While you were sleeping, everyone in the city was installed with code.
It was a brilliant idea by Dr Cocteau that an organically bioengineered microchip be sewn into the skin.
Sensors all over the city can zone in on anyone at any time.
The above quote comes from the 1993 film, Demolition Man.
The film is set in 2032. An ultra-violent criminal escapes from being cryogenically frozen and goes on a rampage around LA.
The police of the time are ill-equipped to deal with him and so they thaw out his nemesis: reckless cop John Spartan, “the Demolition Man”.
That quote comes from what Spartan learns when he is thawed out.
Another police officer remarks: “I can’t even conceive a visual of what you police officers did before it was developed…”
To which Spartan replies (while scratching his hand): “We worked for a living. This fascistic crap makes me want to puke.”
Then the commander cuts in: “What do you think you’re scratching, cave man? You really think we’d let you go without control? Your code was implanted the second you thawed.”
The implanted microchips story is a sci-fi staple. In Demolition Man, they are merely used to keep tabs on people. But in other imaginings, they can be used to kill or subdue people at will.
I used to work with someone who insisted that within a decade or so we’d all have “microchips in our brains, telling us where to go”.
Well, that future may not be so far off.
From the Guardian on Monday:
Alarm over talks to implant UK employees with microchips
Britain’s biggest employer organisation and main trade union body have sounded the alarm over the prospect of British companies implanting staff with microchips to improve security.
UK firm BioTeq, which offers the implants to businesses and individuals, has already fitted 150 implants in the UK.
The tiny chips, implanted in the flesh between the thumb and forefinger, are similar to those for pets. They enable people to open their front door, access their office or start their car with a wave of their hand, and can also store medical data.
Basically these chips are the same technology you have in your contactless cards, security passes and mobile phones. It’s called RFID, which stands for radio-frequency identification.
They don’t have anything too sophisticated in them – not like GPS or the internet. But then can contain information like your bank card details, medical details, name, age, address.
And they can be used to unlock security doors, get into your car, log in to your computer, etc.
They are basically just like a programmable key card.
“In the next five to 10 years, this is going to be something that isn’t scoffed at so much, or is more normal. So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it,” said one Three Square Market employee when interviewed by the New York Times.
The reason people take issue with these chips is not so much because of what they are being used for right now, but what they enable in the future.
From that New York Times article:
Another potential problem, Dr. Acquisti said, is that technology designed for one purpose may later be used for another. A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge.
“Once they are implanted, it’s very hard to predict or stop a future widening of their usage,” Dr. Acquisti said.
I must admit, I quite like the idea of having my bank card, car keys and house keys in my hand. You’d never have to worry about losing your keys again.
Pickpockets, too, would become much less of a problem. You can’t pickpocket an implant.
But you could use a sophisticated RFID hacking device to swipe details. But that kind of technology and know-how is not something most thieves would have access to. Certainly not your average pickpocket.
But as the critics say, these chips could be used for tracking and collecting data on people, the same way your bank card is. And once you start putting passive chips into your body, it’s a small step to active ones, which could have GPS and internet connectivity.
In the film Demolition Man, as you may expect, all that surveillance and control didn’t lead to good places.
It allowed those in power to abuse the system, while easily suppressing opposing voices.
People ended up far less free, while believing that they were freer because they didn’t know any better.
It’s a very common theme in sci-fi. The world sleepwalks into some kind of authoritarian control. It happens so smoothly that no one even realises it’s happened. It just becomes the way of life.
And I can see how implanting identity microchips could easily become the beginning of this “slippery slope”. But then again, it would be really convenient to never have to worry about losing my keys or bank cards again.
What do you think about companies “chipping” their employees, would you ever go for it? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor
Category: Genetics and Biotechnology