Tech companies are surgically implanting employees with the mark of the beast

Tech companies are surgically implanting employees with the mark of the beast

CultureAugust 01, 2017 By Sean Sullivan

What would you do if one day your boss said, “Hey Johnson, how would you like to trade that old analog lanyard for a fancy microchip?” before whipping out a long syringe, a small pill-looking device, and then driving them both into the wedge between your thumb and index fingers? 

It’s not science fiction anymore. More than 50 employees at Three Square Market (32M) will soon be accessing their computers and buying salty snacks by waving their hands in front of vending machines thanks to an embedded microchip in their hand. The Christmas-light-looking chip is about the size of a grain of rice, and some people can’t escape the ominous feeling that this is the first step toward a future dystopia compliments of Big Brother. 

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals,” said Three Square Market CEO Todd Westby. “Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.”

Conspiracy theorists need not lose any sleep over the venture though, because getting chipped — like a dog who constantly hops the backyard fence — is a voluntary choice at Three Square Market. Most are excited to merge with the machine, a vast majority of employees have already opted to have the implant. 

What’s the advantage of an implanted RFID chip just underneath your skin? For one, you’ll never be able to use the excuse, “I forgot my card,” when you’re late to work. Otherwise, it’s just pure convenience. That’s it. And the Swedish company creating the RFID chip — BioHax International — advertises their product as such.

But, is it really that much more convenient than a card? If a single card is imbued with all the same functionality as a RFID chip, do we really need to strike out the time it takes to reach for our wallets by sliding a microchip under our skin? At one level it seems silly, as if it’s purely motivated by people who zealously want to bring their dreams of the future into reality.

Maybe there’s something more sinister at work here.

America’s leading conspiracy theorist” Alex Jones has been leading the rally chant against RFID chips for nearly a decade. According to the screaming prophet, the chips are one of the tools of the New World Order. “Oh my gosh.” A totalitarian regime will force RFID chips on their citizenry as a means of total population control. We’ll all be tracked like cattle, and then the interdimensional lizard people will return to reclaim their rightful throne. Oh. Okay.

On the other end of the paranoid spectrum is the fundamental Christian, who raises their mighty finger and points to Revelation 13:16-18: RFID chipping is the mark of the beast. Repent sinners! The apocalypse is upon us. But fundamentalists have been rallying against technology for decades. RFID chips are the new barcodes for the preacher with a microphone.

To be somewhat fair to the fringe naysayers, RFID chipping technology does raise some ethical concerns. NPR spoke with Professor Michael Zimmer, who directs the Center for Information Policy Research and teaches at the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

We never know how the technology might evolve," says Zimmer. "We have this problem that we call function creep, and this happens a lot with technologies that are developed and launched for one purpose and then, suddenly, shift and be used for something else. Things like red light cameras, where we're trying to help make sure people are running red lights, and that's a great safety reason to have cameras on the roads. But, certainly, those start being used to just track where cars are.”

Function creep is a real phenomenon, analogous to the slippery slope. It’s when a technology exceeds beyond the functionality of its intended use. Once an implanted chip is used in place of a credit card or a work ID, why not turn it into a Fitbit or micro-hard drive that stores all of your pertinent information? Why not bestow it with as much functionality as possible? After all, it’s convenient, isn’t it? But would your personal information be immune from hackers? We already know that answer: No.

Then again, implanted RFID chip technology is extremely limited, for now. It’s unlikely to become anything more than the new employee ID card at companies that choose to adopt them. Remember, our imagination always outpaces technological development, and our imagination of the future is rarely right. If you’re really worried about RFID chips, just remember what’s in your pocket giving you phantom vibrations whenever life seems dull.

Your phone tracks and shares a hell of a lot more information with Big Brother than any radio frequency chip can. We know this. It’s a post-Snowden world. But NSA oversight hasn’t stopped people from regularly volunteering their darkest secrets through Google — and by darkest secrets we mean fetishes.

Are RFID chips the future? According to the companies whose stock valuation relies on them, yes. But, the added convenience seems negligible. Why bother with the hassle? Plus, technology tends to evolve fast. It’s been 10 years since the first iPhone appeared, and now smartphones are ubiquitous. What happens when you have to replace your RFID chip implant? Ouch.

RFID technology might not be the future, but it’s certainly entertaining to imagine that it is. Plus, Alex Jones needs as many things to scream about as he can. “Bring on the New World Order.”

[Top Photo: James Brooks / Associated Press]