Are Wrist Microchips Really in Our Future?

Posted on March 1, 2013 by Dennis Palmer
When a store’s customer scans a debit or credit card, the transaction hinges on identity verification; the presumption that the customer has a right to draw on a card’s account and that they are who they say they are. The gap between this presumption and reality is where fraud and identity theft proliferate, but what if the gap could be closed?

Advocates of human bio-chipping claim to be able to do just that with technology that literally verifies a buyer by scanning the shopper’s own body. In this scenario, embedded underneath the skin on each person’s wrist, a “microchip” lies waiting to be scanned by a reader.

wrist microchip

Fact or Fiction?

Can we expect to see wrist-embedded microchips or “human barcodes” in the future? Is this technology fact or fiction? The answer currently lies somewhere in between. As is often the case with futuristic technologies, the technical capacity for implanting microchips has long well-outstripped confidence in the product’s viability for mass use in humans.

So-called “biochips” are in fact already widely used in the medical industry for a wide range of applications. Bodily integrated circuits are like entire laboratories embedded on a tiny chip, capable of complex, speedy and reliable diagnostics and monitoring. The medical use of biochips, however, remains relatively specialized, shying away from mainstream applications related to security and identification.

In 2004, the company VeriChip received FDA-approval to manufacture the first human-implantable microchip for identification and record-keeping. By 2010, following a steady uproar by libertarians and public interest groups, the FDA had caved to pressure and rescinded its stamp of approval. Civil liberties advocates and reluctant politicians played a role in shuttering the perceived attempt to make living barcodes of humans.

Privacy Concerns

Concerns about privacy-invasive applications for bio-chipping have accumulated over the last decade. Would this technology encourage extralegal tracking of individuals? The concept is flagged with Orwellian overtones for many, seeming to provide the basis for allowing shadowy corporations, police and government officials unfettered access to each person’s movements. Enthusiastic advocates instead imagine a “spoof proof” world where technology eliminates the possibility of fraud, theft and numerous other crimes.

So far, each idea of systematically chipping human beings for identification and tracking purposes has been proposed, debated, and left unresolved and unfeasible. Nevertheless, there is a definitive trend in the biotech and security sectors focused on developing ways to confirm identity beyond a shadow of a doubt and in the blink of an eye using the human body.

A Biometric Future

Forms of biometric identification are poised to carve out a niche in consumer markets in the foreseeable future. Will biometrics inexorably lead us to human-implantable microchips?

Probably not. The idea of using of embedded microchips in particular for everyday exchanges remains unpopular. Whereas, the biometric industry is overseeing a bloom of new technologies that are likely to confront fewer regulatory obstacles and make more money.

The latest “touch payment” technologies that scan fingerprints at the point-of-sale, for example, are already in motion. New York biotech company BIOPTid Inc. is preparing what its CEO calls “human barcode” technology, which will allow scanning of fingertip sweat glands for consumer purchases.

Are these methods fundamentally less invasive than implanted biochips? Perhaps. After all, the idea of scanning is not as disturbing as implanting. Nevertheless, the fate of consumer privacy remains unclear as largely untested technologies, from cloud-based computing to biometric shopping, appear on the horizon.

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About Dennis Palmer

Dennis Palmer writes on technology, computer hardware and software, futurism, science fiction and other related topics. Barcode scanners, whether they be inserted into human guinea pigs or not, are constantly being updated and renewed - to learn more from honeywellaidc.com.

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