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Chips under the skin: 'convenient' but not wise

By Mal Fletcher - posted Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Australians are, if a new report is to be believed, quite open to the possibility of taking the concept of wearable devices to a wholly new level.

A study sponsored by the Visa company suggests that 25 percent of Australians are at least ‘slightly interested’ in having a commercial chip implanted in their skin.

This is, of course, potentially great news for multi-national payment groups like Visa. Their specialty is, after all, devising new ways of getting people to part with money via their particular channels. The more convenient the channel, the greater the profits for Visa et al.


On one level, implants are old news. Several groups overseas have experimented with implanted Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs). Most recently, the Epicentre high-tech office block in Sweden has encouraged its workers to undergo chip implantation which allows them to open security doors, run office machinery and even pay for their lunch at the work canteen.

The notion of implanted chips may seem a convenient way to perform all manner of everyday activities. Dig a little deeper, however, and it becomes apparent that implants may not be such a good idea on a number of fronts.

Firstly, we should consider the very real potential for bio-hacking. Any programmable device is in theory subject to hacking. A biochip can be hacked by third parties with nefarious motives in the same say that a computer system can be invaded.

With biochips, the potential for privacy incursions is huge – and not only with regard to society’s criminal elements. Recent debates about the work of official security agencies have highlighted public concerns about spying by governments on their citizens.

The trust contract between government and citizenry is a cornerstone of liberal democracy. Once this compact is broken, anarchy becomes a very real possibility. Current misgivings about privacy intrusions by officials are hardly likely to be allayed if we insert tracking devices into our bodies.

On the business and civic fronts, Big Data Analytics is proving a great boon.


Sophisticated mobile devices such as smartphones, satnavs and CCTV units make it possible for us to collect and generate data at unprecedented rates. Every day, the global community adds 2.5 billion gigabytes to the database we call the internet.

Super-computers, like IBM’s famous Watson machine, allow the speedy analysis of all this information and the discovery of patterns within it.

This analysis is used to predict such things as economic shifts, marketing trends and even political voter patterns. Big Data is now proving invaluable in the design of furniture, buildings, streets, driverless cars and even entire cities. Civic authorities are consulting it in the development of new crime prevention programmes and prisons.

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This article was first published on 2020PLUS.NET.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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