has linked subcutaneous chips to cancers in laboratory animals at the implant site.
"The technology titan is putting brakes on an "explorer" program that let people interested in dabbling with Glass buy eyewear for $1,500 apiece.
"Glass was in its infancy, and you took those very first steps and taught us how to walk," the team said of its "explorer" clients in a post on the Google+ social network.
"Well, we still have some work to do, but now we're ready to put on our big kid shoes and learn how to run."
The last day to buy Glass as part of the Explorer program will be Monday and Google did not indicate when a general consumer version of the eyewear might debut.
"Google Glass hasn't truly been released as a product yet -- it's been in long-term beta for over two years," said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder.
"This organizational move will help to clarify the go to market strategy for both consumer and for enterprise customers."
The Glass test, or beta, program was later expanded to Britain.
During the Explorer testing phase, developers are creating apps for Google Glass, which can range from getting weather reports to sharing videos to playing games.
Glass connects to the Internet using Wi-Fi hot spots or, more typically, by being wirelessly tethered to mobile phones. Pictures or video may be shared through the Google+ social network.
- Outgrown the lab -
"As we look to the road ahead, we realize that we've outgrown the lab and so we're officially graduating from Google X to be our own team," the Glass post said.
"We're thrilled to be moving even more from concept to reality."
Instead of being part of the Google X lab working on innovations such as self-driving cars, the Glass team will become a separate unit answering to Tony Fadell, co-founder of Nest.
Google bought the smart thermostat maker early last year in a multi-billion-dollar deal and brought the former Apple executive on board in the process.
Google has announced alliances with the frame giant behind Ray-Ban and other high-end brands to create and sell Glass eyewear in the United States.
A partnership with Luxottica was portrayed as Google's "biggest step yet into the emerging smart eyewear market."
Luxottica brands include Oakley, Alain Mikli, Ray-Ban and Vogue-Eyewear.
The first smart glasses by Luxottica for Google Glass will go on sale this year, the Italian eyewear group has forecast.
Google has been working to burnish the image of Glass, which has triggered concerns about privacy since the devices are capable of capturing pictures and video.
Forrester data shows that while 43 percent of consumers are interested in Glass, even more have worries about privacy problems caused by the eyewear.
"Google needs to construct a consumer image for the product, and deal with privacy concerns if they want it to be mass market," Gownder said.
Article by Mark Martin of CBN:
"Convenience vs. Privacy
It raises a number of questions, however, like what about privacy? And can the information on that wristband be stolen?
"With the RFID technology, we're not tracking anybody," Foster said. "There's a two- to three-inch read range required to be able to read that information on the tag, and if you can read that information on the tag, there's nothing you can do with that information because everything is encrypted also on the back-end server."
That may be the case with the wristbands, but consumer privacy expert Dr. Katherine Albrecht is concerned about RFID technology in general and what the future holds.
"They want RFID tags in your refrigerator, in the objects that you buy, and ultimately, as Dr. Katina Michael is making so clear, they want these tags in us," Albrecht shared on her nationally syndicated radio show.
"We're using radio frequency to identify things and transmit information all the time nowadays," Albrecht said. "I think what is coming next, though, is what the marketers and developers of this technology call the 'Internet of Things.' This idea is that every physical object would have its own equivalent of an IP address encoded into the microchip."
She said their goal is to track the consumer's habits."
Full article available here.
"A PRECAUTIONARY TALE
Not all are as optimistic as Prasad about the future of the IoT. While users may have control over who in the general public sees their information, the bigger concern for consumer privacy expert Katherine Albrecht is the question of who owns the data. She is an executive with StartPage, a search engine that does not collect or share personal information, and StartMail, an encrypted e-mail service.
An article coauthored with IEEE Senior Member Katina Michael, “Connected: To Everyone and Everything,” in the Winter 2013 issue of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, puts Albrecht’s concern bluntly: “[Consumers] may think we’re in charge of our shopper cards and our mobile apps and our smart fridges—but … let’s not fool ourselves. [The information] is not ours. It belongs to Google, and IBM, and Cisco Systems…and the global Mega-Corp that owns your local supermarket. If you don’t believe us, just try removing ‘your’ data from their databases.”
Michael is the associate dean international of the University of Wollongong Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, in Australia, and editor in chief of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.
To prepare for the interconnected future, businesses and governments are outlining measures to be taken while new policies are developed. The European Union, for example, outlined such measures in its report “IoT Privacy, Data Protection, Information Security,” published in January 2013. One recommendation is to develop privacy-friendly default settings on IoT products and services that would give users more control over what information is shared with others. Furthermore, it suggests that IoT networks give individuals the rights to their own data. In 2012, participants at the Open IoT Assembly—an initiative to envision a future with the IoT—developed an “IoT Bill of Rights” at a two-day conference in London that calls for transparency of IoT processes and the preservation of privacy. It also calls for people to have access to their personal data.
Despite potential risks to privacy, companies are betting their customers will see the advantages that the IoT will bring them, says Colcher. But some groups advocate that consumers have the power to slow down or even stop the advancement of the IoT. Not Colcher. “The inclusion of the IoT all around us is inevitable,” he says. “The only thing to do now is to prepare the best we can.”"
The desensitization/normalization process- how it happens. Compare the reactions of the dog and the baby...
"When a woman showed off her Google Glass the other night at a San Francisco bar called Molotov's, the result was explosive - and reflected a growing debate over whether the cutting-edge device that mounts a computer and camera on a wearer's face goes too far and breaks the social compact.
The reported attack on Sarah Slocum, who said she had the eyewear ripped from her face before she was robbed of other belongings, has had the internet buzzing."
That's what happens when you get too close to Glass- it can cut you! I don't think it has much to do with hatred though... anger, yes...
Thanks for link J.