“I Choose to Be a Cyborg”: Why I Implanted Computer Chips in My Hands

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I have com­put­er chips in my hands.

The tiny (two mil­lime­tre by 12 mil­lime­tre) glass ampules are nes­tled just under the skin on the back of each of my hands and were implant­ed by a local body piercer sev­er­al years ago.

The chip in my right hand is a near-field com­mu­ni­ca­tion device that I scan with an app on my smart phone to access and rewrite the infor­ma­tion I have stored on it. It can con­tain a minus­cule 888 kilo­bytes of data stor­age and only com­mu­ni­cates with devices less than four cen­time­tres away. In my left hand is a chip designed as a dig­i­tal ver­i­fi­ca­tion device that uses a pro­pri­etary app from the devel­op­er Vivokey.

The implant pro­ce­dure is nei­ther dif­fi­cult nor extreme­ly painful. I can feel the bump of the chips under my skin and often invite others to feel it. The bump does not pro­trude from the back of my hand — if I didn’t tell some­one it was there, they would not be able to tell by sight that I had an implant. But they are not unde­tectable.

An implant­ed chip can be a secure stor­age loca­tion for emer­gency con­tact infor­ma­tion, used as an elec­tron­ic busi­ness card, or as an electronic key to unlock your door. I give public pre­sen­ta­tions and inter­views about my research and, as a result, do not store pri­vate data on my chip.

Choosing Technology

There are thousands of people all over the world with chip implants; people I call “vol­un­tary cyborgs.”

Voluntary cyborgs are people involved in the com­mu­ni­ty and prac­tice of implant­i­ng tech­nol­o­gy beneath their skin for enhance­ment or aug­men­ta­tion pur­pos­es and I’ve count­ed myself as a member of this sub­cul­ture for sev­er­al years. My research in the com­mu­ni­ty has focused on the formation of a distinct subculture and its representations in popular media.

I coined the term vol­un­tary cyborgs to make a dis­tinc­tion from med­ical cyborgs, who have had tech­nol­o­gy — like pace­mak­ers, insulin pumps, IUDs and more — implant­ed by med­ical pro­fes­sion­als for reha­bil­i­ta­tive or ther­a­peu­tic pur­pos­es. I inten­tion­al­ly empha­size the vol­un­tary aspect of the implant prac­tice to stave off infer­ences of coerced microchip­ping the­o­ries pop­u­lar with a vocal groups of implant crit­ics and detrac­tors.

Conspiracy the­o­ries about microchips in humans have been around for years; some of these the­o­ries orig­i­nate from an interpretation of a Bible passage.

Conspiracy Theories

Clickbait head­lines and social media hash­tags have been making the rounds with increas­ing fre­quen­cy in the last few months, describ­ing the fears and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about the invol­un­tary microchip­ping of people. The latest incar­na­tion of these dooms­day prophe­cies sug­gests that tech billionaire Bill Gates will employ microchips to fight COVID-19.

The arti­cle was inspired by a Reddit Ask me Anything thread with Gates on March 18 that focused on a single phrase: dig­i­tal cer­tifi­cates. Conspiracy the­o­rists start­ed to make sen­sa­tion­al pre­dic­tions about microchips as a fea­si­ble solu­tion to iden­ti­fi­ca­tion ver­i­fi­ca­tion issues and authen­ti­cat­ing vac­ci­na­tion status.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of online media articles and posts debunk­ing the claim that Gates plans to sur­rep­ti­tious­ly implant microchip track­ing devices into people as part of a COVID-19 vac­cine rein­forced the con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists.

Controlling Choices

These recent con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries of enforced and invol­un­tary chip implants led me to con­sid­er why some people are wor­ried about having com­put­er chips embed­ded in their bodies against their will.

The answer lies in per­ceived body auton­o­my.

Research in 2017 showed a quar­ter of the American pop­u­la­tion believed in con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and are these beliefs are driven by feelings of anxiety, alienation and disenfranchisement.

The right to govern one’s body and what is done to it by others, is not a priv­i­lege held by every­one. This real­iza­tion can come as a sur­prise to those who want to modify their bodies with tech­no­log­i­cal implants for con­ve­nience, fun or exper­i­men­ta­tion.

Members of his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized groups — women, racialized people, queer people, disabled people and children — are not shocked at this lack of body auton­o­my. The state, organizations and med­ical com­mu­ni­ties have restrict­ed, reg­u­lat­ed and gov­erned their bodies for hun­dreds of years.

Cyborg Autonomy

One goal of my work is to high­light the strug­gle for body auton­o­my through the expe­ri­ence of the cyborg. The right to mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom — to modify one’s body as one desires — is one aspect of body auton­o­my that cyborgs rou­tine­ly face.

If cyborgs can win the right to alter their bodies by redefin­ing the bound­aries of accept­able body mod­i­fi­ca­tion, then these rights can extend to other groups fight­ing for bodily integri­ty and auton­o­my. Collaboration with schol­ars and advo­cates in dis­abil­i­ty stud­ies, queer and fem­i­nist stud­ies, med­ical and legal schol­ars as well as human rights activists is an approach to take.

Recent news of involuntary and forced sterilizations happening in detention camps run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is hor­rif­ic and illus­trates just one of the abuses of body auton­o­my that a gov­ern­ment can inflict on people — cit­i­zens or oth­er­wise.

Cyborg Consent

Implanted chips are not useful for covert sur­veil­lance or mon­i­tor­ing. Current avail­able microchip tech­nol­o­gy is not capa­ble of track­ing people’s loca­tions. There are no bat­ter­ies or GPS trans­mit­ters both pow­er­ful and small enough to be safely and unob­tru­sive­ly embed­ded in our bodies with­out our knowl­edge.

There is no need for gov­ern­ments or other shad­owy orga­ni­za­tions pop­u­lar with con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists to embed track­ing devices inside human bodies as our smart­phones already per­form this func­tion. Most smart­phone users signed away any expec­ta­tion to pri­va­cy with var­i­ous apps and loca­tion ser­vices long ago.

People say they can always leave their phones at home, but do they really? It feels as though you’re missing a part of yourself when you don’t know where your phone is. The feel­ing in the pit of your stom­ach, you pat your pock­ets, reaf­firm­ing your loss through con­tact with your body. It is already a part of body con­struct.

I do not worry that I will be implant­ed with a chip with­out my knowl­edge but I am very con­cerned that people may one day be implant­ed with­out their con­sent.

I worry chips may be used for overt, uneth­i­cal sup­pres­sion of move­ment by gov­ern­ments. It is why the right to body auton­o­my must be a legal­ly declared, inter­na­tion­al human right upheld by courts and gov­ern­ments around the world.

The Conversation

Tamara P Banbury, PhD Student, Communication and Media Studies, Carleton University

This arti­cle is repub­lished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters.

National Interest source|articles

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