The PerAda film was created for the FET (Future Emerging Technologies) Conference. MG Michael and I were unable to travel to this event. So we sent a lot of written material. The film was deliberately provocative, investigating aspects of Heaven and Hell through Emerging Technologies. The following should be read in that context. Though hours of footage was captured, the above section made it into the film that was played at FET- an interactive delivery for citizens to engage with. Please note, I am not an advocate for microchip implants in humans for convenience. The descriptions below are meant to evoke a response in readers to reflect on their own position and reasoning on emerging technologies. Prescribed reading BEFORE you read the following, so that it makes sense, is Jeremy Pitt's brilliant non-fiction book "This Pervasive Day" which describes UniComp in the Introduction. The book is a scientific spoof of Ira Levin's "This Perfect Day".
What is your name?
Katina: My name is Katina Michael, I am an Associate Professor in the School of Information Systems and Technology at the University of Wollongong, Australia.
MG Michael and I started collaborating on research related to microchip implants for humans about 10 years ago while we were both finishing our PhDs. Our backgrounds, while seemingly lifeworlds apart, have come together in analyzing the trajectory of technology. Michael’s background in literature, philosophy, history and theology is extremely complementary when contrasted against my background in information technology, innovation, society and law studies.
Here Michael was conducting research into what St John the Evangelist meant by the 666 conundrum in chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation, the so-named “mark of the beast”, and there I was doing a major inquiry into the automatic identification industry looking at how miniaturization and embedded beneath-the-skin technologies might revolutionise the way we live and work and interact with one another. At one point our studies literally collided.
Katina: Will microchip implants be enjoyed by all?
So this is the 6 billion dollar question- will every single member of society ultimately opt-in to a microchip implant (or several implants for that matter), the size of a grain of rice, injected “beneath the skin” for a variety of convenience or care solutions? Are individual members of society willing to give up some level of personal control, for the greater levels of efficiency in convenience and care contexts?
Katina: What are the touted benefits?
Imagine a world where everyone has an implant. I think “i-plants” will be the next big thing after the iphones and ipods. There will be no need to carry a wallet, carry money in a wallet, and to try and prove your ID. Imagine the freedom that would come from not having to have a physical driver’s license, a debit or credit card that can be stolen and which are usually required to pay for goods and services, not to mention that you would not need to remember a work access card or the keys to your car or house. To some level of certainty you would know that your implant embodies all that is unique about you- your personal ID number for life, your universal lifetime identifier. Coupled with such convenience would be the additional ability to provide instantaneous evidence on matters related to specific applications like insurance and ensure that your premiums remained relatively low, because your implant would be able to assess you as a low-risk driver for instance or a low risk medical patient because the implant in your body was also sensor-based and could denote how much alcohol you consumed, whether you were a smoker, whether you occasionally took recreational drugs, or whether you were at risk of developing diabetes or a heart condition because of the lack of exercise you did.
The implant beneath your skin would also be crucial for an event in which you required emergency assistance- the first responders would be able to denote your exact physical location and on-board diagnostics could reveal what led to the emergency. Your implant would also be used for automated drug delivery, to ensure the right dose of the right drug was used at the right time of the day, and to ensure that different drugs not meant to be mixed together were not. The implant would also be an important social networking tool, allowing like minded people to mix together. Think of the implant as a modern day black box flight recorder, only this recorder which has the capacity to coordinate different types of point-of-view (head, chest, belly, feet), and would ensure that audio and video chronicles were kept both for playback for enjoyment, for education and for reflection. Crime would almost surely be eradicated and there would hardly be a need for complex evidence gathering exercises such as a search for an adoptee to find their real biological parents. The philosophy espoused will be one of legal protection-‘I bear an implant and thus you cannot give false witness on any of my goings on, and given I have nothing to hide, all will be well.’ Among the greatest advances will be in how we manage our extensions, our relationships, our purchases, our life in general. Consider the proximate relationship one would have with the state- government agencies would cease to ask for minute details that they could gather the data through proxy authorization, no longer coming against barriers for basic data about what you do and where you’ve been. Questions like whether you work or are raising children would be easy to assess and a great deal less paper would be wasted.
Consumers will feel free of wires and liberated of the artifacts they have had to hold onto to prove their identity whether it be at their front door, their work office, government and social security agencies, financial institutions, and in public venues for example. These consumers will thrive on ambient intelligence, context aware applications and an augmented reality- ubiquity in every sense- they will feel on top of the world at the height of the implant bubble
MICHAEL: What are the risks?
The health risks associated with implants will only surface after a number of years. Some however will be susceptible much earlier but will put it down to other matters such as an unhealthy lifestyle driven by the need to work or to play almost without ceasing, using wearbable computing devices. But it will later become apparent that one’s health would have deteriorated as a direct result of the Unicomp mother implant whether by ‘intention’ or ‘design’. Some will suspect that they are battling with sophisticated electronic viruses. For some it will mean that they cannot bear any offspring as the implant will find too many faults with their genetic makeup, while for others it may result in isolated amputation as they request a removal of the locative media from their bodies given the cancer caused by the anti-migration coating on the implant and other secondary infections. Of course, removal will depend on the timeframe the implant has been in the body and whether or not it has migrated inside the transdermal layer of the skin. Some of the more advanced implants will be able to capture and validate location based data, alongside recordings (visual and audio capture). The ability to conduct uberveillance via the implant will be linked to a type of “blackbox recorder” in a cockpit (Michael, McNamee and Michael, 2006). Only in this case the cockpit will be the sarx, and the recorder will be embedded just beneath the translucent layer of the skin that will be used for dispute resolution (Michael and Michael, 2009). Outwardly ensuring that people are telling the full story at all times, there will be no lies or claims to poor memory. But truth and memory itself, similarly to stored data, will be subject to manipulation by Unicomp.
All this will happen in the most unsuspecting way. By the year 2025 all those born before the mainstream proliferation of government ID cards will be dead and those born after the boom of the Internet will be nearing their early 30s. Getting an implant in 2025 will be very much like buying an iphone, ipad or ipod today…only this new media will be the iplant. It will just be another phase of development towards the expectation of UniComp’s singularity (Millikan, 2010)- the lowest common denominator node- the heralding in of PersonView systems, satisfying visions way beyond Google Maps’ “Street View”. What the person sees, records, does, in actual fact sousveillance, a moving map of his or her own world, will be available for public download. Picture the ability to not only see dwellings in Street View but being able to zoom right down to the individual within the home and being able to see what they see and to listen to their private discussions, web-cam style 24x7. Privacy will be dead because the world will only be made up of public places.
The freedom or not to believe in a Higher Being, will be overridden with ‘faith’ in UniComp transnational companies and subsidiaries. And while UniComp will claim that they are the only all-seeing eye with the ability to omnipresence- they will never have the true capability of omniscience which will be the ongoing cause of its mistrust and its visions for even deeper levels of surveillance. As such, uberveillance will herald in the manipulation, misrepresentation, and misinterpretation of information. As Alfred Ayer (1987) has written: “[e]ven if we were aware of what was going on in people’s central nervous systems, it is unlikely that we should cease to find a use for explaining their behaviour in terms of their conscious thoughts or feelings.” UniComp will deceive the masses into believing they have the complete transparency and visibility, it will encroach on private and inner space and sell the “everything should be public” mantra for the sake of national security, personal safety and relationship building. A new comprehensive philosophical system and language will evolve to support and legitimize the ground-breaking technological trajectory, the scientific infrastructures, and its affiliate political ideologies. Religions will also hurry to revise and update their respective apocalypses as they have done during any of the huge cultural shifts of the past, and paradoxically perhaps, the personality cult will thrive in these uncertain but awe-inspiring times. And interpreters of Revelation 13 with its reference to “the mark [charagma] of the beast” will in the era of nanotechnology be challenged as to one “mark” or many “marks” or even of the potentially hundreds (if not thousands) of nano-implants (Michael, 2010).
There will be no living space for those who do not wish to take an implant and participate in the UniComp solution to the world’s political, economic and environmental problems. The implant will be a type of life-support system of the Network. At first people will have been given the choice, some years later living without the implant will be difficult as it will be needed to be eligible for most social services, and finally the implant will be made compulsory by UniComp who is working closely with its support players and nested affiliates towards a Totalitarian State. No one needs reminding as to what sort of political systems are obsessed with surveillance and with the accumulation and storing of private information. Outmodes will continue to exist but their lifespan will be compromised due to the lack of accessibility to services, most of the outmodes will be unemployed, and as a minority they will endeavour to build some resistance. Living without an implant will be an almost hopeless task. Believing in anything outside the UniComp lifestyle will be regarded backward and detrimental to one’s future on earth or in cyberspace. The key to the success of UniComp will be its ability to interfere with the mind of all those who have been “marked” with the implant- initially touted as one of the great wonders of the technological age it will also give UniComp a hitherto unforeseen facility to directly influence and eventually to alter, the way people live, believe, and behave.
Hans Queisser’s (1990, p. 185) insightful words written towards the close of our last century have taken on an additional urgency and importance in the context of what has thus far preceded: “By mastering the atoms in the silicon crystal lattice, man has uncovered a promising microcosm- though one that is full of uncertainties. In the Middle Ages man saw himself as a microcosm. As we approach the end of the twentieth century we no longer find “the heavens” mysterious, sometimes frightening ruling power. Instead, we find ourselves part of a mechanistically determined cosmos. The atom, the new microcosm, now decides our definition of the world and our destiny in that world. We now look to plutonium nuclei, silicon, and other atoms for the secrets of creation and destruction, as well as harmony and symmetry. Now the macrocosm of society seeks the harmony of the microcosm of the atom. The quest for reconciliation of the parts with the whole has assumed a new character. We cannot look at the world with just one eye” [italics added].
KATINA: How do you feel about all this?
There is certainly a place for implantable technology in the medical domain- one can certainly see how it might help certain members of society, especially carers of Alzheimer’s patients, those suffering from allergies or specific illnesses, parents of young children who like to wander. And it has been proven that in more sophisticated ways, implants can help persons that are suffering from Tourette Syndrome, even forms of depression by forcedly stimulating the body through electrical currents to the brain. Implants could equate to a lot less suffering and those who need access to it, should ask for it because the value proposition in this instance far outweighs the costs linked to total control… Various types of implants in the body have demonstrated that hearing could be returned to the deaf under some circumstances, we could postulate that we are not that far away from sight being returned to the blind, or voice to the mute, or gait returned to those who have been confined to wheelchairs due to spinal injuries. We might well be able to do away with the sarx altogether- that which decays, and replace organs with mechanical parts.
I feel like we are at a point of no return- we’ve often seen new innovations enter the market without much debate who can get in the way of innovation? Who can stop science? But let me make this clear- the battle is not between letting implants come into fruition or stopping them from entering the market; in concept the potential for implants have been here ever since the first computer was unveiled… my research, our research has naught to do with stopping innovation, rather it has to do with making people aware and aiding them to make decisions that have the capacity to redefine everything about us…
At any rate part of the biggest issue that will pervade society will be the divide between the haves and have-nots, those who say “no” to implantable technology, and those who agree with it. But the divide will pervade even those who have not opted for the ultimate networked existence- of implantees we will be able to speak of “outmodes”, those who once opted in but now refuse to upgrade keeping the most basic of features for identity.
MICHAEL: How do you feel?
We need room to make errors in private space. Uberveillance will mean information manipulation, misrepresentation… we are headed down a dark path which has some glimmer of hope for medical breakthroughs but at the same time will enslave those who are powerless to the drum beat of those who have total information control. Who will be able to send the electrical currents remotely to the body, or access the data that comes from the blackboxes to do as they please and alter behaviours by knowing what you do when you do it and why. What ever happened to private vs public spaces?
KATINA: What is it that policymakers need to know?
Either implants embedded in humans which require associated infrastructure will create a utopia where there is built-in intelligence for every thing and everyone in every place; or implants embedded in humans will create a cacotopia which will be destructive and will diminish one’s freedom of choice, individuality, and finally that indefinable essence which is at the core of making one feel “human”. A third possibility, the middle-way between these two alternatives, would seem highly unlikely excepting for the “off the grid” dissenter.
You know, I’ve sat in government roundtable discussions about the impact of new technologies on existing regulations and legislation and the need for reviews and reforms. From the older policymakers who have not been educated in a digital age, I presently see blank faces, an inability to grapple with what these changes will mean for society. Ministerial offices like to deal with what is happening now, and with majorities- they cannot very much deal with breakthrough technologies which have yet to be adopted by the masses. Thus when you look at the recommendations of amendments to legislation like the Privacy Act or Surveillance Device Act or Telecommunications Interception Act policymakers can be devoid of what is coming and what that will mean. Policymakers are not good at future implications, they deal with what is happening ‘now’. But policymakers need to know that big business who continue to influence the direction of policy will try to do the same here… and there will be some agencies in government like Central Intelligence Agencies or secret police who will want everyone and everything to carry an implant because it will mean total information awareness.
We need to have ethically aware politicians entering the ranks, we need to have more debate, we need consumers to know what they are about to get into… people have no time for reflection anymore—they are caught up in this new media (whether it be smartphones, ipads or the like), we are like sheep to the slaughter… headed to a place which we know is horrible but we’re still going there… the question is why? Implants might introduce incredible efficiencies in business and in particular to infrastructure building where services are required but people are not robots (not at the moment anyway). Our bodies work in analog and not in digital.
MICHAEL: What is it that policymakers need to know?
Policymakers need to take care that the regulation they introduce does not circumvent the very things they are trying to achieve. Regulation is necessary- this is clear from the heavily regulated therapeutics industry but when it comes to WHAT and HOW to regulate much brainstorming is necessary. We have seen how the state level legislation in the United States have fallen short: antichipping laws in existence today have pointed to the enforced chipping of humans by parents, doctors, employers, the government, strangers but have failed to see that future implants can also be swallowed, inhaled. The future of nanotechnology and microcircuitry might mean that we are not walking around with a single implant but multiple “patches”. Consider the future of vaccinations against deadly viruses and the way that vaccines might be administered in the future using nanopatches.
Katina: The issue at hand is why embed when you can wear it?
Gary Retherford, the Six Sigma security consultant expects that people will soon be fed up with identity theft and credit card fraud, seeking an alternative ID measure. He ponders about RFID implants as being the alternative, despite the fact that the technology will certainly introduce other new risks. Retherford defends those new risks as being “relative” and to those who say the chip will never happen he replies: “Yeah it will, and the reason it will is because human nature says that it has to… human nature demands that we have – not me or somebody – but that we as human nature have to go into this technology and that’s because we’ve been told you can’t go… as long as there’s the possibility – you know, it’s like ‘Why did he climb Mt. Everest? Because it was there’”. Despite the belief that our innately curious human nature might be demanding that we enter the human chip implant domain, the question remains what if it all goes horribly wrong? The problem as Retherford himself put it, is that “[w]e can’t go in reverse, we can’t stop where we are, we always have to go onto the next level.” With each new level we will be entering a new world of unknowns from which there is no rewind. It is not a matter of denying the pioneering human spirit, nor the marvelous wonders of technology, but rather the stark realization that we are entering into irreversible territory, literally, and that this will bring with it its own ever-lasting consequences, both very good and very bad. We are not giving ourselves an analogous time to test, to reflect, and to speak to each other on the long-term possibilities of these innovations. As Bill Joy (2000), the former chief scientist at Sun Microsystems once attested: “[w]e are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes. Have we already gone too far down the path to alter course? I don’t believe so, but we aren’t trying yet, and the last chance to assert control- the fail-safe point- is rapidly approaching.”
This manifest rush, given the permanency of the product, is highly reckless for it is at the expense of an equal measure of practical reason. It is what will in essence give rise to the technological singularity as postulated by Kurzweil (2005), and others before him- technological change so rapid and profound, that it will cause a big bang of sorts in human history.