A chip, but not on the shoulder

The future has arrived at Epicenter, a Swedish startup hub where workers can get microchip implants on their hands.

Utopian and dystopian visions of the future typically show humans with microchip implants. That future has arrived, reports Business Insider. Workers at Epicenter, a Swedish startup hub that houses about 100 companies, can get chips implanted under their skin. 

A syringe is used to insert the chip, about the size of a grain of rice, between the thumb and the index finger – an apparently painless and bloodless operation. Using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the chip serves as a swipe card substitute to open doors, operate printers, buy coffee, and more, all at the wave of the hand. The program is not compulsory and only those who volunteer are “microchipped.” So far, about 150 of the 2,000 employees at the hub have opted in. Workers throw parties for those who agree to get the implants.

Microchip tagging has been used extensively on objects and animals, but never on humans – which prompts security and privacy concerns. “The data ... is a lot different from the data you can get from a smartphone,” says Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute. "Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you're working, how long you're working, if you're taking toilet breaks and things like that." And ethical dilemmas will only grow in importance as chips gain in sophistication.

Such dilemmas don’t seem to trouble Patrick Mesterton, Epicenter’s co-founder and CEO, who focuses mainly on the benefits and convenience of the implants. “[The chip] basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys. (...) People have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart. That's a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”