Why future bosses might microchip your hand

Give me a hand: US software company, Three Square Market, started microchipping some employees in 2017.

Is this an exciting future or a dystopian nightmare? Hundreds of workers across the world have been fitted with chips that can store personal data. Activists fear a new era of surveillance.

A tiny microchip, as small as a grain of rice, implanted beneath the surface of your skin. With the wave of a hand you can unlock your front door, pay for meals, hop on a train without a ticket and log on to your work computer.

This is already the daily reality for thousands of employees in Sweden and at least 150 in the UK. The chips, which are similar to those used to identify pets, cost up to £260 per person.

They could soon be a lot more common. Swedish company Biohax is in talks with multiple British law and finance firms to offer microchips to workers, including one firm with hundreds of thousands of employees.

“These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with. [The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever,” says Jowan Österlund, Biohax founder and a former body piercer.

The potential uses of microchips go far beyond security. Storing identification in your body could eliminate the need for passports or credit cards. A chip could also carry vital medical information, which can be scanned if you are unconscious.

But for many, the concept triggers revulsion and fear.

“Microchipping would give bosses even more power and control over their workers,” warns the Trade Union Conference.

The TUC fears companies are already “whittling away their staff’s right to privacy”.

Indeed, a recent patent application by Amazon revealed that the company is working on a wristband that could guide a warehouse worker’s hand to the object they need to pick up. Meanwhile, companies like Barclays use heat sensor technology to record how much time employees spend away from their desks.

In the wake of the Facebook scandal, privacy experts fear that companies could misuse the personal data gathered by the chip. There are also concerns that cybercriminals could hack the information, or clone chips to impersonate individuals.

Sociology professor Noelle Chesley claims that one day everyone will be microchipped. “Maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”

Should we be excited or scared?

Level up

It is terrible, say some. Microchips are ripe for exploitation. Employers may soon have the ability to track the location and behaviour of their workers at all times. This could be the death of privacy. That’s without considering the criminal potential for cyberattackers and scammers. Big Brother starts here.

That’s just scaremongering, reply others. The current chips don’t track your location and they aren’t active most of the time. Is it really so different from being required to carry a company phone? This technology is already improving security and making our lives easier, and this is just the beginning. We should be excited about its future.

You Decide

  1. Would you agree to be microchipped?
  2. Is privacy or convenience more important to you?

Activities

  1. Try and think of your own piece of futuristic technology that could transform the modern world. Try to think of everyday inconveniences that could be wiped out. Make a poster explaining and advertising your invention.
  2. Write a short story set in a dystopian future in which all employees are required to be microchipped, and companies use the chips to monitor and control them.

Some People Say...

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.”

Christian Lous Lange

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
BioTeq, a UK based company, says it has implanted 150 microchips in individuals and employees in the UK. Biohax, a company working in Sweden, is in talks with several large businesses in the UK about expanding the technology. The chips are the size of a grain of rice and sit between your index finger and thumb. Currently they can be used to open doors, log onto computers, pay at canteens and store medical data.
What do we not know?
What capabilities microchips will gain as the technology develops. Journalist Ab Banerjee speculates that chips could build a detailed portrait of an individual worker, including their habits, characteristics and skills, which could be used to make them more efficient. Trade unions fear the technology could be used to exploit and spy on workers.

Word Watch

Pets
Microchips in cats and dogs carry their owners’ details, so they can be contacted if the animal is lost.
Trade Union Conference
A major organisation of trade unions which seeks to protect and advance workers’ rights.
Patent
When a company comes up with an invention, it can get a court order to prevent any other company copying it.
Heat sensor
There was a media storm in 2016 when it was revealed that The Daily Telegraph used censors called OccupEye to monitor when staff were at their desks for the sake of conserving energy. The company subsequently removed the censors.
Facebook scandal
Earlier this year, it emerged that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to use the personal data of millions of users without their consent for political purposes.
Big Brother
In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother is a symbol for the totalitarian state that watches citizens at all times to make sure they behave according to government orders. The reality TV show took its name from here.

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