From here to eternity

Professor Kevin Warwick wowed the scientific community in 1998 by having a transponder surgically implanted in his left arm. Now, folks in Mexico are beginning to feel the benefit.

‘So deep in my heart, that you’re really a part of me’ – I’ve got you under my skin (Cole Porter).

We’ve all heard about Professor Kevin Warwick, haven’t we? He’s that chap from the University of Reading that amazed the international scientific community in 1998 by having a silicon chip transponder surgically implanted in his left arm.

When the news broke, I remember thinking that the Professor was just an eccentric that would do anything to get himself some cheap publicity with work that was of little practical use. Five years down the road, I’ve had a complete change of heart.

Because now, for medical reasons, certain people in Mexico are actually being fitted with ‘VeriChips’ – subdermal, radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips about the size of a grain of rice that have been developed by the US firm Applied Digital Solutions. Each VeriChip product contains a unique verification number that is captured by briefly passing a proprietary scanner over the VeriChip. When the ID number is matched on a secure database, data on the individual can be read out.

When a ‘chipped’ chappie enters a hospital then – perhaps even unconscious – the medics can rapidly discover any previous problems he has, such as diabetes or a heart condition, and provide the appropriate treatment quickly and concisely.

Clearly, there are lots of benefits to having an implant. Especially, if it can help save your life.

But it’s not just in the medical field alone where this technology could come in handy. Imagine if such implants were stuck into every individual just after birth. Such devices could be used to allow police to track your criminal activity, employers could track your education level, the bank manager could track your bank balance. They might even hold the unique PIN number that you use for accessing SKY Digital so you wouldn’t have to remember it anymore!

Place even more intelligence onto the device, such as a complete personal computer with an associated neural interface and the opportunities become even more interesting.

The trouble is, a few people are going to have more than just a few problems with this sort of thing. They are going to protest that ‘hooking people into computers’ will infringe basic human rights and civil liberties. And they won’t be easily convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks.

I don’t have such worries. But if we are all eventually linked up to a computer, let’s hope it isn’t running a Microsoft operating system. Otherwise, we could spend from here to eternity shelling out $50 for a box of Microsoft transdermal ‘patches’ at the local chemist so that we do not become infected by worms.