‘The Simpsons’ has always had an uncanny knack of predicting the near-future, usually doing so by making deliberately ridiculous predictions that few could imagine actually coming to pass. Such is the way of the world today, though, that the sublime has regularly been superseded by the ridiculous; there was famously a President Trump in an episode from 2000, after all. I recall another episode in which Homer is forced to take a job in a supermarket warehouse; finding it too much like hard work after being accustomed to putting his feet up at Mr Burns’ power station, he attempts to walk out, only to be prevented from doing so by the microchip his new employers have implanted in his neck to guarantee subservience to the company.
Lo and behold, it was reported this week that a Swedish company called Epicenter is already there in the non-animated world. Yes, microchip implantation is an option for Epicenter’s lucky employees; these embedded pieces of technology essentially act as a swipe card for the 150 out of 2,000 employees to have opted for the process – opening doors or paying for goods on-site with a wave of the hand. Epicenter pioneered turning its workforce into cyborgs two years ago, with the company’s CEO claiming the biggest benefit of the scheme is ‘convenience’.
A company in Belgium is apparently contemplating the same ‘convenience’ for its employees, for where some countries lead, others invariably follow. The relative reluctance of Epicenter employees to embrace the practice in great numbers speaks volumes; although the technology is no doubt in its infancy, there have been ethical concerns aired regarding the potential security risks. Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, claims hackers could access innumerable amounts of private information from implanted microchips, a worrying prospect that could increase as the technology inevitably becomes more sophisticated. Hackers accessing something inside us?
If all of this sounds like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian ‘Black Mirror’ series, it’s no wonder; ‘Black Mirror’ specialises in taking contemporary technology one step into the future and capitalising on current fears on how it has already become something so many are dependent on and implicitly place their trust in.
The revealing of personal details that are now a prerequisite for the majority of online transactions is unavoidable if outlets such as Facebook, Amazon and eBay are to be entered into, resulting in the collation of information that forms a cyber profile advertisers and manufacturers can then target. The whole ‘If you like that, you might like this’ or ‘suggested post’ syndrome is a direct side-effect of the info we surrender when we log on and sign in.
In many respects, so many are now so attached to their Smartphones that the object has more or less become an extension of their physical being as it is, provoking withdrawal symptoms akin to those of a toddler deprived of its dummy should their mobile be misplaced. But if a company can inject microchips into its employees on the grounds of ‘convenience’, how long before one of the leading tech corporations proposes developing the principle re the mobile phone? The way avid subscribers to such technology are willing to submit to its demands without a second thought suggests that this possibility would not necessarily be widely opposed.
While the approach of the Epicenter company is embryonic in terms of what could eventually happen and how it could be misused, more advanced experiments have been carried out on surgical grounds, and there are a small number of volunteers who have had electronic implants seemingly on the grounds of vanity and an apparent desire to be viewed as ‘interesting’. In a way, this is not dissimilar to those addicted to cosmetic surgery when they don’t really need it. The British artist Neil Harbisson is the first person to be officially recognised as a ‘cyborg’, having had an antenna embedded in his head, enabling him to receive what he calls ‘an extra sense’ since the interior soft-wear merged with his brain, giving him the ability to perceive colours outside of the usual human spectrum.
The British scientist Kevin Warwick and his wife chose to be cybernetic guinea pigs, with the former having 100 electrodes added to his nervous system in order that he could connect it to the internet. If all of this sounds scary to many, these individuals have at least volunteered, as have those employees of Epicenter; and were these implants to provide the bionic strength we were all led to believe they would via ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, I suspect we’d all be queuing up to have them fitted; that was pre-cyberspace days, however. Today, Steve Austin would be an exemplary tool of the surveillance state rather than a superman. As so often happens, such technological developments don’t always fall into the hands of those whose means are benign.
© The Editor