Employees with the Wisconsin-based technology firm Three Square Market have been quietly, steadily inserting microchips into their own hands as a means of making it easier to pay for the likes of snacks from company vending machines or drinks from the cafeteria.
Subtitle this: When Convenience Becomes Downright Creepy.
Roughly 80 of the firm’s 250 employees, including its president, Patrick McMullan, have signed on to the RFID implanted chip in recent months. It’s about as big as a grain of rice and it’s inserted beneath a patch of skin between the thumb and the forefinger.
And believe it or not, it’s being billed as a time- and stress-saver for the hard-working class.
“[The chips are] intended to make it a little easier to do things like get into the office, log onto computers and buy food and drinks in the company cafeteria,” Technology Review wrote.
In other words: Those who take the implant think the two seconds they save typing their passwords onto their computer screens or sliding some coins into a soda machine are well worth the tradeoff of losing privacies and compromising personal data.
Would you hand your bank account information over to a complete stranger?
Would you want your boss knowing your whereabouts at every hour, every minute, every second of the day — even in off-duty hours?
With radio-frequency identification implanted chips, these are scenarios that can become very real, very quickly.
It’s not that RFID is new.
Hospitals with growing frequency have been using wearable RFID technology to track their inventories, track their patients, track nurses and other medical staffers as they move about the facilities. Even the NFL has gotten in on the technology and Big Data game, implanting RFID tags in players’ shoulder pads and transmitters in balls to aid with the collection of statistics.
But those aren’t implants. Those aren’t chips embedded in human hands. There’s something a bit unsettling about the idea of an RFID implant versus a pocket card or ID badge.
Moreover, moves are afoot to boost the capabilities of RFID technology with artificial intelligence.
One study in early 2015 reported in Scientia Iranica found that “the integration of RFID, web-based systems and AI can be effectively applied … [to] improve managerial efficiency, data transfer, data quality and service process time.”
How? The applications are being pursued.
Another article in RFID Journal from May spelled it out bluntly this way: “Companies that want to be truly digital — and truly efficient and effective, and take advantage of advances in artificial intelligence — need to deploy radio frequency identification technologies.”
But think on this: Implanted RFID chips were originally intended to track livestock and pets.
On the heels of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the chips began to be seen as viable means of identifying humans. That’s perhaps understandable, given the nature of the injuries of some of the victims’ bodies. But that’s far different from buying a Coke, or signing on to a computer.
“You get used to it,” McMullan said of the implant, Technology Review reported. “It’s easy.”
For the sake of America’s privacies, let’s hope not.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.