implants, surveillance, ethics, workers, cyborgs, epicentre, industrial revolution, monitoring, behaviours, capitalism, wasteless future, physical - digital hybrid

Most people would agree their daily lives would now seem impossible without a smartphone, although the lack of privacy followed by this ringing body extension proved to be an ambiguous subject, especially when it comes to workplaces. Different employee monitoring systems are available and largely used, from tracking keyboard activity to watching online behaviour. For today’s working professionals, there are almost no boundaries anymore between the technologies they use for business and the ones they use for pleasure.

Unlike body parts, a credit card or a smartphone is something you can separate yourself from, until quite recently. The future trend is all about extending inwards; microchip implants. Barely the size of a rice grain, the chip is implanted into the hand, functioning as a swipe card: with a wave of the hand, the “cyborg worker” can instantly open doors, operate printers or even buy smoothies.

That kind of a workplace is almost routine at the Swedish start-up hub Epicenter. Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available. “The biggest benefit, I think, is convenience,” Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and chief executive of Epicenter told the LA Times. According to the report, Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and roughly 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have the chips. A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants, and there are isolated cases around the world in which tech enthusiasts have tried them out in recent years. The operation is quite simple, short and painless.  The implants are injected into the fleshy area of the hand, just next to the thumb using pre-loaded syringes.

The technology itself is not new; such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets, and companies use them to track deliveries. But never before has the technology been used to tag employees on a broad scale. Although the chips are biologically safe, the data they generate can show how often employees come to toilette or what they buy. When activated by a reader in close distance, an amount of data flows between the two devices via electromagnetic waves. The implants are “passive,” meaning they contain information that other devices can read, but cannot read information themselves.

These small implants use near-field communication technology, or NFC, the same as in contactless credit cards or mobile payments. But microbiologists argue that the information you can potentially get from a microchip embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone; tracking your whereabouts is something a phone can do, but what about monitoring your health condition, lunch or toilet breaks, work intensity?

The more sophisticated body implanted technology becomes, the bigger ethical questions will arise.The dilemmas regarding the transformation of employees to cyborgs are here to stay. Are we going to turn workers into simple elements of the Internet of Things? I am sorry, but this thought came to my mind immediately when I learnt the news.

But there is an even harder problem: the possibility of human hybrids, after 2030, where our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where there will be thousands of computers, and those computers will augment our existing intelligence. Stay tuned…

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