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The relentless march of the microchips

By Mal Fletcher - posted Thursday, 27 July 2017

Will robots take our jobs? It's a question I'm often asked in my travels as a speaker and media commentator.

Will humanity cease to be the master of its own destiny? Will we become, as some noted scientists and technologists have suggested, a species surpassed and then subjugated by its own machinery?

It is axiomatic that all technology is amoral. We are not a product of the technologies we devise; we are a product of how we choose to utilise those tools. It is human choice that will determine whether or not technology produces more good than harm, to humankind and to its environment.


One of today's most exciting fields of tech-endeavour is nanorobotics. Nanobots are machines built from the microscopic level up. In nanotechnology, atoms are used as building blocks to devise machines that may one day soon, for example, be injected into our bloodstream to identify and destroy dangerous cancer cells.

Yet the same types of micro-machine could be weaponised using harmful chemicals, then injected into the air we breathe. We would ingest them without being aware of it.

Sadly, according to one report, less than three percent of research and development funding in the nanorobotic field is used to study its potential downsides.

The same might be said of other types of emerging technology. This week, a US company announced that it is offering its workers subcutaneous microchips. The chips, the size of a grain of rice and utilising RFID (radio frequency identity) technology, will be embedded in a worker's thumb or fore-finger.

The chips will supposedly make life easier by granting employees access through security doors and enabling them to open their computers and purchase lunch in the canteen.

The CEO of the Winsconsin-based company envisages a time when the 50 or so people who've already signed on will be able to use the chips to unlock their phones, share business cards and store medical information.


The group is following the lead of a Swedish workstation called Epicentre. It started offering its workers the same type of injectable chip a few years ago.

In the past couple of months, the Swedish transport authority has announced that it is considering offering customers this option to replace its version of the Oyster Card.

Meanwhile, some in the finance technology sector see implants as a natural progression beyond wave-and-pay payment systems. No more messing around with clumsy cards and creased-up cash in the supermarket, the thinking goes; now all we need is a wave of the arm and we're away.

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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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