Perceived barriers for implanting microchips in humans

Abstract

This quantitative, descriptive study investigated if there was a relationship between countries of residence of small business owners (N = 453) within four countries (Australia, India, UK, and the USA) with respect to perceived barriers to RFID (radio frequency identification) transponders being implanted into humans for employee ID. Participants were asked what they believed were the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations. Participants had six options from which to select. There were significant chi-square analyses reported relative to respondents' countries and: 1) a perceived barrier of technological issues (X2= 11.86, df = 3, p = .008); 2) a perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body) (X2= 31.21, df = 3, p = .000); and 3) a perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants) (X2= 10.88, df = 3, p = .012). There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to countries of residence and: 1) religious issues (mark of the beast), 2) social issues (digital divide), and 3) cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo). Thus, the researchers concluded that there were relationships between the respondents' countries and the perception of barriers in institutional microchips.

SECTION I. Introduction

The purpose of this study was to investigate if there were relationships between countries of residence (Australia, India, UK, and the USA) of small business owners  and perceived barriers of instituting RFID (radio frequency identification) transponders implanted into the human body for identification and access control purposes in organizations [1]. Participants were asked what they believed were the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations [2]. Participants had six options from which to select all that apply, as well as an option to specify other barriers [3]. The options for perceived barriers included:

  • technological issues-RFID is inherently an insecure technology
  • social issues-there will be a digital divide between those with employees with implants for identification and those that have legacy electronic identification
  • cultural issues-incisions into the skin are taboo
  • religious issues-mark of the beast
  • philosophical issues-right of control over one's body
  • health issues-there are unknown risks related to implants that are in the body over the long term
  • other issues.

There were significant chi-square analyses reported relative to respondents' countries and: 1) the perceived barrier of technological issues; 2) the perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body); and 3) the perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants). There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to countries and religious issues (mark of the beast), social issues (digital divide), and cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo).

RFID implants are capable of omnipresent electronic surveillance. RFID tags or transponders can be implanted into the human body to track the who, what, where, when, and how of human life [4]. This act of embedding devices into human beings for surveillance purposes is known as uberveillance [5]. While the tiny embedded RFID chips do not have global positioning capabilities, an RFID reader (fixed or mobile) can capture time stamps, exit and entry sequences to denote when someone is coming or going, which direction they are travelling in, and then make inferences on time, location, distance. and speed.

In this paper, the authors present a brief review of the literature, key findings from the study, and a discussion on possible implications of the findings. Professionals working in the field of emerging technologies could use these findings to better understand how countries of residence may affect perceptions of barriers in instituting chip implants in humans.

SECTION II. Review of Literature

A. Implants and Social Acceptance

In 2004, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) of the United States approved an implantable chip for use in humans in the U.S [6]. The implanted chip was and is being marketed by a variety of commercial enterprises as a potential method to detect and treat diseases, as well as a potential lifesaving device. If a person was brought to an emergency room unconscious, a scanner in the hospital doorway could read the person's unique ID on the implanted chip. The ID would then be used to unlock the personal health records (PHR) of the patient from a database [7]. Authorized health professionals would then have access to all pertinent medical information of that individual (i.e. medical history, previous surgeries, allergies, heart condition, blood type, diabetes) to care for the patient aptly. Additionally, the chip is being touted as a solution to kidnappings in Mexico (e.g. by the Xega Company), among many other uses [8].

B. Schools: RFID Tracking

A rural elementary school in California planned to implement RFID-tagged ID cards for school children, however the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fought successfully to revoke the program. Veritable risks were articulated by the ACLU including identity theft, or kidnapping if the system was hacked and resulted in a perpetrator being able to access locations of schoolchildren.

However, with school districts looking to offset cuts in state funding which are partly based on attendance figures, RFID technology provides a method to count students more accurately. Added to increased revenues, administrators are facing the reality of increasing security issues; thus more school districts are adopting RFID to track students to improve safety. For many years in Tokyo, students have worn mandatory RFID bracelets; they are tracked not only in the school, but also to and from school [9] [10]. In other examples, bags are fitted with GPS units.

In 2012, the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas began a pilot program to track 6.2% of its 100,000 students through RFID tagged ID-cards. Northside was not the first district in Texas; two other school districts in Houston successfully use the technology with reported gains in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue due to improved attendance. The school board unanimously approved the program, but not after first debating privacy issues. Chip readers on campuses and on school buses will detect a student's location and authorized administrators will have access to the information. At a cost of 525,000 to launch the pilot program and approximately 1.7 million in the first year due to higher attendance figures, as well as Medicaid reimbursements for the busing of special education students. However, students could forget or lose the cards which would negatively affect the system [3]. One of Northside's sophomore students, Andrea Hernandez, refused to wear the RFID tag round her neck based on religious reasons. Initially, the school expelled her but when the case went to court, she was reinstated, a judge ruling her constitutional rights had been violated [11].

C. Medical Devices: RFID Implants

Recent technological developments are reaching new levels with the integration of silicon and biology; implanted devices can now interact directly with the brain [12]. Implantable devices for medical purposes are often highly beneficial to restore functions that were lost. Such current medical implants include cardiovascular pacers, cochlear and brainstem implants for patients with hearing disorders, implantable drug delivery pumps, implantable neurostimulation devices for such patients as those with urinary incontinence, chronic pain, or epilepsy, deep brain stimulation for patients with Parkinson's, and artificial chip-controlled legs [13].

D. RFID in India

Although India has been identified as a significant prospective market for RFID due to issues with the supply chain and a need for transparency, some contend that the slow adoption of RFID solutions can be tracked to unskilled RFID solution providers. Inexperienced systems integrators and vendors are believed to account for failed trials, leaving companies disillusioned with the technology, and subsequently abandoning solutions and declaiming its benefits loudly and publicly. A secondary technological threat to RFID adoption is believed to be related to price competitiveness in India. In such a price-sensitive environment, RFID players are known to quote the lowest costs per tag, thereby using inferior hardware. Thus, customers perceive RFID to be inconsistent and unreliable for use in the business setting [14]. The compulsory biometrics roll out, instituted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is in direct contrast to the experience of RFID (fig. 1)

Fig. 1. Taking fingerprints for Aadhaar, a 12-digit unique number has been issued for all residents in india. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to basic demographic and biometric information. The system institutes multimodal biometrics. Creative commons: fotokannan.

Fig. 1. Taking fingerprints for Aadhaar, a 12-digit unique number has been issued for all residents in india. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to basic demographic and biometric information. The system institutes multimodal biometrics. Creative commons: fotokannan.

E. RFID in Libraries

In 2010, researchers reported that many corporate libraries had begun deploying RFID. RFID tags are placed into books and other media and used in libraries for such purposes as to automate stock verification, to locate misplaced items, to check in/check out patrons without human interaction, and to detect theft. In India, several deployment and implementation issues were identified and they are: consumer privacy issues/ethical concerns, costs, lack of standards and regulations in India (e.g. data ownership, data collection limitations), user confusion (e.g. lack of training and experience with the technology), and the immaturity of the technology (e.g. lack of accuracy, scalability, etc.) [15].

F. RFID and OEMS/Auto Component Manufacturers

In India, suppliers are not forced to conform to stringent regulations like those that exist in other countries. In example, the TREAD Act in the U.S. provided the impetus for OEMs to invest in track and trace solutions; failure to comply with the regulations can carry a maximum fine in the amount of $15 million and a criminal penalty of up to 15 years. Indian suppliers are not only free from such regulations of compliance, but also cost conscious with low volumes of high value cars. It is believed that the cost of RFID solutions is not yet justified in the Indian market [16].

G. Correctional Facilities: RFID Tracking

A researcher studied a correctional facility in Cleveland, Ohio to evaluate the impact of RFID technology to deter such misconduct as sexual assaults. The technology was considered because of its value in confirming inmate counts and perimeter controls. In addition, corrections officers can utilize such technology to check inmate locations against predetermined schedules, to detect if rival gang members are in close proximity, to classify and track proximity of former intimate partners, single out those inmates with food allergies or health issues, and even identify if inmates who may attempt to move through the cafeteria line twice [17].

The results of the study indicated that RFID did not deter inmate misconduct, although the researchers articulated many issues that affected the results. Significant technological challenges abounded for the correctional facility as RFID tracking was implemented and included system inoperability, signal interference (e.g. “blind spots” where bracelets could not be detected), and transmission problems [18] [17].

H. Social Concerns

Social concerns plague epidermal electronics for nonmedical purposes [19]. In the United States, many states have crafted legislation to balance the potential benefits of RFID technology with the disadvantages associated with privacy and security concerns [20]. California, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are among states in the U.S. which have passed legislation to prohibit forced implantation of RFID in humans [21]. The “Microchip Consent Act of 2010”, which became effective on July 1, 2010 in the state of Georgia, not only stated that no person shall be required to be implanted with a microchip (regardless of a state of emergency), but also that voluntary implantation of any microchip may only be performed by a physician under the authority of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

Through the work of Rodata and Capurro in 2005, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to the European Commission, examined the ethical questions arising from science and new technologies. The role of the opinion was to raise awareness concerning the dilemmas created by both medical and non-medical implants in humans which affect the intimate relation between bodily and psychic functions basic to our personal identity [22]. The opinion stated that Information and Communications Technology implants, should not be used to manipulate mental functions or to change a personal identity. Additionally, the opinion stated that principles of data protection must be applied to protect personal data embedded in implants [23]. The implants were identified in the opinion as a threat to human dignity when used for surveillance purposes, although the opinion stated that this might be justifiable for security and/or safety reasons [24].

I. Increased Levels of Willingness to Adopt: 2005–2010

Researchers continue to investigate social acceptance of the implantation of this technology into human bodies. In 2006, researchers reported higher levels of acceptance of the implantation of a chip within their bodies, when college students perceived benefits from this technology [25]. Utilizing the same questions posed in 2005 to college students attending both private and public institutions of higher education by the aforementioned researchers, the researchers once again in 2010 investigated levels of willingness to implant RFID chips to understand if there were shifts in levels of willingness of college students to implant RFID chips for various reasons [25] [26]. In both studies, students were asked: “How willing would you be to implant an RFID chip in your body as a method (to reduce identity theft, as a potential lifesaving device, to increase national security)?” A 5-point Likert-type scale was utilized varying from “Strongly Unwilling” to “Strongly Willing”. Comparisons of the 2005 results of the study to the results of the 2010 research revealed shifts in levels of willingness of college students. A shift was evident; levels of willingness moved from unwillingness toward either neutrality or willingness to implant a chip in the human body to reduce identity theft, as a potential lifesaving device, and to increase national security. Levels of unwillingness decreased for all aforementioned areas as follows [26]. Between 2005 and 2010, the unwillingness (“Strongly unwilling” and “Somewhat unwilling”) of college students to implant an RFID chip into their bodies decreased by 22.4% when considering RFID implants as method to reduce identity theft, decreased by 19.9% when considering RFID implants as a potential lifesaving device, and decreased by 16.3% when considering RFID implants to increase national security [26].

J. RFID Implant Study: German Tech Conference Delegates

A 2010 survey of individuals attending a technology conference conducted by BITKOM, a German information technology industry lobby group, reported 23% of 1000 respondents would be prepared to have a chip inserted under their skin for certain benefits; 72% of respondents, however, reported they would not allow implantation of a chip under any circumstances. Sixteen percent (16%) of respondents reported they would accept an implant to allow emergency services to rescue them more quickly in the event of a fire or accident [27].

K. Ask India: Are Implants a More Secure Technology?

Previously, researchers reported a significant chi-square analysis relative to countries of residence and perceptions of chip implants as a more secure technology for identification/access control in organizations. More than expected (46 vs. 19.8; adjusted residual = 7.5), participants from India responded “yes” to implants as a more secure technology. When compared against the other countries in the study, fewer residents from the UK responded “yes” than expected (9 vs. 19.8), and fewer residents from the USA responded “yes” than expected (11 vs. 20.9). In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, the UK and the USA; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from Australia. [28].

Due to heightened security threats, there appears to be a surge in demand for security in India [29][30]. A progression of mass-casualty assaults that have been carried out by extremist Pakistani nationals against hotels and government buildings in India has brought more awareness to the potential threats against less secure establishments [30]. The government is working to institute security measures at the individual level with a form of national ID cards that will house key biometric data of the individual. In the local and regional settings, technological infrastructure is developing rapidly in metro and non-metro areas because of the increase of MNCs (multi-national corporations) now locating in India. Although the neighborhood “chowkiddaaar” (human guard/watchman) was previously a more popular security measure for localized security, advances in, and reliability and availability of, security technology is believed to be affecting the adoption of electronic access security as a replacement to the more traditional security measures [29] [30].

L. Prediction of Adoption of Technology

Many models have been developed and utilized to understand factors that affect the acceptance of technology such as: The Moguls Model of Computing by Ndubisi, Gupta, and Ndubisi in 2005, Diffusion of Innovation Theory by Rogers in 1983; Theory of Planned Behavior by Ajzen in 1991; The Model of PC Utilization attributed to Thompson, Higgins, and Howell in 1991, Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) by Rogers in 1985, and the Theory of Reasoned Action attributed to Fischbein & Ajzen in 1975, and with additional revisions by the same in 1980 [31].

Researchers in Berlin, Germany investigated consumers' reactions to RFID in retail. After viewing an introductory stimulus film about RFID services in retail, participants evaluated the technology and potential privacy mechanisms. Participants were asked to rate on a five point Likert-type scale (ranging from “not at all sensitive” to “extremely sensitive”) their attitudes toward privacy with such statements as: “Generally, I want to disclose the least amount of data about myself.” Or “To me it is irrelevant if somebody knows what I buy for my daily needs.” In the study, participants reported moderate privacy awareness  and interestingly, participants reported a moderate expectation that legal regulations will result in sufficient privacy protection . Results showed that the extent to which people view the protection of their privacy strongly influences how willing people will be to accept RFID in retail. Participants were aware of privacy problems with RFID-based services, however, if retailers articulate that they value the customers' privacy, participants appeared more likely to adopt the technology. Thus, privacy protection (and the communication of it) was found to be an essential element of RFID rollouts [32].

SECTION III. Methodology

This quantitative, descriptive study investigated if there were relationships between countries of residence with respect to perceived barriers of RFID chip implants in humans for identification and access control purposes in organizations. The survey took place between April 4, 2011 and April 18, 2011. It took an average of 10 minutes to complete each online survey. Participants, who are small business owners  within four countries including Australia , India , UK , and the USA , were asked “As a senior executive, what do you believe are the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations?” Relative to gender, 51.9% of participants are male; 48.1% are female. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 71 years of age; the mean age was 44 and the median age was 45. Eighty percent of organizations surveyed had less than 5 employees. Table I shows the survey participant's industry sector.

Table I Senior executive's industry sector

Table I Senior executive's industry sector

The study employed one instrument that collected key data relative to the business profile, the currently utilized technologies for identification and access control at the organization, and the senior executives' perceptions of RFID implants in humans for identification and access control in organizations. Twenty-five percent of the small business owners that participated in the survey said they had electronic ID access to their premises. Twenty percent of small business owner employee ID cards came equipped with a photograph, and less than five percent stated they had a security breach in the 12 months preceding the study.

Descriptive statistics, including frequency counts and measures of central tendency, were run and chi-square analysis was conducted to examine if there were relationships between the respondents' countries and each of the perceived barriers in instituting microchips in humans.

SECTION IV. Findings

There was a significant relationship reported relative to respondents' countries for each of three of the six choices provided in the multi-chotomous question: “As a senior executive, what do you believe are the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations?”

A. Barrier: Technological Issues

The significant chi-square analysis  indicated that there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of technological issues. Using the rule of identifying adjusted residuals greater than 2.0, examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was created when more than expected participants from India selected “technological issues (RFID is inherently an insecure technology)” as a barrier in instituting chip implants (45 vs. 31.1; adjusted residual 3.4).

B. Barrier: Philosophical Issues

The second significant chi-square analysis , df = 3,  indicated that there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body). An examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was mostly created when fewer than expected participants from India selected philosophical issues as a barrier in instituting chip implants (37 vs. 61.3; adjusted residual 5.3). In addition, more residents from Australia than expected (78 vs. 62.9; adjusted residual 3.3) selected philosophical issues as a barrier. In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, followed by Australia; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from UK and the USA.

C. Barrier: Health Issues

The third significant chi-square analysis  indicated there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants). An examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was mostly created when more than expected residents of India selected health issues as a barrier in instituting chip implants (57 vs. 43.3; adjusted residual 3.1). In addition, fewer residents from America than expected (36 vs. 45.7; adjusted residual 2.1) selected health issues as a barrier. In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, followed by the USA; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from Australia and the UK.

D. Barrier: Social Issues, Religious Issues, and Cultural Issues

There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to respondents' countries and social issues (digital divide), religious issues (mark of the beast), and cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo). Thus, in this study the researchers concluded no such differences in opinion were found for respondents' countries of residence and the barriers of social issues, religious issues, and cultural issues.

E. Statistical Summary

When asked whether or not, radiofrequency identification (RFID) transponders surgically implanted beneath the skin of an employee would be a more secure technology for instituting employee identification in the organization, only eighteen percent believed so. When asked subsequently about their opinion on how many staff in their organization would opt for an employee ID chip implant instead of the current technology if it were available, it was stated that eighty percent would not opt in. These figures are consistent with an in depth interview conducted with consultant Gary Retherford who was responsible for the first small business adoption of RFID implants for access control at Citywatcher.com in 2006 [33]–[34][35] In terms of the perceived barriers to instituting an RFID implant for access control in organizations, senior executives stated the following (in order of greatest to least barriers): 61% said health issues, 55% said philosophical issues, 43% said social issues; 36% said cultural issues; 31% said religious issues, and 28% said technological issues.

F. Open-Ended Question

When senior executives were asked if they themselves would adopt an RFID transponder surgically implanted beneath the skin the responses were summarized into three categories-no, unsure, and yes [36]. We present a representative list of these responses below with a future study focused on providing in depth qualitative content analysis.

1) No, I Would Not Get an RFID Implant

“No way would I. Animals are microchipped, not humans.”

“Absurd and unnecessary.”

“I absolutely would not have any such device implanted.”

“Hate it and object strongly.”

“No way.”h

“No thanks.”

“Yuk.”

“Absolutely creepy and unnecessary.”

“Would not consider it.”

“I would leave the job.”

“I don't like the idea one bit. The idea is abhorrent. It is invasive both physically and psychologically. I would never endorse it.”

“Would never have it done.”

“Disagree invading my body's privacy.”

“Absolutely vehemently opposed.”

“This proposal is a total violation of human rights.”

“Yeah right!! and get sent straight to hell! not this little black duck!”

“I do not believe you should put things in your body that God did not supply you with …”

“I wouldn't permit it. This is a disgraceful suggestion. The company does not OWN the employees. Slavery was abolished in developed countries more than 100 years ago. How dare you even suggest such a thing. You should be ashamed.”

“I would sooner stick pins in my eyeballs.”

“It's just !@;#%^-Nazi's???”

2) I am Unsure about Getting an RFID Implant

“A bit overkill for identification purposes.”

“Uncomfortable.”

“Maybe there is an issue with OH&S and personal privacy concern.”

“Unsure.”

“Only if I was paid enough to do this, $100000 minimum.”

“Unsure, seems very robotic.”

“I'm not against this type of device but I would not use it simply for business security.”

“A little skeptical.”

“A little apprehensive about it.”

3) Yes, I would Get an RFID Implant

“Ok, but I would be afraid that it could be used by”

“outside world, say police.”

“Sick!”

“It is a smart idea.”

“It would not be a problem for me, but I own the business so no philosophical issues for me.”

“I'd think it was pretty damn cool.”

SECTION V. Discussion: Perceived Barriers

A. Barrier: Technological Issues

The literature revealed many technological barriers for non-implantable chips; this study suggests this same barrier is also perceived for implantable chips and is likely to be related [37]. More than expected, Indian participants in this study selected technological issues (RFID is inherently an insecure technology) as a barrier in instituting chip implants for access control; no such differences of opinion were found for the other countries in the study. However, the literature revealed in other analyses, that more than expected Indian participants, answered “yes” when asked if implants are a more secure technology for instituting identification/access control in an organization. The findings appear to suggest that although Indian participants perceive RFID implants as a more secure technology when compared with other such methods as manual methods, paper-based, smartcards, or biometric/RFID cards, participants are likely to view this technology as undeveloped and still too emergent. Further research is needed to substantiate this conclusion, although a review of the literature revealed that RFID solution providers are already in abundance in India, with many new companies launching and at a rapid pace. Without standards and regulations, providers are unskilled and uneducated in the technology, providing solutions that often do not prove successful in implementation. Customers then deem the technology as inconsistent and ineffective in its current state. In addition, RFID players undercut each other, providing cheap pricing for cheap, underperforming hardware. Therefore, the preliminary conclusion of the researchers is that adoption of implants in India is likely to be inhibited not only now, but well into the future if the implementations of non-implantable RFID solutions continue to misrepresent the capabilities of the technology. It is likely that far afield to accepting implantable chips, individuals in India would need to be assured of consistency and effectiveness for RFID chip use in non-human applications.

B. Barrier: Philosophical Issues

Fewer than expected Indian participants selected philosophical issues (right of control over one's body) as a barrier; and more than expected, Australian participants selected this as a barrier. The researchers concluded that this is fertile ground for future research [38]. The deep cultural assumptions of each country are likely to influence participants' responses. In example, although Indian philosophies vary, many emphasize the continuity of the soul or spirit, rather than the temporary state of the flesh (the body). Further research would inform these findings through an exploration as to how and why participants in India versus participants in Australia perceive their own right of control over one's body.

C. Barrier: Health Issues

More than expected Indian participants selected health issues (unknown risks related to implants) as a barrier in instituting implants; and, fewer than expected American participants selected this as a barrier. The researchers conclude that these results may be a result of the perceived successes with the current usage of the technology. The literature revealed participants from India are experiencing poor implementations of the technology. Conversely, Americans are increasingly exposed to the use of surgically implanted chips in pets (often with no choice if the pet is adopted from a shelter) and with little or no health issues faced [39]. In addition, segments of the healthcare industry are advocating for RFID for use in the supply chain (e.g. blood supply) with much success. To inform these findings, further research is needed to explore how participants from each country describe the unknown risks related to implants.

SECTION VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, the authors recognize there are significant social implications relative to implanting chips in humans. Although voluntary chipping has been embraced by certain individuals, the chipping of humans is rare and remains mostly a topic of discussion and debate into the future. Privacy and security issues abound and are not to be minimized. However, in the future, we may see an increased demand for, and acceptance of, chipping, especially as the global environment intensifies. When considering the increase in natural disasters over the past two years, the rising tensions between nations such as those faced by India with terrorism by extremists from neighboring countries, and the recent contingency plans to enact border controls to mitigate refugees fleeing failing countries in the Eurozone, the tracking of humans may once again come to the forefront as it did post 9–11 when rescuers raced against the clock to locate survivors in the rubble.

India is of particular interest in this study; participants from this country contributed most in many of the analyses. India is categorized as a developing country (or newly industrialized country) and the second most populous country in the world. The government of India is already utilizing national identification cards housing biometrics, although the rollout has been delayed as officials work to solve issues around cards that can be stolen or misplaced, as well as how to prevent use fraudulently after the cardholder's death. Technological infrastructure is improving in even the more remote regions in India as MNCs (multi-national corporations) are locating business divisions in the country. The findings, set against the backdrop of the literature review, bring to light what seems to be an environment of people more than expected (statistically) open to (and possibly ready for) the technology of implants when compared with developed countries. However ill-informed RFID players in India are selling a low quality product. There appears to be lack of standards and insufficient knowledge of the technology with those who should know the most about the technology. Further research is necessary to not only understand the Indian perspective, but also to better understand the environment now and into the future.

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23. M. G. Michael and K. Michael, "Towards a State of Uberveillance, " IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, vol. 29, pp. 9-16, 2010.

24. S. Rodota and R. Capurro, "Opinion n020: Ethical aspects of ICT Implants in the human body, " in European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologie (EGE), ed, 2005.

25. C. Perakslis and R. Wolk, "Social acceptance of RFID as a biometric security method, " IEEE Symposium on Technology and Society Magazine, vol. 25, pp. 34-42, 2006.

26. C. Perakslis, "Consumer Willingness to Adopt RFID Implants: Do Personality Factors Play a Role in the Acceptance of Uberveillance?, " in Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants, M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., ed Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014, pp. 144-160.

27. A. Donoghue. (2010, March 2, 2010). CeBIT: Quarter Of Germans Happy To Have Chip Implants. Available: http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/cebit-quarter-of-germanshappy-to-have-chip-implants-5590

28. R. Achille, et al., "Ethical Issues to consider for Microchip Implants in Humans, " Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine vol. 3, pp. 77-91, 2012.

29. S. Das. (2009, May 1, 2012). Surveillance: Big Brothers Watching. Available: http://dqindia.ciol.commakesections.asp/09042401.asp

30. M. Krepon and N. Cohn. (2011, May 1, 2012). Crises in South Asia: Trends and Potential Consequences. Available: http://www.stimson.org/books-reports/crises-in-south-Asia-trends-Andconsequences

31. C. Jung, Psychological types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1923 (1971).

32. M. Rothensee and S. Spiekermann, "Between Extreme Rejection and Cautious Acceptance Consumers' Reactions to RFID-Based IS in Retail, " Science Computer Review, vol. 26, pp. 75-86, 2008.

33. K. Michael and M. G. Michael, "The Future Prospects of Embedded Microchips in Humans as Unique Identifiers: The Risks versus the Rewards, " Media, Culture &Society, vol. 35, pp. 78-86, 2013.

34. WND. (October 2, 2006, May 13, 2014). Employees Get Microchip Implants. Available: http://www.wnd.com/2006/02/34751/

35. K. Michael, "Citywatcher.com, " in Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants, M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., ed Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014, pp. 133-143.

36. K. Michael, et al., "Microchip Implants for Employees in the Workplace: Findings from a Multi-Country Survey of Small Business Owners, " presented at the Surveillance and/in Everyday Life: Monitoring Pasts, Presents and Futures, University of Sydney, NSW, 2012.

37. M. N. Gasson, et al., "Human ICT Implants: Technical, Legal and Ethical Considerations, " in Information Technology and Law Series vol. 23, ed: Springer, 2012, p. 184.

38. S. O. Hansson, "Implant ethics, " Journal of Med Ethics, vol. 31, pp. 519-525, 2005.

39. K. Albrecht, "Microchip-induced tumours in laboratory rodents and dogs: A review of literature, " in Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants, M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., ed Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014, pp. 281-318.

Keywords: Radiofrequency identification, Implants, Educational institutions, Organizations, Access control, Australia, transponders, authorisation, microprocessor chips, organisational aspects, radiofrequency identification, institutional microchips, perceived barriers, microchips implant, transnational study, small business owners, RFID transponders, radio frequency identification transponders, employee ID, chip implants,access control, organizations, chi-square analysis, technological issues, philosophical issues, health issues, religious issues, social issues, digital divide, cultural issues, USA, RFID, radio frequency identification, implants, microchips, uberveillance, barriers, access control, employee identification, security, small business, Australia, India, UK

Citation: Christine Perakslis, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Robert Gable, "Perceived barriers for implanting microchips in humans", 2014 IEEE Conference on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century (21CW), Date of Conference: 24-26 June 2014, Date Added to IEEE Xplore: 08 September 2014. DOI: 10.1109/NORBERT.2014.6893929

Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future

Abstract

The social implications of a wide variety of technologies are the subject matter of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT). This paper reviews the SSIT's contributions since the Society's founding in 1982, and surveys the outlook for certain key technologies that may have significant social impacts in the future. Military and security technologies, always of significant interest to SSIT, may become more autonomous with less human intervention, and this may have both good and bad consequences. We examine some current trends such as mobile, wearable, and pervasive computing, and find both dangers and opportunities in these trends. We foresee major social implications in the increasing variety and sophistication of implant technologies, leading to cyborgs and human-machine hybrids. The possibility that the human mind may be simulated in and transferred to hardware may lead to a transhumanist future in which humanity redesigns itself: technology would become society.

SECTION I. Introduction

“Scientists think; engineers make.” Engineering is fundamentally an activity, as opposed to an intellectual discipline. The goal of science and philosophy is to know; the goal of engineering is to do something good or useful. But even in that bare-bones description of engineering, the words “good” and “useful” have philosophical implications.

Because modern science itself has existed for only 400 years or so, the discipline of engineering in the sense of applying scientific knowledge and principles to the satisfaction of human needs and desires is only about two centuries old. But for such a historically young activity, engineering has probably done more than any other single human development to change the face of the material world.

It took until the mid-20th century for engineers to develop the kind of self-awareness that leads to thinking about engineering and technology as they relate to society. Until about 1900, most engineers felt comfortable in a “chain-of-command” structure in which the boss—whether it be a military commander, a corporation, or a wealthy individual—issued orders that were to be carried out to the best of the engineer's technical ability. Fulfillment of duty was all that was expected. But as the range and depth of technological achievements grew, engineers, philosophers, and the public began to realize that we had all better take some time and effort to think about the social implications of technology. That is the purpose of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT): to provide a forum for discussion of the deeper questions about the history, connections, and future trends of engineering, technology, and society.

This paper is not focused on the history or future of any particular technology as such, though we will address several technological issues in depth. Instead, we will review the significant contributions of SSIT to the ongoing worldwide discussion of technology and society, and how technological developments have given rise to ethical, political, and social issues of critical importance to the future. SSIT is the one society in IEEE where engineers and allied professionals are encouraged to be introspective—to think about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what effects their actions will have. We believe the unique perspective of SSIT enables us to make a valuable contribution to the panoply of ideas presented in this Centennial Special Issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE.

 

SECTION II. The Past

A. Brief History of SSIT

SSIT as a technical society in IEEE was founded in 1982, after a decade as the Committee on Social Responsibility in Engineering (CSRE). In 1991, SSIT held its first International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), in Toronto, ON, Canada. Beginning in 1996, the Symposium has been held annually, with venues intentionally located outside the continental United States every few years in order to increase international participation.

SSIT total membership was 1705 as of December 2011. Possibly because SSIT does not focus exclusively on a particular technical discipline, it is rare that SSIT membership is a member's primary connection to IEEE. As SSIT's parent organization seeks ways to increase its usefulness and relevance to the rapidly changing engineering world of the 21st century, SSIT will both chronicle and participate in the changes taking place both in engineering and in society as a whole. for a more detailed history of the first 25 years of SSIT, see [1].

B. Approaches to the Social Implications of Technology

In the historical article referred to above [1], former SSIT president Clint Andrews remarked that there are two distinct intellectual approaches which one can take with regard to questions involving technology and society. The CSIT and the early SSIT followed what he calls the “critical science” approach which “tends to focus on the adverse effects of science and technical change.” Most IEEE societies are organized around a particular set of technologies. The underlying assumption of many in these societies is that these particular technologies are beneficial, and that the central issues to be addressed are technical, e.g., having to do with making the technologies better, faster, and cheaper. Andrews viewed this second “technological optimism” trend as somewhat neglected by SSIT in the past, and expressed the hope that a more balanced approach might attract a larger audience to the organization's publications and activities. It is important to note, however, that from the very beginning, SSIT has called for a greater emphasis on the development of beneficial technology such as environmentally benign energy sources and more efficient electrical devices.

In considering technology in its wider context, issues that are unquestionable in a purely technical forum may become open to question. Technique A may be more efficient and a fraction of the cost of technique B in storing data with similar security provisions, but what if a managed offshore shared storage solution is not the best thing to do under a given set of circumstances? The question of whether A or B is better technologically (and economically) is thus subsumed in the larger question of whether and why the entire technological project is going to benefit anyone, and who it may benefit, and who it may harm. The fact that opening up a discussion to wider questions sometimes leads to answers that cast doubt on the previously unquestioned goodness of a given enterprise is probably behind Andrews' perception that on balance, the issues joined by SSIT have predominantly fallen into the critical-science camp. Just as no one expects the dictates of conscience to be in complete agreement with one's instinctive desires, a person seeking unalloyed technological optimism in the pages or discussions hosted by SSIT will probably be disappointed. But the larger aim is to reach conclusions about technology and society that most of us will be thankful for some day, if not today. Another aim is to ensure that we bring issues to light and propose ways forward to safeguard against negative effects of technologies on society.

C. Major Topic Areas of SSIT

In this section, we will review some (but by no means all) topics that have become recurring themes over the years in SSIT's quarterly peer-reviewed publication, the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. The articles cited are representative only in the sense that they fall into categories that have been dealt with in depth, and are not intended to be a “best of” list. These themes fall into four broad categories: 1) war, military technology (including nuclear weapons), and security issues, broadly defined; 2) energy technologies, policies and related issues: the environment, sustainable development, green technology, climate change, etc.; 3) computers and society, information and communications technologies (ICT), cybersystems, cyborgs, and information-driven technologies; and 4) groups of people who have historically been underprivileged, unempowered, or otherwise disadvantaged: Blacks, women, residents of developing nations, the handicapped, and so on. Education and healthcare also fit in the last category because the young and the ill are in a position of dependence on those in power.

1. Military and Security Issues

Concern about the Vietnam War was a strong motivation for most of the early members of the Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering, the predecessor organization of SSIT. The problem of how and even whether engineers should be involved in the development or deployment of military technology has continued to appear in some form throughout the years, although the end of the Cold War changed the context of the discussion. This category goes beyond formal armed combat if one includes technologies that tend to exert state control or monitoring on the public, such as surveillance technologies and the violation of privacy by various technical means. In the first volume of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine published in 1982, luminaries such as Adm. Bobby R. Inman (ret.) voiced their opinions about Cold War technology [2], and the future trend toward terrorism as a major player in international relations was foreshadowed by articles such as “Technology and terrorism: privatizing public violence,” published in 1991 [3]. Opinions voiced in the Magazine on nuclear technology ranged from Shanebrook's 1999 endorsement of a total global ban on nuclear weapons [4] to Andrews' thorough review of national responses to energy vulnerability, in which he pointed out that France has developed an apparently safe, productive, and economical nuclear-powered energy sector [5]. In 2009, a special section of five articles appeared on the topic of lethal robots and their implications for ethical use in war and peacekeeping operations [6]. And in 2010, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in espionage and surveillance was addressed in a special issue on “Überveillance,” defined by authors M.G. Michael and K. Michael as the use of electronic means to track and gather information on an individual, together with the “deliberate integration of an individual's personal data for the continuous tracking and monitoring of identity and location in real time” [7].

2. Energy and Related Technologies and Issues

from the earliest years of the Society, articles on energy topics such as alternative fuels appeared in the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. A 1983 article on Brazil's then-novel effort to supplement imported oil with alcohol from sugarcane [8] presaged today's controversial U.S. federal mandate for the ethanol content in motor fuels. The Spring 1984 issue hosted a debate on nuclear power generation between H. M. Gueron, director of New York's Con Edison Nuclear Coal and Fuel Supply division at the time [9], and J. J. MacKenzie, a senior staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists [10]. Long before greenhouse gases became a household phrase and bandied about in debates between Presidential candidates, the Magazine published an article examining the need to increase the U.S.'s peak electrical generating capacity because the increase in average temperature due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the demand for air conditioning [11]. The larger implications of global warming apparently escaped the attention of the authors, focused as they were on the power-generating needs of the state of Minnesota. By 1990, the greenhouse effect was of sufficient concern to show up on the legislative agendas of a number of nations, and although Cruver attributed this to the “explosion of doomsday publicity,” he assessed the implications of such legislation for future energy and policy planning [12]. Several authors in a special issue on the social implications of systems concepts viewed the Earth's total environment in terms of a complex system in 2000 [13]. The theme of ISTAS 2009 was the social implications of sustainable development, and this theme was addressed in six articles in the resulting special issue of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine for Fall 2010. The record of speculation, debate, forecasting, and analysis sampled here shows that not only has SSIT carried out its charter by examining the social implications of energy technology and related issues, but also it has shown itself a leader and forerunner in trends that later became large-scale public debates.

3. Computing, Telecommunications, and Cyberspace

Fig. 1. BRLESC-II computer built by U.S. Army personnel for use at the Ballistics Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Grounds between about 1967 and 1978, A. V. Kurian at console. Courtesy of U.S. Army Photos.

In the early years of SSIT, computers were primarily huge mainframes operated by large institutions (Fig. 1). But with the personal computer revolution and especially the explosion of the Internet, SSIT has done its part to chronicle and examine the history, present state, and future trends of the hardware, software, human habits and interactions, and the complex of computer and communications technologies that are typically subsumed under the acronym of ICT.

As we now know, the question of intellectual property has been vastly complicated by the ready availability of peer-to-peer software, high-speed network connections, and legislation passed to protect such rights. In a paper published in 1998, Davis addressed the question of protection of intellectual property in cyberspace [14]. As the Internet grew, so did the volume of papers on all sorts of issues it raised, from the implications of electronic profiling [15] to the threats and promises of facial recognition technology [16]. One of the more forward-looking themes addressed in the pages of the Magazine came in 2005 with a special issue on sustainable pervasive computing [17]. This issue provides an example of how both the critical science and the technological optimism themes cited by Andrews above can be brought together in a single topic. And to show that futuristic themes are not shirked by the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine authors, in 2011 Clarke speculated in an article entitled “Cyborg rights” on the limits and problems that may come as people physically merge with increasingly advanced hardware (implanted chips, sensory enhancements, and so on) [18].

4. Underprivileged Groups

Last but certainly not least, the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine have hosted articles inspired by the plight of underprivileged peoples, broadly defined. This includes demographic groups such as women and ethnic minorities and those disadvantaged by economic issues, such as residents of developing countries. While the young and the ill are not often formally recognized as underprivileged in the conventional sense, in common with other underprivileged groups they need society's help in order to survive and thrive, in the form of education and healthcare, respectively. An important subset of education is the theme of engineering ethics, a subject of vital interest to many SSIT members and officials since the organization's founding.

In its first year, the Magazine carried an article on ethical issues in decision making [19]. A special 1998 issue on computers and the Internet as used in the K-12 classroom explored these matters in eight focused articles [20]. The roles of ethics and professionalism in the personal enjoyment of engineering was explored by Florman (author of the book The Introspective Engineer) in an interview with the Magazine's managing editor Terri Bookman in 2000 [21]. An entire special issue was devoted to engineering ethics in education the following year, after changes in the U.S. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's policies made it appear that ethics might receive more attention in college engineering curricula [22].

The IEEE Technology & Society Magazine has hosted many articles on the status of women, both as a demographic group and as a minority in the engineering profession. Articles and special issues on themes involving women have on occasion been the source of considerable controversy, even threatening the organization's autonomy at one point [1, p. 9]. In 1999, ISTAS was held for the first time in conjunction with two other IEEE entities: the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee and the IEEE History Center. The resulting special issue that came out in 2000 carried articles as diverse as the history of women in the telegraph industry [23], the challenges of being both a woman and an engineering student [24], and two articles on technology and the sex industry [25], [26].

Engineering education in a global context was the theme of a Fall 2005 special issue of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, and education has been the focus of several special issues and ISTAS meetings over the years [27]–[28][29]. The recent development termed “humanitarian engineering” was explored in a special issue only two years ago, in 2010 [30]. Exemplified by the U.S.-based Engineers without Borders organization, these engineers pursue projects, and sometimes careers, based not only on profit and market share, but also on the degree to which they can help people who might not otherwise benefit from their engineering talents.

SECTION III. The Present

Fig. 2.  Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Fig. 2. Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Emerging technologies that will act to shape the next few years are complex in their makeup with highly meshed value chains that resemble more a process or service than an individual product [31]. At the heart of this development is convergence: convergence in devices, convergence in applications, convergence in content, and convergence in infrastructure. The current environment is typified by the move toward cloud computing solutions and Web 2.0 social media platforms with ubiquitous access via a myriad of mobile or fixed devices, some of which will be wearable on people and animals (Fig. 2) or embedded in systems (e.g., vehicles and household appliances).

Simultaneous with these changes are the emergence of web services that may or may not require a human operator for decision making in a given business process, reliance upon data streams from automatic identification devices [e.g., radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags], the accuracy and reliability of location-based services [e.g., using Global Positioning Systems (GPS)] and condition monitoring techniques (e.g., using sensors to measure temperature or other physiological data). Most of this new technology will be invisibly located in miniaturized semiconductors which are set to reach such economies of scale, that it is commonly noted by technology evangelists that every single living and nonliving thing will come equipped with a chip “on board.”

Fig. 3. Business woman checking in for an interstate trip using an electronic ticket sent to her mobile phone. Her phone also acts as a mobile payment mechanism and has built-in location services features. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

The ultimate vision of a Web of Things and People (WoTaP)—smart homes using smart meters, smart cars using smart roads, smart cities using smart grids—is one where pervasive and embedded systems will play an active role toward sustainability and renewable energy efficiency. The internetworked environment will need to be facilitated by a fourth-generation mobility capability which will enable even higher amounts of bandwidth to the end user as well as seamless communication and coordination by intelligence built into the cloud. Every smart mobile transaction will be validated by a precise location and linked back to a subject (Fig. 3).

In the short term, some of the prominent technologies that will impact society will be autonomous computing systems with built-in ambient intelligence which will amalgamate the power of web services and artificial intelligence (AI) through multiagent systems, robotics, and video surveillance technologies (e.g., even the use of drones) (Fig. 4). These technologies will provide advanced business and security intelligence. While these systems will lead to impressive uses in green initiatives and in making direct connections between people and dwellings, people and artifacts, and even people and animals, they will require end users to give up personal information related to identity, place, and condition to be drawn transparently from smart devices.

Fig. 4.  A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

Fig. 4. A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

The price of all of this will be that very little remains private any longer. While the opportunities that present themselves with emerging technologies are enormous with a great number of positive implications for society—for instance, a decrease in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities, a reduction in the carbon emission footprint by each household, greater social interconnectedness, etc.—ultimately these gains too will be susceptible to limitations. Who the designated controller is and what they will do with the acquired data is something we can only speculate about. We return then, to the perennial question of “who will guard the guards themselves”: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [32]

A. Mobile and Pervasive Computing

In our modern world, data collection from many of our most common activities begins from the moment we step out our front door in the morning until we go to sleep at night. In addition to near-continual data collection, we have become a society of people that voluntarily broadcasts to the world a great deal of personal information. Vacation photos, major life events, and trivialities such as where we are having dinner to our most mundane thoughts, all form part of the stream of data through which we electronically share our inner lives. This combination of the data that is collected about us and the data that is freely shared by us could form a breathtakingly detailed picture of an individual's life, if it could ever all be collected in one place. Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate that most of this data was historically never correlated and is usually highly anonymized. However, in general, it is becoming easier to correlate and deanonymize data sets.

1. Following Jane Doe's Digital Data Trail

Let us consider a hypothetical “highly tracked” individual [33]. Our Jane Doe leaves for work in the morning, and gets in her Chevrolet Impala, which has OnStar service to monitor her car. OnStar will contact emergency services if Jane has an accident, but will also report to the manufacturer any accident or mechanical failure the car's computer is aware of [34]. Jane commutes along a toll road equipped with electronic toll collection (ETC). The electronic toll system tracks where and at what time Jane enters and leaves the toll road (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. The ERP uses a dedicated short-range radio communication system to deduct ERP charges from CashCards. These are inserted in the in-vehicle units of vehicles before each journey. Each time vehicles pass through a gantry when the system is in operation, the ERP charges are automatically deducted. Courtesy of Katina Michael 2003.

When she gets to work, she uses a transponder ID card to enter the building she works in (Fig. 6), which logs the time she enters and by what door. She also uses her card to log into the company's network for the morning. Her company's Internet firewall software monitors any websites she visits. At lunch, she eats with colleagues at a local restaurant. When she gets there, she “checks in” using a geolocation application on her phone—for doing so, the restaurant rewards her with a free appetizer [35].

 

Fig. 6. Employee using a contactless smart card to gain entry to her office premises. The card is additionally used to access elevators in the building, rest rooms, and secure store areas, and is the only means of logging into the company intranet. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

She then returns to work for the afternoon, again using her transponder ID badge to enter. After logging back into the network, she posts a review of the restaurant on a restaurant review site, or maybe a social networking site. At the end of the work day, Jane logs out and returns home along the same toll road, stopping to buy groceries at her local supermarket on the way. When she checks out at the supermarket, she uses her customer loyalty card to automatically use the store's coupons on her purchases. The supermarket tracks Jane's purchases so it can alert her when things she buys regularly are on sale.

During Jane's day, her movements were tracked by several different systems. During almost all of the time she spent out of the house, her movements were being followed. But Jane “opted in” to almost all of that tracking; it was her choice as the benefits she received outweighed her perceived costs. The toll collection transponder in her car allows her to spend less time in traffic [36]. She is happy to share her buying habits with various merchants because those merchants reward her for doing so [37]. In this world it is all about building up bonus points and getting rewarded. Sharing her opinions on review and social networking sites lets Jane keep in touch with her friends and lets them know what she is doing.

While many of us might choose to allow ourselves to be monitored for the individual benefits that accrue to us personally, the data being gathered about collective behaviors are much more valuable to business and government agencies. Clarke developed the notion of dataveillance to give a name to the “systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring of the actions or communications of one or more persons” in the 1980s [38]. ETC is used by millions of people in many countries. The more people who use it, as opposed to paying tolls at tollbooths, the faster traffic can flow for everyone. Everyone also benefits when ETC allows engineers to better monitor traffic flows and plan highway construction to avoid the busiest times of traffic. Geolocation applications let businesses reward first-time and frequent customers, and they can follow traffic to their business and see what customers do and do not like. Businesses such as grocery stores or drug stores that use customer loyalty cards are able to monitor buying trends to see what is popular and when. Increasingly shoppers are being introduced to the near-field communication (NFC) capability on their third-generation (3G) smartphone (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Purchasing grocery items effortlessly by using the near-field communication (NFC) capability on your 3G smartphone. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

Some of these constant monitoring tools are truly personal and are controlled by and report back only to the user [39]. for example, there are now several adaptive home thermostat systems that learn a user's temperature preferences over time and allow users to track their energy usage and change settings online. for the health conscious, “sleep monitoring” systems allow users to track not only the hours of sleep they get per night, but also the percentage of time spent in light sleep versus rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and their overall “sleep quality” [40].

Fig. 8. Barcodes printed on individual packaged items on pallets. Order information is shown on the forklift's on-board laptop and the driver scans items that are being prepared for shipping using a handheld gun to update inventory records wirelessly. Courtesy AirData Pty Ltd, Motorola Premier Business Partner, 2009.

Businesses offer and customers use various mobile and customer tracking services because the offer is valued by both parties (Fig. 8). However, serious privacy and legal issues continue to arise [41]. ETC records have been subpoenaed in both criminal and civil cases [42]. Businesses in liquidation have sold their customer databases, violating the privacy agreements they gave to their customers when they were still in business. Geolocation services and social media that show a user's location or allow them to share where they have been or where they are going can be used in court cases to confirm or refute alibis [43].

 

Near-constant monitoring and reporting of our lives will only grow as our society becomes increasingly comfortable sharing more and more personal details (Fig. 9). In addition to the basic human desire to tell others about ourselves, information about our behavior as a group is hugely valuable to both governments and businesses. The benefits to individuals and to society as a whole are great, but the risks to privacy are also significant [44]. More information about group behaviors can let us allocate resources more efficiently, plan better for future growth, and generate less waste. More information about our individual patterns can allow us to do the same thing on a smaller scale—to waste less fuel heating our homes when there is no one present, or to better understand our patterns of human activity.

 

Fig. 9. A five step overview of how the Wherify location-based service works. The information retrieved by this service included a breadcrumb of each location (in table and map form), a list of time and date stamps, latitude and longitude coordinates, nearest street address, and location type. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2009.

 

B. Social Computing

When we think of human evolution, we often think of biological adaptions to better survive disease or digest foods. But our social behaviors are also a product of evolution. Being able to read facial expressions and other nonverbal cues is an evolved trait and an essential part of human communication. In essence, we have evolved as a species to communicate face to face. Our ability to understand verbal and nonverbal cues has been essential to our ability to function in groups and therefore our survival [45].

The emoticon came very early in the life of electronic communication. This is not surprising, given just how necessary using facial expressions to give context to written words was to the casual and humor-filled atmosphere of the Internet precursors. Many other attempts to add context to the quick, casual writing style of the Internet have been made, mostly with less success. Indeed, the problem of communication devolving from normal conversations to meaningless shouting matches has been around almost as long as electronic communication itself. More recently, the “anonymous problem”—the problem of people anonymously harassing others without fear of response or retribution—has come under discussion in online forums and communities. And of course, we have seen the recent tragic consequences of cyberbullying [46]. In general, people will be much crueler to other people online than they would ever be in person; many of our evolved social mechanisms depend on seeing and hearing who we are communicating with.

The question we are faced with is this: Given that we now exist and interact in a world that our social instincts were not evolved to handle, how will we adapt to the technology, or more likely, how will the technology we use to communicate with adapt to us? We are already seeing the beginning of that adaptation: more and more social media sites require a “real” identity tied to a valid e-mail address. And everywhere on the Internet, “reputation” is becoming more and more important [177].

Reference sites, such as Wikipedia, control access based on reputation: users gain more privileges on the site to do things such as editing controversial topics or banning other users based on their contributions to the community—writing and editing articles or contributing to community discussions. On social media and review sites, users that are not anonymous have more credibility, and again reputation is gained with time and contribution to the community.

It is now becoming standard practice for social media of all forms to allow users to control who can contact them and make it very easy to block unwanted contact. In the future, these trends will be extended. Any social media site with a significant amount of traffic will have a way for users to build and maintain a reputation and to control access accordingly. The shift away from anonymity is set to continue and this is also evident in the way search engine giants, like Google, are updating their privacy statements—from numerous policies down to one. Google states: “When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services” [47].

Fig. 10. Wearable high-definition video calling and recording attire. Courtesy of Xybernaut 2002.

When people use technology to socialize, they are often doing it on mobile platforms. Therefore, the futures of social and mobile computing are inevitably intertwined. The biggest change that is coming to the shared mobile/social computing space is the final spread of WiFi and high-density mobile phone networks. There are still huge geographical areas where there is no way of wirelessly connecting to the Internet or where the connection is so slow as to be unusable. As high-speed mobile Internet spreads, extra bandwidth could help the problems inherent in communicating without being able to see the other person. High-definition (HD) video calling on mobile phones will make person-to-person communications easier and more context rich (Fig. 10). HD video calling and conferencing will make everything from business meetings to long-distance relationships easier by allowing the participants to pick up on unspoken cues.

 

As more and more of our social interactions go online, the online world will be forced to adapt to our evolved human social behaviors. It will become much more like offline communication, with reputation and community standing being deeply important. True anonymity will become harder and harder to come by, as the vast majority of social media will require some proof of identity. for example, this practice is already occurring in countries like South Korea [48].

While we cannot predict all the ways in which our online interactions will become more immersive, we can say for certain that they will. The beauty of all of these changes will be that it will become as easy to maintain or grow a personal relationship on the other side of the world as it would be across town. As countries and regions currently without high-speed data networks come online, they can integrate into a new global community allowing us all to know each other with a diverse array of unknown consequences.

C. Wearable Computing

Fig. 11. The prototype GPS Locator for Children with a built-in pager, a request for 911, GPS technology, and a key fob to manually lock and unlock the locator. This specific device is no longer being marketed, despite the apparent need in some contexts. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2003.

According to Siewiorek [49, p. 82], the first wearable device was prototyped in 1961 but it was not until 1991 that the term “wearable computer” was first used by a research group at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). This coincided with the rise of the laptop computer, early models of which were known as “luggables.” Wearable computing can be defined as “anything that can be put on and adds to the user's awareness of his or her environment …mostly this means wearing electronics which have some computational power” [50, p. 2012]. While the term “wearables” is generally used to describe wearable displays and custom computers in the form of necklaces, tiepins, and eyeglasses, the definition has been broadened to incorporate iPads, iPods, personal digital assistants (PDAs), e-wallets, GPS watches (Fig. 11), and other mobile accessories such as smartphones, smart cards, and electronic passports that require the use of belt buckles or clip-on satchels attached to conventional clothing [51, p. 330]. The iPlant (Internet implant) is probably not far off either [52].

 

Wearable computing has reinvented the way we work and go about our day-to-day business and is set to make even greater changes in the foreseeable future [53]. In 2001, it was predicted that highly mobile professionals would be taking advantage of smart devices to “check messages, finish a presentation, or browse the Web while sitting on the subway or waiting in line at a bank” [54, p. 44]. This vision has indeed been realized but devices like netbooks are still being lugged around instead of worn in the true sense.

The next phase of wearables will be integrated into our very clothing and accessories, some even pointing to the body itself being used as an input mechanism. Harrison of Carnegie Mellon's Human–Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) produced Skinput with Microsoft researchers that makes the body that travels everywhere with us, one giant touchpad [55]. These are all exciting innovations and few would deny the positives that will come from the application of this cutting-edge research. The challenge will be how to avoid rushing this technology into the marketplace without the commensurate testing of prototypes and the due consideration of function creep. Function or scope creep occurs when a device or application is used for something other than it was originally intended.

Early prototypes of wearable computers throughout the 1980s and 1990s could have been described as outlandish, bizarre, or even weird. for the greater part, wearable computing efforts have focused on head-mounted displays (a visual approach) that unnaturally interfered with human vision and made proximity to others cumbersome [56, p. 171]. But the long-term aim of researchers is to make wearable computing inconspicuous as soon as technical improvements allow for it (Fig. 12). The end user should look as “normal” as possible [57, p. 177].

 

Fig. 12. Self-portraits of Mann with wearable computing kit from the 1980s to the 1990s. Prof. Mann started working on his WearComp invention as far back as his high school days in the 1970s. Courtesy of Steve Mann.

New technologies like the “Looxcie” [58] wearable recorders have come a long way since the clunky point-of-view head-mounted recording devices of the 1980s, allowing people to effortlessly record and share their life as they experience it in different contexts. Mann has aptly coined the term sousveillance. This is a type of inverse panopticon, sous (below) and veiller (to watch) stemming from the French words. A whole body of literature has emerged around the notion of sousveillance which refers to the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. The glogger.mobi online platform demonstrates the great power of sousveillance. But there are still serious challenges, such as privacy concerns, that need to be overcome if wearable computing is to become commonplace [59]. Just like Google has created StreetView, can the individual participate in PersonView without his neighbor's or stranger's consent [7] despite the public versus private space debate? Connected to privacy is also the critical issue of autonomy (and if we were to agree with Kant, human dignity), that is, our right to make informed and uncoerced decisions.

While mass-scale commercial production of wearable clothing is still some time away, some even calling it the unfulfilled pledge [60], shirts with simple memory functions have been developed and tested. Sensors will play a big part in the functionality of the smartware helping to determine the environmental context, and undergarments closest to the body will be used for body functions such as the measurement of temperature, blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. for now, however, the aim is to develop ergonomically astute wearable computing that is actually useful to the end user. Head-mounted displays attached to the head with a headband may be practical for miners carrying out occupational health and safety (OH&S) but are unattractive for everyday consumer users. Displays of the next generation will be mounted or concealed within eyeglasses themselves [61, p. 48].

Mann [57, p. 31] predicts that wearable computing will become so common one day, interwoven into every day clothing-based computing, that “we will no doubt feel naked, confused, and lost without a computer screen hovering in front of our eyes to guide us,” just like we would feel our nakedness without the conventional clothing of today.

1. Wearables in the Medical Domain

Unsurprisingly, wearables have also found a niche market in the medical domain. In the mid-1990s, researchers began to describe a small wearable device that continuously monitored glucose levels so that the right amount of insulin was calculated for the individual reducing the incidence of hypoglycemic episodes [62]. The Glucoday [63] and GlucoChip [64] are just two products demonstrating the potential to go beyond wearables toward in vivo techniques in medical monitoring.

Medical wearables even have the capability to check and monitor products in one's blood [65, p. 88]. Today medical wearable device applications include: “monitoring of myocardial ischemia, epileptic seizure detection, drowsiness detection …physical therapy feedback, such as for stroke victim rehabilitation, sleep apnea monitoring, long-term monitoring for circadian rhythm analysis of heart rate variability (HRV)” [66, p. 44].

Some of the current shortcomings of medical wearables are similar to those of conventional wearables, namely the size and the weight of the device which can be too large and too heavy. In addition, wearing the devices for long periods of time can be irritating due to the number of sensors that may be required to be worn for monitoring. The gel applied for contact resistance between the electrode and the skin can also dry up, which is a nuisance. Other obstacles to the widespread diffusion of medical wearables include government regulations and the manufacturers' requirement for limited liability in the event that an incorrect diagnosis is made by the equipment.

But much has been improved in the products of wearables over the past ten years. Due to commensurate breakthroughs in the miniaturization of computing components, wearable devices are now usually quite small. Consider Toumaz Technology's Digital Plaster invention known as the Sensium Life Pebble TZ203002 (Fig. 13). The Digital Plaster contains a Sensium silicon chip, powered by a tiny battery, which sends data via a cell phone or a PDA to a central computer database. The Life Pebble has the ability to enable continuous, auditable acquisition of physiological data without interfering with the patient's activities. The device can continuously monitor electrocardiogram (ECG), heart rate, physical activity, and skin temperature. In an interview with M. G. Michael in 2006, Toumazou noted how the Digital Plaster had been applied in epilepsy control and depression. He said that by monitoring the electrical and chemical responses they could predict the onset of either a depressive episode or an epileptic fit; and then once predicted the nerve could be stimulated to counter the seizure [67]. He added that this truly signified “personal healthcare.”

Fig. 13. Prof. Christofer Toumazou with a patient wearing the “digital plaster”; a tiny electronic device meant to be embedded in ordinary medical plaster that includes sensors for monitoring health-related metadata such as blood pressure, temperature, and glucose levels. Courtesy of Toumaz Technology 2008.

 

D. Robots and Unmanned Aerial Systems and Vehicles

Fig. 14. Predator Drone aircraft: this plane comes in the armed and reconnaissance versions and the models are known as RQ-1 and MQ-1.

Autonomous systems are those which are self-governed. In practice, there are many degrees of autonomy ranging from the highly constrained and supervised to unconstrained and intelligent. Some systems are referred to as “semiautonomous” in order to suggest that the machines are tasked or supervised by a human operator. An unmanned vehicle may be a remotely piloted “dumb” vehicle or an autonomous vehicle (Fig. 14). Robots may be designed to perform repetitive tasks in a highly constrained environment or with intelligence and a high level of autonomy to make judgments in a dynamic and unpredictable environment. As technology advancements allow for a high level of autonomy and expansion from industrial applications to caregiving and warfighting, society is coming to grips with the present and the future of increasingly autonomous systems in our homes, workplaces, and battlefields.

 

Robot ethics, particularly with respect to autonomous weapons systems, has received increasing attention in the last few years [68]. While some call for an outright stop to the development of such technology [69], others seek to shape the technology with ethical and moral implications in mind [6], [70]–[71][72][73]. Driving robotics weapons development underground or refusing to engage in dialog over the ethical issues will not give ethicists an opportunity to participate in shaping the design and use of such weapons. Arkin [6] and Operto [74], among others, argue that engineers must not shy away from these ethical challenges. Furthermore, the technological cat is out of the bag: “Autonomy is subtle in its development—it is occurring in a step-by-step process, rather than through the creation of a disruptive invention. It is far less likely that we will have a sudden development of a ‘positronic brain’ or its equivalent, but rather a continual and gradual relinquishment of authority to machines through the constant progress of science, as we have already seen in automated trains, elevators, and numerous other examples, that have vanished into the background noise of civilization. Autonomy is already here by some definitions” [70].

The evolution of the development and deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and other autonomous or semiautonomous systems has outpaced the analysis of social implications and ethics of their design and use [70], [75]. Sullivan argues that the evolution of unmanned vehicles for military deployment should not be confused with the more general trend of increasing autonomy in military applications [75]. Use of robots often provides a tactical advantage due to sensors, data processing, and physical characteristics that outperform humans. Robots can act without emotion, bias, or self-preservation influencing judgment, which may be a liability or advantage. Risks to robot deployment in the military, healthcare industry, and elsewhere include trust of autonomous systems (a lack of, or too much) and diffusion of blame or moral buffering [6], [72].

for such critical applications in the healthcare domain, and lethal applications in weapons, the emotional and physical distance of operating a remote system (e.g., drone strikes via video-game style interface) may negatively influence the moral decision making of the human operator or supervisor, while also providing some benefit of emotional protection against post-traumatic stress disorder [71], [72]. Human–computer interfaces can promote ethical choices in the human operator through thoughtful or model-based design as suggested by Cummings [71] and Asaro [72].

for ethical behavior of the autonomous system itself, Arkin proposes that robot soldiers could be more humane than humans, if technologically constrained to the laws of war and rules of engagement, which they could follow without the distortions of emotion, bias, or a sense of self-preservation [6], [70]. Asaro argues that such laws are not, in fact, objective and static but rather meant for human interpretation for each case, and therefore could not be implemented in an automated system [72]. More broadly, Operto [74] agrees that a robot (in any application) can only act within the ethics incorporated into its laws, but that a learning robot, in particular, may not behave as its designers anticipate.

Fig. 15. Kotaro, a humanoid roboter created at the University of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan), presented at the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz (Linz, Austra) during the Ars Electronica Festival 2008. Courtesy of Manfred Werner-Tsui.

Robot ethics is just one part of the landscape of social implications for autonomous systems. The field of human–robot interaction explores how robot interfaces and socially adaptive robots influence the social acceptance, usability, and safety of robots [76] (Fig. 15). for example, robots used for social assistance and care, such as for the elderly and small children, introduce a host of new social implications questions. Risks of developing an unhealthy attachment or loss of human social contact are among the concerns raised by Sharkey and Sharkey [77]. Interface design can influence these and other risks of socially assistive robots, such as a dangerous misperception of the robot's capabilities or a compromise of privacy [78].

 

Autonomous and unmanned systems have related social implication challenges. Clear accountability and enforcing morality are two common themes in the ethical design and deployment of such systems. These themes are not unique to autonomous and unmanned systems, but perhaps the science fiction view of robots run amok raises the question “how can we engineer a future where we can benefit from these technologies while maintaining our humanity?”

 

SECTION IV. The Future

Great strides are being taken in the field of biomedical engineering: the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field [79]. New technologies such as prospective applications of nanotechnology, microcircuitry (e.g., implantables), and bionics will heal and give hope to many who are suffering from life-debilitating and life-threatening diseases [80]. The lame will walk again. The blind will see just as the deaf have heard. The dumb will sing. Even bionic tongues are on the drawing board. Hearts and kidneys and other organs will be built anew. The fundamental point is that society at large should be able to distinguish between positive and negative applications of technological advancements before we diffuse and integrate such innovations into our day-to-day existence.

The Bionics Institute [81], for instance, is future-focused on the possibilities of bionic hearing, bionic vision, and neurobionics, stating: “Medical bionics is not just a new frontier of medical science, it is revolutionizing what is and isn't possible. Where once there was deafness, there is now the bionic ear. And where there was blindness, there may be a bionic eye.” The Institute reaffirms its commitment to continuing innovative research and leading the way on the proposed “world-changing revolution.”

A. Cochlear Implants—Helping the Deaf to Hear

Fig. 16. Cochlear's Nucleus Freedom implant with Contour Advance electrode which is impervious to magnetic fields up to 1.5 Tesla. Courtesy of Cochlear Australia.

In 2000, more than 32 000 people worldwide already had cochlear implants [82], thanks to the global efforts of people such as Australian Professor Graeme Clark, the founder of Cochlear, Inc. [83]. Clark performed his first transplant in Rod Saunder's left ear at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, on August 1, 1978, when “he placed a box of electronics under Saunders's skin and a bundle of electrodes in his inner ear” [84]. In 2006, that number had grown to about 77 500 for the nucleus implant (Fig. 16) alone which had about 70% of the market share [85]. Today, there are over 110 000 cochlear implant recipients, about 30 000 annually, and their personal stories are testament enough to the ways in which new technologies can change lives dramatically for the better [86]. Cochlear implants can restore hearing to people who have severe hearing loss, a form of diagnosed deafness. Unlike a standard hearing aid that works like an amplifier, the cochlear implant acts like a microphone to change sound into electronic signals. Signals are sent to the microchip implant via radio frequency (RF), stimulating nerve fibers in the inner ear. The brain then interprets the signals that are transmitted via the nerves to be sound.

 

Today, cochlear implants (which are also commonly known as bionic ears) are being used to overcome deafness; tomorrow, they may be open to the wider public as a performance-enhancing technique [87, pp. 10–11]. Audiologist Steve Otto of the Auditory Brainstem Implant Project at the House Ear Institute (Los Angeles, CA) predicts that one day “implantable devices [will] interface microscopically with parts of the normal system that are still physiologically functional” [88]. He is quoted as saying that this may equate to “ESP for everyone.” Otto's prediction that implants will one day be used by persons who do not require them for remedial purposes has been supported by numerous other high profile scientists. A major question is whether this is the ultimate trajectory of these technologies.

for Christofer Toumazou, however, Executive Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London (London, U.K.), there is a clear distinction between repairing human functions and creating a “Superman.” He said, “trying to give someone that can hear super hearing is not fine.” for Toumazou, the basic ethical paradigm should be that we hope to repair the human and not recreate the human [67].

B. Retina Implants—On a Mission to Help the Blind to See

Fig. 17. Visual cortical implant designed by Prof. Mohamad Sawan, a researcher at Polystim Neurotechnologies Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal (Montreal, QC, Canada). The basic principle of Prof. Sawan's technology consists of stimulating the visual cortex by implanting a silicon microchip on a network of electrodes, made of biocompatible materials, wherein each electrode injects a stimulating electrical current in order to provoke a series of luminous points to appear (an array of pixels) in the field of vision of the blind person. This system is composed of two distinct parts: the implant and an external controller. Courtesy of Mohamad Sawan 2009, made available under Creative Commons License.

The hope is that retina implants will be as successful as cochlear implants in the future [89]. Just as cochlear implants cannot be used for persons suffering from complete deafness, retina implants are not a solution for totally blind persons but rather those suffering from aged macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Retina implants have brought together medical researchers, electronic specialists, and software designers to develop a system that can be implanted inside the eye [90]. A typical retina implant procedure is as follows: “[s]urgeons make a pinpoint opening in the retina to inject fluid in order to lift a portion of the retina from the back of the eye, creating a pocket to accommodate the chip. The retina is resealed over the chip, and doctors inject air into the middle of the eye to force the retina back over the device and close the incisions” [91] (Fig. 17).

 

Brothers Alan and Vincent Chow, one an engineer, the other an ophthalmologist, developed the artificial silicon retina (ASR) and began the company Optobionics Corporation in 1990. This was a marriage between biology and engineering: “In landmark surgeries at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center …the first artificial retinas made from silicon chips were implanted in the eyes of two blind patients who have lost almost all of their vision because of retinal disease.” In 1993, Branwyn [92, p. 3] reported that a team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Dr. Hambrecht, implanted a 38-electrode array into a blind female's brain. It was reported that she saw simple light patterns and was able to make out crude letters. The following year the same procedure was conducted by another group on a blind male resulting in the man seeing a black dot with a yellow ring around it. Rizzo of Harvard Medical School's Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (Boston, MA) has cautioned that it is better to talk down the possibilities of the retina implant so as not to give false hopes. The professor himself had expressed that they are dealing with “science fiction stuff” and that there are no long-term guarantees that the technology will ever fully restore sight, although significant progress is being made by a number of research institutes [93, p. 5].

Among these pioneers are researchers at The Johns Hopkins University Medical Center (Baltimore, MD). Brooks [94, p. 4] describes how the retina chip developed by the medical center will work: “a kind of miniature digital camera…is placed on the surface of the retina. The camera relays information about the light that hits it to a microchip implanted nearby. This chip then delivers a signal that is fed back to the retina, giving it a big kick that stimulates it into action. Then, as normal, a signal goes down the optic nerve and sight is at least partially restored.” In 2009, at the age of 56, Barbara Campbell had an array of electrodes implanted in each eye [95] and while her sight is nowhere near fully restored, she is able to make out shapes and see shades of light and dark. Experts believe that this approach is still more realistic in restoring sight to those suffering from particular types of blindness, even more than stem cell therapy, gene therapy, or eye transplants [96] where the risks still outweigh the advantages.

C. Tapping Into the Heart and Brain

Fig. 18. An artificial pacemaker from St. Jude Medical (St. Paul, MN), with electrode 2007. Courtesy of Steven Fruitsmaak.

If it was possible as far back as 1958 to successfully implant two transistors the size of an ice hockey puck in the heart of a 43 year old man [97], the things that will become possible by 2020 are constrained by the imagination as much as by technological limitations. Heart pacemakers (Fig. 18) are still being further developed today, but for the greater part, researchers are turning their attention to the possibilities of brain pacemakers. In the foreseeable future brain implants may help sufferers of Parkinson's, paralysis, nervous system problems, speech-impaired persons, and even cancer patients. The research is still in its formative years and the obstacles are great because of the complexity of the brain; but scientists are hopeful of major breakthroughs in the next 20 years.

 

The brain pacemaker endeavors are bringing together people from a variety of disciplines, headed mainly by neurosurgeons. By using brain implants electrical pulses can be sent directly to nerves via electrodes. The signals can be used to interrupt incoherent messages to nerves that cause uncontrollable movements or tremors. By tapping into the right nerves in the brain, particular reactions can be achieved. Using a technique that was discovered almost accidentally in France in 1987, the following extract describes the procedure of “tapping into” the brain: “Rezai and a team of functional neurosurgeons, neurologists and nurses at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio had spent the next few hours electronically eavesdropping on single cells in Joan's brain attempting to pinpoint the precise trouble spot that caused a persistent, uncontrollable tremor in her right hand. Once confident they had found the spot, the doctors had guided the electrode itself deep into her brain, into a small duchy of nerve cells within the thalamus. The hope was that when sent an electrical current to the electrode, in a technique known as deep-brain stimulation, her tremor would diminish, and perhaps disappear altogether” [98]. Companies such as Medtronic Incorporated of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) now specialize in brain pacemakers [98]. Medtronic's Activa implant has been designed specifically for sufferers of Parkinson's disease [93].

More recently, there has been some success with ameliorating epileptic attacks through closed-loop technology, also known as smart stimulation. The implant devices can detect an onset of epileptiform activity through a demand-driven process. This means that the battery power in the active implant lasts longer because of increased efficiency, i.e., it is not always stimulating in anticipation of an attack, and adverse effects of having to remove and install new implants more frequently are forgone [99]. Similarly, it has been said that technology such as deep brain stimulation, which has physicians implant electrodes in the brain and electrical pacemakers in the patient's clavicle for Parkinson's Disease, may well be used to overcome problems with severely depressed persons [100].

Currently, the technology is being used to treat thousands of people who are severely depressed or suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who have been unable to respond to other forms of treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) [101]. It is estimated that 10% of people suffering from depression do not respond to conventional methods. Although hard figures are difficult to obtain, several thousands of depressed persons worldwide have had brain pacemakers installed that have software which can be updated wirelessly and remotely. The trials have been based on decades of research by Prof. Helen Mayberg, from Emory University School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA), who first began studying the use of subcallosal cingulate gyrus deep brain stimulation (SCG DBS) for depression in 1990.

In her research, Mayberg has used a device that is no larger than a matchbox with a battery-powered generator that sits in the chest and produces electric currents. The currents are sent to an area deep in the brain via tiny wires which are channeled under the skin on either side of the neck. Surprisingly the procedure to have this type of implant installed only requires local anesthetic and is an outpatient procedure. In 2005, Mayberg told a meeting at the Science Media Centre in London: “This is a very new way to think about the nature of depression …We are not just exciting the brain, we are using electricity to retune and remodulate…We can interrupt or switch off an abnormally functioning circuit” [102].

Ongoing trials today continue to show promising results. The outcome of a 20-patient clinical trial of persons with depression treated with SCG DBS published in 2011, showed that: “At 1 year, 11 (55%) responded to surgery with a greater than 50% reduction in 17-item Hamilton Depression Scale scores. Seven patients (35%) achieved or were within 1 point of achieving remission (scores < 8). Of note, patients who responded to surgery had a significant improvement in mood, anxiety, sleep, and somatic complains related to the disease. Also important was the safety of the procedure, with no serious permanent adverse effects or changes in neuropsychological profile recorded” [103].

Despite the early signs that these procedures may offer long-term solutions for hundreds of thousands of people, some research scientists believe that tapping into the human brain is a long shot. The brain is commonly understood to be “wetware” and plugging in hardware into this “wetware” would seem to be a type mismatch, at least according to Steve Potter, a senior research fellow in biology working at the California Institute of Technology's Biological Imaging Center (Pasadena, CA). Instead Potter is pursuing the cranial route as a “digital gateway to the brain” [88]. Others believe that it is impossible to figure out exactly what all the millions of neurons in the brain actually do. Whether we eventually succeed in “reverse-engineering” the human brain, the topic of implants for both therapeutic and enhancement purposes has aroused significant controversy in the past, and promises to do so even more in the future.

D. Attempting to Overcome Paralysis

In more speculative research, surgeons believe that brain implants may be a solution for persons who are suffering from paralysis, such as spinal cord damage. In these instances, the nerves in the legs are still theoretically “working”; it is just that they cannot make contact with the brain which controls their movement. If somehow signals could be sent to the brain, bypassing the lesion point, it could conceivably mean that paralyzed persons regain at least part of their capability to move [104]. In 2000, Reuters [105] reported that a paralyzed Frenchman (Marc Merger) “took his first steps in 10 years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant…Merger walks by pressing buttons on a walking frame which acts as a remote control for the chip, sending impulses through fine wires to stimulate legs muscles…” It should be noted, however, that the system only works for paraplegics whose muscles remain alive despite damage to the nerves. Yet there are promising devices like the Bion that may one day be able to control muscle movement using RF commands [106]. Brooks [94] reports that researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago (Chicago, IL) have “invented a microcomputer system that sends pulses to a patient's legs, causing the muscles to contract. Using a walker for balance, people paralyzed from the waist down can stand up from a sitting position and walk short distances…Another team, based in Europe…enabled a paraplegic to walk using a chip connected to fine wires in his legs.” These techniques are known as functional neuromuscular stimulation systems [107]. In the case of Australian Rob Summers, who became a paraplegic after an accident, doctors implanted an epidural stimulator and electrodes into his spinal cord. “The currents mimic those normally sent by the brain to initiate movement” [108].

Others working to help paraplegics to walk again have invested time in military technology like exoskeletons [109] meant to aid soldiers in lifting greater weights, and also to protect them during battle. Ekso Bionics (Berkeley, CA), formerly Berkeley Bionics, has been conducting trials of an electronic suit in the United States since 2010. The current Ekso model will be fully independent and powered by artificial intelligence in 2012. The Ekso “provides nearly four hours of battery power to its electronic legs, which replicate walking by bending the user's knees and lifting their legs with what the company claims is the most natural gait available today” [110]. This is yet another example of how military technology has been commercialized toward a health solution [111].

E. Granting a Voice to the Speech Impaired

Speech-impairment microchip implants work differently than cochlear and retina implants. Whereas in the latter two, hearing and sight is restored, in implants for speech impairment the voice is not restored, but an outlet for communication is created, possibly with the aid of a voice synthesizer. At Emory University, neurosurgeon Roy E. Bakay and neuroscientist Phillip R. Kennedy were responsible for critical breakthroughs early in the research. In 1998, Versweyveld [112] reported two successful implants of a neurotrophic electrode into the brain of a woman and man who were suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brainstem stroke, respectively. In an incredible process, Bakay and Kennedy's device uses the patient's brain processes—thoughts, if you will—to move a cursor on a computer screen. “The computer chip is directly connected with the cortical nerve cells…The neural signals are transmitted to a receiver and connected to the computer in order to drive the cursor” [112]. This procedure has major implications for brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), especially bionics. Bakay predicted that by 2010 prosthetic devices will grant patients that are immobile the ability to turn on the TV just by thinking about it and by 2030 to grant severely disabled persons the ability to walk independently [112], [113].

F. Biochips for Diagnosis and Smart Pills for Drug Delivery

It is not unlikely that biochips will be implanted in people at birth in the not too distant future. “They will make individual patients aware of any pre-disposition to susceptibility” [114]. That is, biochips will be used for point-of-care diagnostics and also for the identification of needed drugs, even to detect pandemic viruses and biothreats for national security purposes [115]. The way that biosensors work is that they “represent the technological counterpart of our sense organs, coupling the recognition by a biological recognition element with a chemical or physical transducer, transferring the signal to the electrical domain” [116]. Types of biosensors include enzymes antibodies, receptors, nucleic acids, cells (using a biochip configuration), biomimetic sequences of RNA (ribonucleic) or DNA (deoxyribonucleic), and molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs). Biochips, on the other hand, “automate highly repetitive laboratory tasks by replacing cumbersome equipment with miniaturized, microfluidic assay chemistries combined with ultrasensitive detection methodologies. They achieve this at significantly lower costs per assay than traditional methods—and in a significantly smaller amount of space. At present, applications are primarily focused on the analysis of genetic material for defects or sequence variations” [117].

with response to treatment for illness, drug delivery will not require patients to swallow pills or take routine injections; instead chemicals will be stored on a microprocessor and released as prescribed. The idea is known as “pharmacy-on-a-chip” and was originated by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA) in 1999 [118]. The following extract is from The Lab[119]: “Doctors prescribing complicated courses of drugs may soon be able to implant microchips into patients to deliver timed drug doses directly into their bodies.”

Microchips being developed at Ohio State University (OSU, Columbus, OH) can be swathed with chemical substances such as pain medication, insulin, different treatments for heart disease, or gene therapies, allowing physicians to work at a more detailed level [119]. The breakthroughs have major implications for diabetics, especially those who require insulin at regular intervals throughout the day. Researchers at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) are working on “smart” implantable insulin pumps that may relieve people with Type I diabetes [120]. The delivery would be based on a mathematical model stored on a microchip and working in connection with glucose sensors that would instruct the chip when to release the insulin. The goal is for the model to be able to simulate the activity of the pancreas so that the right dosage is delivered at the right time.

Fig. 19. The VeriChip microchip, the first microchip implant to be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for humans, is a passive microchip that contains a 16-digit number, which can be used to retrieve critical medical information on a patient from a secure online database. The company that owns the VeriChip technology is developing a microscopic glucose sensor to put on the end of the chip to eliminate a diabetic's need to draw blood to get a blood glucose reading. Courtesy of PositiveID Corporation.

Beyond insulin pumps, we are now nearing a time where automated closed-loop insulin detection (Fig. 19) and delivery will become a tangible treatment option and may serve as a temporary cure for Type I diabetes until stem cell therapy becomes available. “Closed-loop insulin delivery may revolutionize not only the way diabetes is managed but also patients' perceptions of living with diabetes, by reducing the burden on patients and caregivers, and their fears of complications related to diabetes, including those associated with low and high glucose levels” [121]. It is only a matter of time before these lab-centric results are replicated in real-life conditions in sufferers of Type 1 diabetes.

 

 

G. To Implant or Not to Implant, That Is the Question

There are potentially 500 000 hearing impaired persons that could benefit from cochlear implants [122] but not every deaf person wants one [123]. “Some deaf activists…are critical of parents who subject children to such surgery [cochlear implants] because, as one charged, the prosthesis imparts ‘the non-healthy self-concept of having had something wrong with one's body’ rather than the ‘healthy self-concept of [being] a proud Deaf’” [124]. Assistant Professor Scott Bally of Audiology at Gallaudet University (Washington, DC) has said, “Many deaf people feel as though deafness is not a handicap. They are culturally deaf individuals who have successfully adapted themselves to being deaf and feel as though things like cochlear implants would take them out of their deaf culture, a culture which provides a significant degree of support” [92]. Putting this delicate debate aside, it is here that some delineation can be made between implants that are used to treat an ailment or disability (i.e., giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf), and implants that may be used for enhancing human function (i.e., memory). There are some citizens, like Amal Graafstra of the United States [125], who are getting chip implants for convenience-oriented social living solutions that would instantly herald in a world that had keyless entry everywhere (Fig. 20). And there are other citizens who are concerned about the direction of the human species, as credible scientists predict fully functional neural implants. “[Q]uestions are raised as to how society as a whole will relate to people walking around with plugs and wires sprouting out of their heads. And who will decide which segments of the society become the wire-heads” [92]?

 

Fig. 20. Amal Graafstra demonstrating an RFID-operated door latch application he developed. Over the RFID tag site on his left hand is a single steristrip that remained after implantation for a few days. His right hand is holding the door latch.

 

SECTION V. Überveillance and Function Creep

Section IV focused on implants that were attempts at “orthopedic replacements”: corrective in nature, required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether. Implants of the future, however, will attempt to add new “functionality” to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Globally acclaimed scientists have pondered on the ultimate trajectory of microchip implants [126]. The literature is admittedly mixed in its viewpoints of what will and will not be possible in the future [127].

for those of us working in the domain of implantables for medical and nonmedical applications, the message is loud and clear: implantables will be the next big thing. At first, it will be “hip to get a chip.” The extreme novelty of the microchip implant will mean that early adopters will race to see how far they can push the limits of the new technology. Convenience solutions will abound [128]. Implantees will not be able to get enough of the new product and the benefits of the technology will be touted to consumers in a myriad of ways, although these perceived benefits will not always be realized. The technology will probably be first tested where there will be the least effective resistance from the community at large, that is, on prison inmates [129], then those suffering from dementia. These incremental steps in pilot trials and deployment are fraught with moral consequences. Prisoners cannot opt out from jails adopting tracking technology, and those suffering from cognitive disorders have not provided and could not provide their consent. from there it will conceivably not take long for it to be used on the elderly and in children and on those suffering from clinical depression.

The functionality of the implants will range from passive ID-only to active multiapplication, and most invasive will be the medical devices that can upon request or algorithmic reasoning release drugs or electrically stimulate the body for mental and physical stability. There will also be a segment of the consumer and business markets who will adopt the technology for no clear reason and without too much thought, save for the fact that the technology is new and seems to be the way advanced societies are heading. This segment will probably not be overly concerned with any discernible abridgement of their human rights or the fine-print “terms and conditions” agreement they have signed, but will take an implant on the promise that they will have greater connectivity to the Internet, for example. These consumers will thrive on ambient intelligence, context-aware pervasive applications, and an augmented reality—ubiquity in every sense.

But it is certain that the new technology will also have consequences far greater than what we can presently envision. Questions about the neutrality of technology are immaterial in this new “plugged-in” order of existence. for Brin [130, p. 334], the question ultimately has to do with the choice between privacy and freedom. In his words, “[t]his is one of the most vile dichotomies of all. And yet, in struggling to maintain some beloved fantasies about the former, we might willingly, even eagerly, cast the latter away.” And thus there are two possibilities, just as Brin [130] writes in his amazingly insightful book, The Transparent Society, of “the tale of two cities.” Either implants embedded in humans which require associated infrastructure will create a utopia where there is built-in intelligence for everything and everyone in every place, or implants embedded in humans will create a dystopia 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 unlikely, excepting for the “off the grid” dissenter.

In Section V-A, we portray some of the attractions people may feel that will draw them into the future world of implanted technologies. In Section V-B, we portray some of the problems associated with implanting technology under the skin that would drive people away from opting in to such a future.

A. The Positive Possibilities

Bearing a unique implant will make the individual feel special because they bear a unique ID. Each person will have one implant which will coordinate hundreds of smaller nanodevices, but each nanodevice will have the capacity to act on its own accord. The philosophy espoused behind taking an implant will be one of protection: “I bear an implant and I have nothing to hide.” It will feel safe to have an implant because emergency services, for example, will be able to rapidly respond to your calls for help or any unforeseen events that automatically log problems to do with your health.

Fewer errors are also likely to happen if you have an implant, especially with financial systems. Businesses will experience a rise in productivity as they will understand how precisely their business operates to the nearest minute, and companies will be able to introduce significant efficiencies. Losses in back-end operations, such as the effects of product shrinkage, will diminish as goods will be followed down the supply chain from their source to their destination customer, through the distribution center and retailer.

It will take some years for the infrastructure supporting implants to grow and thrive with a substantial consumer base. The function creep will not become apparent until well after the early majority have adopted implants and downloaded and used a number of core applications to do with health, banking, and transport which will all be interlinked. New innovations will allow for a hybrid device and supplementary infrastructure to grow so powerful that living without automated tracking, location finding, and condition monitoring will be almost impossible.

B. The Existential Risks

It will take some years for the negative fallout from microchip implants to be exposed. At first only the victims of the fallout will speak out through formal exception reports on government agency websites. The technical problems associated with implants will pertain to maintenance, updates, viruses, cloning, hacking, radiation shielding, and onboard battery problems. But the greater problems will be the impact on the physiology and mental health of the individual: new manifestations of paranoia and severe depression will lead to people continually wanting reassurance about their implant's functionality. Issues about implant security, virus detection, and a personal database which is error free will be among the biggest issues facing implantees. Despite this, those who believe in the implant singularity (the piece of embedded technology that will give each person ubiquitous access to the Internet) will continue to stack up points and rewards and add to their social network, choosing rather to ignore the warnings of the ultimate technological trajectory of mind control and geoslavery [131]. It will have little to do with survival of the fittest at this point, although most people will buy into the notion of an evolutionary path toward the Homo Electricus [132]: a transhumanist vision [133] that we can do away with the body and become one with the Machine, one with the Cosmos—a “nuts and bolts” Nirvana where one's manufactured individual consciousness connects with the advanced consciousness evolving from the system as a whole. In this instance, it will be the ecstatic experience of being drawn ever deeper into the electric field of the “Network.”

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 überveillance via the implant will be linked to a type of blackbox recorder as in an airplane's cockpit. Only in this case the cockpit will be the body, and the recorder will be embedded just beneath the translucent layer of the skin that will be used for memory recollection and dispute resolution. Outwardly ensuring that people are telling the full story at all times, there will be no lies or claims to poor memory. Überveillance is an above and beyond, an exaggerated, an omnipresent 24/7 electronic surveillance (Fig. 21). It is a surveillance that is not only “always on” but “always with you.” It is ubiquitous because the technology that facilitates it, in its ultimate implementation, is embedded within the human body. The problem with this kind of bodily invasive surveillance is that omnipresence in the “material” world will not always equate with omniscience, hence the real concern for misinformation, misinterpretation, and information manipulation [7]. While it might seem like the perfect technology to aid in real-time forensic profiling and criminalization, it will be open to abuse, just like any other technique, and more so because of the preconception that it is infallible.

 

Fig. 21.The überveillance triquetra as the intersection of surveillance, dataveillance, and sousveillance. Courtesy of Alexander Hayes.

 

SECTION VI. Technology Roadmapping

According to Andrews cited in [1], a second intellectual current within the IEEE SSIT has begun to emerge which is more closely aligned with most of the IEEE technical societies, as well as economics and business. The proponents of this mode participate in “technology foresight” and “roadmapping” activities, and view technology more optimistically, looking to foster innovation without being too concerned about its possible negative effects [1, p. 14]. Braun [134, p. 133] writes that “[f]orecasts do not state what the future will be…they attempt to glean what it might be.” Thus, one with technology foresight can be trusted insofar as their knowledge and judgment go—they may possess foresight through their grasp of current knowledge, through past experiences which inform their forecasts, and through raw intuition.

Various MIT Labs, such as the Media Lab, have been engaged in visionary research since before 1990, giving society a good glimpse of where technology might be headed some 20–30 years ahead of time. It is from such elite groups that visionaries typically emerge whose main purpose is to envision the technologies that will better our wellbeing and generally make life more productive and convenient in the future. Consider the current activities of the MIT Media Lab's Affective Computing Research Group directed by Prof. Rosalind W. Picard that is working hard on technology aids encapsulating “affect sensing” in response to the growing problem of autism [135]. The Media Lab was founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner to promote research into novel uses of computer technology. The work of Picard's group was made possible by the foundations laid by the Media Lab's predecessor researchers.

On the global technological roadmap we can now point to the following systems which are already under development but have not yet been widely diffused into the market:

  • alternative fuels heralding in innovations like electric cars which are self-driving, and ocean-powered energy, as well as rise of biofuels;

  • the potential for 3-D printing which will revolutionize prototyping and manufacturing practices and possibly reconstruct human tissue;

  • hologram projections for videoconferencing and televisions that respond to gestures as well as pen-sized computing which will do away with keyboards and screens;

  • quantum computing and cryptography;

  • next-generation prosthetics (Fig. 22);

  • cognitive machines such as robot humanoids;

  • carbon nanotubes and nanotech computing which will make our current silicon chips look gargantuan;

  • genetic engineering breakthroughs and regenerative health treatment such as stem cell treatment;

  • electronic banking that will not use physical cash for transactions but the singularity chip (e.g., implant);

  • ubiquitous high-speed wireless networks;

  • crowdsourced surveillance toward real-time forensic profiling and criminalization;

  • autogeneration visual life logs and location chronicles;

  • enhanced batteries that last longer;

  • body power to charge digital equipment [136];

  • brainwave-based technologies in health/gaming;

  • brain-reading technology for interrogation [137].

 

Fig. 22. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Alfredo De Los Santos displays what the X2 microprocessor knee prosthetic can do by walking up a flight of stairs at the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (Washington, DC), December 8, 2009. Patients at Walter Reed are testing next-generation prosthetics. Courtesy of the U.S. Army.

It is important to note that while these new inventions have the ability to make things faster and better for most living in more developed countries, they can act to increase the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. New technologies will not necessarily aid in eradicating the poverty cycle in parts of Africa and South America. In fact, new technologies can have the opposite effect—they can create an ever greater chasm in equity and access to knowledge.

Technology foresight is commonly held by one who is engaged in the act of prediction. Predictive studies more often than not are based on past and present trends and use this knowledge for providing a roadmap of future possibilities. There is some degree of imagination in prediction, and certainly the creative element is prevalent. Predictions are not meant to be wild, but calculated wisely with evidence that shows a given course or path is likely in the future. However, this does not mean that all predictions come true. Predictive studies can be about new inventions and new form factors, or the recombination of existing innovations in new ways (hybrid architectures, for example), or the mutation of an existing innovation. Some elements of predictive studies have heavy quantitative forecasting components that use complex models to predict the introduction of new innovations, some even based on historical data inputs.

Before an invention has been diffused into the market, scenario planning is conducted to understand how the technology might be used, who might take it up, and what percentage of society will be willing to adopt the product over time (i.e., consumption analysis). “Here the emphasis is on predicting the development of the technology and assessing its potential for adoption, including an analysis of the technology's market” [138, p. 328].

Even the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates [139, p. 274] accepted that his predictions may not come true. But his insights in the Road Ahead are to be commended, even though they were understandably broad. Gates wrote, “[t]he information highway will lead to many destinations. I've enjoyed speculating about some of these. Doubtless I've made some foolish predictions, but I hope not too many.” Allaby [140, p. 206] writes, “[f]orecasts deal in possibilities, not inevitabilities, and this allows forecasters to explore opportunities.”

for the greater part, forecasters raise challenging issues that are thought provoking, about how existing inventions or innovations will impact society. They give scenarios for the technology's projected pervasiveness, how they may affect other technologies, what potential benefits or drawbacks they may introduce, how they will affect the economy, and much more.

Kaku [141, p. 5] has argued, “that predictions about the future made by professional scientists tend to be based much more substantially on the realities of scientific knowledge than those made by social critics, or even those by scientists of the past whose predictions were made before the fundamental scientific laws were completely known.” He believes that among the scientific body today there is a growing concern regarding predictions that for the greater part come from consumers of technology rather than those who shape and create it. Kaku is, of course, correct, insofar that scientists should be consulted since they are the ones actually making things possible after discoveries have occurred. But a balanced view is necessary and extremely important, encompassing various perspectives of different disciplines.

In the 1950s, for instance, when technical experts forecasted improvements in computer technology, they envisaged even larger machines—but science fiction writers predicted microminiaturization. They “[p]redicted marvels such as wrist radios and pocket-sized computers, not because they foresaw the invention of the transistor, but because they instinctively felt that some kind of improvement would come along to shrink the bulky computers and radios of that day” (Bova, 1988, quoted in [142, p. 18]). The methodologies used as vehicles to predict in each discipline should be respected. The question of who is more correct in terms of predicting the future is perhaps the wrong question. for example, some of Kaku's own predictions in Visions can be found in science fiction movies dating back to the 1960s.

In speculating about the next 500 years, Berry [142, p. 1] writes, “[p]rovided the events being predicted are not physically impossible, then the longer the time scale being considered, the more likely they are to come true…if one waits long enough everything that can happen will happen.”

 

SECTION VII.THE NEXT 50 YEARS: BRAIN–COMPUTER INTERFACE

When Ellul [143, p. 432] in 1964 predicted the use of “electronic banks” in his book The Technological Society, he was not referring to the computerization of financial institutions or the use of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Rather it was in the context of the possibility of the dawn of a new entity: the conjoining of man with machine. Ellul was predicting that one day knowledge would be accumulated in electronic banks and “transmitted directly to the human nervous system by means of coded electronic messages…[w]hat is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness…” As unbelievable as this man–machine complex may have sounded at the time, 45 years later visionaries are still predicting that such scenarios will be possible by the turn of the 22nd century. A large proportion of these visionaries are cyberneticists. Cybernetics is the study of nervous system controls in the brain as a basis for developing communications and controls in sociotechnical systems. Parenthetically, in some places writers continue to confuse cybernetics with robotics; they might overlap in some instances, but they are not the same thing.

Kaku [141, pp. 112–116] observes that scientists are working steadily toward a brain–computer interface (Fig. 23). The first step is to show that individual neurons can grow on silicon and then to connect the chip directly to a neuron in an animal. The next step is to mimic this connectivity in a human, and the last is to decode millions of neurons which constitute the spinal cord in order to interface directly with the brain. Cyberpunk science fiction writers like William Gibson [144] refer to this notion as “jacking-in” with the wetware: plugging in a computer cable directly with the central nervous system (i.e., with neurons in the brain analogous to software and hardware) [139, p. 133].

 

Fig.&nbsp;23.&nbsp; Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

Fig. 23. Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

In terms of the current state of development we can point to the innovation of miniature wearable media, orthopedic replacements (including pacemakers), bionic prosthetic limbs, humanoid robots (i.e., a robot that looks like a human in appearance and is autonomous), and RFID implants. Traditionally, the term cyborg has been used to describe humans who have some mechanical parts or extensions. Today, however, we are on the brink of building a new sentient being, a bearer of electricity, a modern man belonging to a new race, beyond that which can be considered merely part man part machine. We refer here to the absolute fusion of man and machine, where the subject itself becomes the object; where the toolmaker becomes one with his tools [145]. The question at this point of coalescence is how human will the new species be [146], and what are the related ethical, metaphysical, and ontological concerns? Does the evolution of the human race as recorded in history come to an end when technology can be connected to the body in a wired or wireless form?

A. From Prosthetics to Amplification

Fig.&nbsp;24.&nbsp; Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

Fig. 24. Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

While orthopedic replacements corrective in nature have been around since the 1950s [147] and are required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether, implants of the future will attempt to add new functionality to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 project [148], for instance, intended to prove that two persons with respective implants could communicate sensation and movement by thoughts alone. In 2002, the BBC reported that a tiny silicon square with 100 electrodes was connected to the professor's median nerve and linked to a transmitter/receiver in his forearm. Although, “Warwick believe[d] that when he move[d] his own fingers, his brain [would] also be able to move Irena's” [104, p. 1], the outcome of the experiment was described at best as sending “Morse-code” messages (Fig. 24). Warwick [148] is still of the belief that a person's brain could be directly linked to a computer network [149]. Commercial players are also intent on keeping ahead, continually funding projects in this area of research.

 

If Warwick is right, then terminals like telephones would eventually become obsolete if thought-to-thought communication became possible. Warwick describes this as “putting a plug into the nervous system” [104] to be able to allow thoughts to be transferred not only to another person but to the Internet and other media. While Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 may not have achieved its desired outcomes, it did show that a form of primitive Morse-code-style nervous-system-to-nervous-system communication is realizable [150]. Warwick is bound to keep trying to achieve his project goals given his philosophical perspective. And if Warwick does not succeed, he will have at least left behind a legacy and enough stimuli for someone else to succeed in his place.

 

B. The Soul Catcher Chip

The Soul Catcher chip was conceived by former Head of British Telecom Research, Peter Cochrane. Cochrane [151, p. 2] believes that the human body is merely a carcass that serves as a transport mechanism just like a vehicle, and that the most important part of our body is our brain (i.e., mind). Similarly, Miriam English has said: “I like my body, but it's going to die, and it's not a choice really I have. If I want to continue, and I want desperately to see what happens in another 100 years, and another 1000 years…I need to duplicate my brain in order to do that” [152]. Soul Catcher is all about the preservation of a human, way beyond the point of physical debilitation. The Soul Catcher chip would be implanted in the brain, and act as an access point to the external world [153]. Consider being able to download the mind onto computer hardware and then creating a global nervous system via wireless Internet [154] (Fig. 25). Cochrane has predicted that by 2050 downloading thoughts and emotions will be commonplace. Billinghurst and Starner [155, p. 64]predict that this kind of arrangement will free up the human intellect to focus on creative rather than computational functions.

 

Fig. 25. Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2013 supercomputer power will be sufficient for human brain functional simulation and by 2025 for human brain neural simulation for uploading. Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies 2005.

Cochrane's beliefs are shared by many others engaged in the transhumanist movement (especially Extropians like Alexander Chislenko). Transhumanism (sometimes known by the abbreviations “> H” or “H+”) is an international cultural movement that consists of intellectuals who look at ways to extend life through the application of emerging sciences and technologies. Minsky [156] believes that this will be the next stage in human evolution—a way to achieve true immortality “replacing flesh with steel and silicon” [141, p. 94]. Chris Winter of British Telecom has claimed that Soul Catcher will mean “the end of death.” Winter predicts that by 2030, “[i]t would be possible to imbue a newborn baby with a lifetime's experiences by giving him or her the Soul Catcher chip of a dead person” [157]. The philosophical implications behind such movements are gigantic; they reach deep into every branch of traditional philosophy, especially metaphysics with its special concerns over cosmology and ontology.

 

SECTION VIII. The Next 100 Years: Homo Electricus

A. The Rise of the Electrophorus

Fig.&nbsp;26.&nbsp; Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Fig. 26. Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Microchip implants are integrated circuit devices encased in RFID transponders that can be active or passive and are implantable into animals or humans usually in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. The human who has been implanted with a microchip that can send or receive data is an Electrophorus, a bearer of “electric” technology [158]. The Macquarie Dictionary definition of “electrophorus” is “an instrument for generating static electricity by means of induction,” and refers to an instrument used in the early years of electrostatics (Fig. 26).

 

We have repurposed the term electrophorus to apply to humans implanted with microchips. One who “bears” is in some way intrinsically or spiritually connected to that which they are bearing, in the same way an expecting mother is to the child in her womb. The root electro comes from the Greek word meaning “amber,” and phorus means to “wear, to put on, to get into” [159, p. 635]. When an Electrophorus passes through an electromagnetic zone, he/she is detected and data can be passed from an implanted microchip (or in the future directly from the brain) to a computer device.

To electronize something is “to furnish it with electronic equipment” and electrotechnology is “the science that deals with practical applications of electricity.” The term “electrophoresis” has been borrowed here, to describe the “electronic” operations that an electrophorus is involved in. McLuhan and Zingrone [160, p. 94] believed that “electricity is in effect an extension of the nervous system as a kind of global membrane.” They argued that “physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology” [161, p. 117].

The term “electrophorus” seems to be much more suitable today for expressing the human-electronic combination than the term “cyborg.” “Electrophorus” distinguishes strictly electrical implants from mechanical devices such as artificial hips. It is not surprising then that these crucial matters of definition raise philosophical and sociological questions of consciousness and identity, which science fiction writers have been addressing creatively. The Electrophorus belongs to the emerging species of Homo Electricus. In its current state, the Electrophorus relies on a device being triggered wirelessly when it enters an electromagnetic field. In the future, the Electrophorus will act like a network element or node, allowing information to pass through him or her, to be stored locally or remotely, and to send out messages and receive them simultaneously and allow some to be processed actively, and others as background tasks.

At the point of becoming an Electrophorus (i.e., a bearer of electricity), Brown [162] makes the observation that “[y]ou are not just a human linked with technology; you are something different and your values and judgment will change.” Some suspect that it will even become possible to alter behavior of people carrying brain implants, whether the individual wills it or not. Maybury [163]believes that “[t]he advent of machine intelligence raises social and ethical issues that may ultimately challenge human existence on earth.”

B. The Prospects of Transhumanism

Fig.&nbsp;27.&nbsp; The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Fig. 27. The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Thought-to-thought communications may seem outlandish today, but it is only one of many futuristic hopes of the movement termed transhumanism. Probably the most representative organization for this movement is the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), which recently adopted the doing-business-as name of “Humanity+” (Fig. 27). The WTA's website [164] carries the following succinct statement of what transhumanism is, penned originally by Max More in 1990: “Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” Whether transhumanism yet qualifies as a philosophy, it cannot be denied that it has produced its share of both proponents and critics.

 

Proponents of transhumanism claim that the things they want are the things everyone wants: freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from all the limitations of the human body (including mental as well as physical limitations), and ultimately, freedom from death. One of the leading authors in the transhumanist movement is Ray Kurzweil, whose 652-page book The Singularity Is Near [165] prophesies a time in the not-too-distant future when evolution will accelerate exponentially and bring to pass all of the above freedoms as “the matter and energy in our vicinity will become infused with the intelligence, knowledge, creativity, beauty, and emotional intelligence (the ability to love, for example) of our human-machine civilization. Our civilization will then expand outward, turning all the dumb matter and energy we encounter into sublimely intelligent—transcendent—matter and energy” [165, p. 389].

Despite the almost theological tone of the preceding quote, Kurzweil has established a sound track record as a technological forecaster, at least when it comes to Moore's-Law-type predictions of the progress of computing power. But the ambitions of Kurzweil [178] and his allies go far beyond next year's semiconductor roadmap to encompass the future of all humanity. If the fullness of the transhumanist vision is realized, the following achievements will come to pass:

  • human bodies will cease to be the physical instantiation of human minds, replaced by as-yet-unknown hardware with far greater computational powers than the present human brain;

  • human minds will experience, at their option, an essentially eternal existence in a world free from the present restrictions of material embodiment in biological form;

  • limitations on will, intelligence, and communication will all be overcome, so that to desire a thing or experience will be to possess it.

The Transhumanist Declaration, last modified in 2009 [166], recognizes that these plans have potential downsides, and calls for reasoned debate to avoid the risks while realizing the opportunities. The sixth item in the Declaration, for example, declares that “[p]olicy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” The key phrase in this item is “moral vision.” While many self-declared transhumanists may agree on the moral vision which should guide their endeavors, the movement has also inspired some of the most vigorous and categorically critical invective to be found in the technical and public-policy literature.

Possibly the most well known of the vocal critics of transhumanism is Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist who nominated transhumanism as his choice for the world's most dangerous idea [167]. As with most utopian notions, the main problem Fukuyama sees with transhumanism is the transition between our present state and the transhumanists' future vision of completely realized eternal technological bliss (Fig. 28). Will some people be uploaded to become immortal, almost omniscient transhumans while others are left behind in their feeble, mortal, disease-ridden human bodies? Are the human goods that transhumanists say are basically the same for everyone really so? Or are they more complex and subtle than typical transhumanist pronouncements acknowledge? As Fukuyama points out in his foreign Policy essay [167], “Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our bad ones… if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love. Even our mortality plays a critical function in allowing our species as a whole to survive and adapt (and transhumanists are about the last group I would like to see live forever).”

 

Fig.&nbsp;28.&nbsp; Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Fig. 28. Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Transhumanists themselves admit that their movement performs some of the functions of a religion when it “offers a sense of direction and purpose.” But in contrast to most religions, transhumanists explicitly hope to “make their dreams come true in this world” [168]. Nearly all transhumanist programs and proposals arise from a materialist–reductionist view of the world which assumes that the human mind is at most an epiphenomenon of the brain, all of the human brain's functions will eventually be simulated by hardware (on computers of the future), and that the experience known as consciousness can be realized in artificial hardware in essentially the same form as it is presently realized in the human body. Some of the assumptions of transhumanism are based less on facts and more on faith. Just as Christians take on faith that God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, transhumanists take on faith that machines will inevitably become conscious.

Fig.&nbsp;29.&nbsp; The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

Fig. 29. The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

In keeping with the transhumanists' call for responsible moral vision, the IEEE SSIT has been, and will continue to be, a forum where the implications for society of all sorts of technological developments can be debated and evaluated. In a sense, the transhumanist program is the ultimate technological project: to redesign humanity itself to a set of specifications, determined by us. If the transhumanists succeed, technology will become society, and the question of the social implications of technology will be moot (Fig. 29). Perhaps the best attitude to take toward transhumanism is to pay attention to their prophecies, but, as the Old Testament God advised the Hebrews, “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass…the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously…” [169].

 

 

SECTION IX. Ways forward

In sum, identifying and predicting what the social implications of past, present and future technologies might be can lead us to act in one of four ways, which are not mutually exclusive.

First, we can take the “do nothing” approach and meekly accept the risks associated with new techniques. We stop being obsessed by both confirmed and speculative consequences, and instead, try to see how far the new technologies might take us and what we might become or transform into as a result. While humans might not always like change, we are by nature, if we might hijack Heraclitus, in a continual state of flux. We might reach new potentials as a populace, become extremely efficient at doing business with each other, and make a positive impact on our natural environment by doing so. The downside to this approach is that it appears to be an all or nothingapproach with no built-in decision points. for as Jacques Ellul [170] forewarned: “what is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization.”

The second option is that we let case law determine for us what is legal or illegal based on existing laws, or new or amended laws we might introduce as a result of the new technologies. We can take the stance that the courts are in the best position to decide on what we should and should not do with new technologies. If we break the law in a civil or criminal capacity, then there is a penalty and we have civil and criminal codes concerning workplace surveillance, telecommunications interception and access, surveillance devices, data protection and privacy, cybercrime, and so on. There is also the continual review of existing legislation by law-reform commissions and the like. New legislation can also be introduced to curb against other dangers or harms that might eventuate as a result of the new techniques.

The third option is that we can introduce industry regulations that stipulate how advanced applications should be developed (e.g., ensuring privacy impact assessments are done before commercial applications are launched), and that technical expectations on accuracy, reliability, and storage of data are met. It is also important that the right balance be found between regulations and freedom so as not to stifle the high-tech industry at large.

Finally, the fourth option would be to adopt the “Amish method”: complete abandonment of technology that has progressed beyond a certain point of development. This is in some respect “living off the grid” [171].

Although obvious, it is important to underline that none of these options are mutually exclusive or foolproof. The final solution may well be at times to introduce industry regulations or codes, at other times to do nothing, and in other cases to rely on legislative amendments despite the length of time it takes to develop these. In other cases, the safeguards may need to be built into the technology itself.

 

SECTION X. Conclusion

If we put our trust in Kurzweil's [172] Law of Accelerating Returns, we are likely headed into a great period of discovery unprecedented in any era of history. This being the case, the time for inclusive dialog is now, not after widespread diffusion of such innovations as “always on” cameras, microchip implants, unmanned drones and the like. We stand at a critical moment of decision, as the mythological Pandora did as she was about to open her box. There are many lessons to be learned from history, especially from such radical developments as the atomic bomb and the resulting arms race. Joy [173] has raised serious fears about continuing unfettered research into “spiritual machines.” Will humans have the foresight to say “no” or “stop” to new innovations that could potentially be a means to a socially destructive scenario? Implants that may prolong life expectancy by hundreds if not thousands of years may appeal at first glance, but they could well create unforeseen devastation in the form of technological viruses, plagues, or a grim escalation in the levels of crime and violence.

To many scientists of the positivist tradition anchored solely to an empirical world view, the notion of whether something is right or wrong is in a way irrelevant. for these researchers, a moral stance has little or nothing to do with technological advancement but is really an ideological position. The extreme of this view is exemplified by an attitude of “let's see how far we can go”, not “is what we are doing the best thing for humanity?” and certainly not by the thought of “what are the long-term implications of what we are doing here?” As an example, one need only consider the mad race to clone the first animal, and many have long suspected an “underground” scientific race continues to clone the first human.

In the current climate of innovation, precisely since the proliferation of the desktop computer and birth of new digital knowledge systems, some observers believe that engineers, and professionals more broadly, lack accountability for the tangible and intangible costs of their actions [174, p. 288]. Because science-enabled engineering has proved so profitable for multinational corporations, they have gone to great lengths to persuade the world that science should not be stopped, for the simple reason that it will always make things better. This ignores the possibility that even seemingly small advancements into the realm of the Electrophorus for any purpose other than medical prostheses will have dire consequences for humanity [175]. According to Kuhns, “Once man has given technique its entry into society, there can be no curbing of its gathering influence, no possible way of forcing it to relinquish its power. Man can only witness and serve as the ironic beneficiary-victim of its power” [176, p. 94].

Clearly, none of the authors of this paper desire to stop technological advance in its tracks. But we believe that considering the social implications of past, present, and future technologies is more than an academic exercise. As custodians of the technical means by which modern society exists and develops, engineers have a unique responsibility to act with forethought and insight. The time when following orders of a superior was all that an engineer had to do is long past. with great power comes great responsibility. Our hope is that the IEEE SSIT will help and encourage engineers worldwide to consider the consequences of their actions throughout the next century.

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Keywords

Technology forecasting, Social implications of technology, History, Social factors, Human factors, social aspects of automation, human-robot interaction, mobile computing, pervasive computing, IEEE society, social implications of technology, SSIT, society founding, social impacts, military technologies, security technologies, cyborgs, human-machine hybrids, human mind, transhumanist future, humanity redesigns, mobile computing, wearable computing, Überveillance, Corporate activities, engineering education, ethics, future of technology, history,social implications of technology, sociotechnical systems

Citation: Karl D. Stephan, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Laura Jacob, Emily P. Anesta, 2012, "Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future", Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume: 100, Issue: Special Centennial Issue, May 13 2012, 1752-1781. 10.1109/JPROC.2012.2189919

Planetary-Scale RFID Services in an Age of Uberveillance

Abstract

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) has a great number of unfulfilled prospects. Part of the problem until now has been the value proposition behind the technology-it has been marketed as a replacement technique for the barcode when the reality is that it has far greater capability than simply non-line-of-sight identification, towards decision making in strategic management and reengineered business processes. The vision of the internet of things (IOT) has not eventuated but a world in which every object you can see around you carries the possibility of being connected to the internet is still within the realm of possibility. However incremental innovations may see RFID being sold as a service (much like photocopiers are maintained today) than a suite of technologies within a system that are sold as individual or bundled packaged components. This paper outlines the vision for such a product service system, what kinds of smart applications we are likely to see in the future as a result, and the importance of data management capabilities in planetary-scale systems.

Section I.

Introduction

Increasingly radio-frequency identification (RFID) will not be viewed as just another barcode-type technology. Instead it will be used in innovative ways for which it was never originally intended. While by its very nature RFID tells us “what is,” industry has focused its attention on achieving adequate read rates using this non-line-of-sight technology, rather than on the value-added “where is,” “when is,” and in “what condition.” Indeed, the value is not merely in identifying a product, but knowing where that product is, when it was last there, and in what condition it was when it was last sighted. To know the what, the where, the when, and the condition of an object or subject will one day grant the firm a type of divine omnipresent view (but not strictly speaking omniscient view) over its entire operations, an idea that has been explored by Michael and Michael and coined uberveillance [1]. With respect to the retail supply chain, for instance, uberveillance is the all pervasive ability to surveil an item or person handling an item, end-to-end, from the primary producer to the end user. The future of RFID is in managing visibility, managing velocity, and managing variability, giving organizations the kind of real-time data they (and their customers in particular) have craved for. It is the ability to be agile in decision making, responding to changes in the service economy.

Section II.

Background

The Auto-ID Center has long touted the vision of the internet of things (IOT). Brock [2] first used the term to imply an open platform for innovation but the vision of a “smart world” today remains an unfulfilled prophecy. Some have blamed this uneventful happening on the closed, proprietary, and somewhat exclusive system designed by the Auto-ID Center, pointing to technical barriers, while others have described governance-related barriers to participation. Whatever the reason for the shortcomings, we are left with a technology with great potential but unrealized capability. The International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) interpretation of the IOT is one that is more attractive and perhaps amenable [3]; a vision where almost every object you can see around you carries the possibility of being connected to the internet. This means that your domestic appliances, your clothes, your books, and your car may one day be assigned a unique IP address, just as both computers and web pages are assigned them today, to enable digital communications. Neither the original vision of the Auto-ID Center nor the vision of the more recently established EPCglobal has addressed the interactivity that occurs between nonliving things and living things, but it seems only logical that if we hope to enact revolutionary changes to business processes that this must be the next radical transformation in our corporate, community, and personal spheres. It is what has led the Auto-ID Labsto recant on their claim to the IOT concept toward a more plausible web of things (WOT) [4].

A. Problems with RFID Adoption

Potential benefits of adopting RFID in supply chain management (SCM) are widely recognized and reported. The actual benefits are yet to be achieved in RFID implementation as compared to the mandated milestones. Three hurdles dominate the delay. They are related to high levels of acquisition cost, risk, and specialist technical skills. First, specialist technical skills are required to manage the wide variety of RFID devices and tags with different frequencies and capacities, and their software application protocol interfaces (API) under varying application environments. Second, the rapid developments in RFID technologies and their fluctuating reading reliability have caused significant risks for real-life industrial implementations. Companies are worried about obsoleteness before they adopt solutions. Companies are also very much concerned about the customizability of the solutions they purchase to their specific and unique business conditions and operations. Third, despite all efforts made so far to reduce the costs of RFID devices and tags, as well as associated middleware and other software components, there is still a perception that RFID systems are too expensive for the enterprise to invest in to gain promised benefits. This is particularly true due to the lack of best practice guidelines for deploying these components.

Section III.

RFID as a Service

Enter the ability to see every business process that happens in the world as a “service,” and even more provocatively to claim that every product that is created should be considered a “service” [5]. The future of RFID will hinge on the successful cocreation of a service between stakeholders. This notion of cocreation does not claim, for instance, merely that one stakeholder is a participant in the creation of a service, but that they are part creators of a service, that they live and breathe it as if it were their own. This is the act of continually sharing sources of knowledge interactively and intimately between what was once considered disparate members of a single (albeit meshed) chain. Although intricate dependencies between members of any chain (supply or value) have been known to exist, cocreation is about oneness of mind through the feedback mechanism. It seems this is the only way in which RFID will really prosper and will be guided by robust design principles that are all-inclusive and shared between a set of stakeholders. And perhaps nontraditionally, this stakeholder set will be composed of more than just the firm and the customer; cocreation will require representatives from private and public organizations to serve holistic requirements in order to overcome cross-functional challenges. This goes beyond the concept of coproduction which emphasized the need for a firm and a customer to work together to produce an offering. Without cocreation, it is claimed that there can be no real value [6].

This new level of complexity encountered in cocreation is underpinned by theories in design science and innovation. In order to transform, or to make changes that are considered disruptive or even radical, existing ideas are brought together in new ways to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders. When ideas do not satisfy the desires of the firms, or add meaningful value, they are scrapped or individual stakeholders forgo representation. Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and service innovation are terms that are used synonymously in the literature to describe this kind of activity. Highly successful ventures usually involve collaboration across sectors between companies, the nonprofit sector, and government. This establishes enough of a buy-in between stakeholders who are willing to collaborate openly to minimize the risk of failure in what some would consider the ambitious creation of a new service. Such thinking is characterized by organic growth and investment in research and development, not just on keeping things stable.

Section IV.

The Product Service System

Currently, companies must take risks in investing in acquiring expensive RFID components and technical skills, whether using internal or external or joint project teams. This adoption mode may not be practical nor may it be necessary, especially to small and medium enterprise (SME). On the one hand, SMEs, individually, may not have the practical financial strengths to gain RFID benefits. On the other hand, SMEs are always associated with other SMEs or large corporations. For example, small and medium manufacturers and suppliers of automotive components may be physically located in an industrial park or region, operationally associated with their customers or business alliances. Such associations form a logical foundation for these SMEs to jointly solve problems to do with high acquisition costs, risk, and specialist technical skills. For example, they can share the specialist technical skills and middleware services, thus reducing the cost and risk. A new business model is therefore needed for RFID adoption.

The concept of the product service system (PSS) has been increasingly used as a new business model in implementing advanced technologies including RFID [7]. PSS, unlike the traditional model of focusing just on products, recognizes that services in combination with products are more likely to yield higher profits for the business. The adoption of PSS leads to significant change in the manner in which business is conducted in a value chain. The revenue of a manufacturer comes from the sale of providing product functionality while retaining the product ownership rather than from the sale of products. One of the most successful real-life examples of integrating services into products is that office users are renting photocopiers instead of buying them. The rental is charged on the utilization level (e.g., number of copies). Users are ensured to have the photocopying functionality during office hours through a guarantee of timely repairing and maintenance services from a service stakeholder in this PSS. As another example, Rolls-Royce (R-R) delivers power-by-the-hour instead of transferring ownership of the gas turbine engine to an airline company [7]. At the other end, an example of integrating products into services is that of mobile communication providers giving a free mobile phone handset to customers who sign up for a service. Another example is that internet service providers (ISPs) deploy connection facilities in hotels free of charge but share the revenue obtained from the residents' internet usage.

Following the PSS business model, the usage of automatic identification services is sold to end users while RFID solution providers retain the ownership of RFID devices, software, and networks. End users do not have to invest in acquiring RFID hardware devices that are not charged by ownership but usage. RFID manufacturers share and reduce technical risks and total costs with end users by retaining the ownership and by providing upgrades to their devices. In addition, RFID solution providers are responsible for technical support for RFID systems throughout the implementation process. Such support is shared among multiple end users, leading to further reduction in maintenance and operating costs, technical risks, and the requirement for scarce technical skills. This new business model based on the PSS concept has shown a potential in overcoming some major hurdles that have hindered the progress of RFID across industrial applications.

However, RFID products, both hardware devices and software systems, have not yet been designed and developed for suitable deployment within a PSS business model. In order to tackle this key challenge, research and development efforts have been carried out to develop RFID-enabled gateway solutions that are suitable for a PSS business model [8]. RFID gateway solutions include 1) gateway hardware, and 2) gateway services. A RFID gateway hardware hub acts as a server that hosts and connects RFID-enabled devices, called smart objects, in a standard way. The gateway hub also provides a suite of software services for managing operations and events of smart objects. A significant contribution of RFID gateway technology is to provide services that capture real-time data and convert them into useful and usable real-time information for upper level enterprise application systems.

In a PSS framework, the gateway hub is the core product around which associated software services are deployed to form a product service system. Gateway hub products can be deployed in application environments just as photocopier products are rented or deployed in office applications. Technical support and services can be centrally provided to ensure that smart objects and gateways are in proper working order. Common services for RFID device management such as definition, configuration, and execution can then be operated by a central service provider and shared among different enterprise users of RFID technology.

While the gateway technology provides a technical solution to introduce the PSS concept for RFID adoption, business issues are still open for further investigation and experimentation. The revenue model among stakeholders is unclear. For example, how RFID device manufacturers collect their revenues is not clear in the PSS framework, e.g., through equipment rentals or the number of tag interrogations. A similar challenge exists on how RFID service producers will collect their revenues, e.g., through subscription or the volume of real-time information transactions. These issues must be fully addressed before the PSS approach takes effect in real-life industrial deployment.

In a different light to PSS, but in a similar paradigmatic shift, is the movement away from middleware-based applications to cloud computing-based applications for end users. Middleware can be considered computer software that connects multiple applications together. Middleware-based RFID applications were the first generation. They were usually situated in a server, processing data emanating from “dumb” readers with little processing power to translate them into a comprehensible business event. But now, the entire data processing has shifted to edgeware and cloud computing. Edgeware-based applications, also known as edge of the network applications, are typically in mobile data collecting nodes. In the case of RFID, these are mainly readers. Larger data management by means of edgeware is becoming increasingly common due to higher processing power and higher memory capabilities in the readers. The data generated by the tags are gathered by the readers and managed by edgeware-based applications. The resulting output from the edgeware is then transported to the cloud (or a remote server sitting in the internet), where it is further processed in accordance with the end-user requirements. Cloud computing is that operational setup where information and communication technology (ICT) is consumed as a service (e.g., software, platform, and infrastructure). The future innovations in RFID are going to be in rich tags. As both readers and tags are becoming smarter, the edge is becoming smarter. Subsequent generations will have embedded information about themselves that they can selectively and intelligently communicate with other objects in their wireless neighborhood. This would essentially form what Gadh termed as the wireless “internet of artifacts” [9].

Section V.

The Vision

RFID is often seen as the enabler of a new paradigm for computing whereby users employ information services through direct interaction with natural objects and manufactured artifacts, places and, when appropriate, living entities [10]. RFID effectively implements a transparent binding of such entities in the physical world to their info-simulacrum and vice versa, and through this link creates the opportunity for new types of systems. A core ingredient for the delivery of this vision is the availability of a comprehensive universal system of automatic identification for all tagged physical entities. Such a system would implement a fully automated data capture and maintenance of contextual, usage, and other metadata at planetary scale [11].

Moreover, such a system will have to accommodate those features of modern RFID that have made possible its current functionality, namely, the fact that practically all modern widely available passive ultra-high-frequency (UHF) RFID tags have very low storage capacity and support only simple logic in order to minimize power consumption. As a consequence, building complete and useful RFID-based systems requires that the majority of processing and storage be offloaded to surrogate services on the internet [12]. Emerging consensus seems to indicate that to support RFID systems several kinds of network services would have to be provided, specifically resolution services that link unique identifiers from diverse schemes and their metadata, and repository services that maintain and publish data related to individual identifiers. Both services should be widely accessible and available across the globe to reflect the globalized movement of manufactured artifacts typical in modern commerce.

The scale and complexity of these services both in terms of geographic scope and number of stakeholders involved is unprecedented [13]. The only system sharing its properties is the internet, which also provides a model (and the underlying infrastructure) for the provision of these services. However, the specific needs of RFID are not restricted to the transfer of data only but most importantly extend to the capture, management, and publication of persistent metadata with each element of this chain, setting its particular challenges and imposing further constraints (e.g., analytical and reporting mechanisms of the captured data, with respect to business intelligence).

Although the requirement for the development of such networked services to support planetary scale RFID was identified over a decade ago [14], the depth and complexity of the challenges presented from a service and data management perspective have been fully recognized only in the last few years and are still only partially understood. In the following section, we will attempt to identify some of the main problems and identify future research directions adopting a data management approach. In particular, we identify the main challenges in resolution and repository systems when the scale of the system encompasses the whole planet. Note that there are complementary research questions related with the provision of global RFID services, for example, those relating to questions of service positioning and adaptation to energy consumption patterns and workloads. There is significant research activity in these areas especially in the context of cloud computing that would surely benefit RFID as well [15].

Section VI.

The Pressing Need for Data Management

Looking closely at RFID repositories, their role is to manage entity usage information represented as application-level event records. Such services are operated either privately by individual entity custodians or by third party service providers. Conceptually, they can be considered a particular type of loosely federated distributed database, specified through public interfaces that provide methods to record, retrieve, and modify event information.

Typically, event data are inserted in the repository by different data capture applications operating at the network edge, which would often include legacy systems. Data are consumed by a variety of applications usually located at the network core, for example, enterprise resource management, data mining, and consumer-facing applications. Conceptually, the repository services are thus rather well defined and appear to be straightforward to operate, but in practice they demand particular attention due to their very large size and potential complexity of the derivative relationships between data stored. For example, one feature that merits further consideration, as it is often the source of such complexity, is the so-called containment relationship. This technique is used to create composite entities out of constellations of individual items, which can be subsequently referenced through a single handle. These composite structures are temporally defined and support multiple levels of encapsulation. As a consequence, they may lead to considerably higher complexity of even simple queries as serials within constellations have to be traced and the respective containment relationships expanded in order to produce correct results.

The current norm is for RFID repositories to be implemented as relational databases (RDBMSs). This is of course not unreasonable as RDBMSs have been the principle paradigm in data management since the 1970s. The success of this technology has been partly due to its “one-size-fits-all” approach that is, employing a single code base for all application domains. This has proven to be a very cost-effective solution and has enabled the use of advanced data management techniques across a variety of application areas using the same small number of systems. But when used for RFID service provision, RDBMSs may incur a very high implementation cost without offering a correspondingly high performance advantage.

RFID repositories share many common features with stream-based systems, which combine real-time and persistent data, and data warehousing, where compression and column orientation play a critical role on performance. This has forced relational databases to their limit and still represents a considerable challenge. Recent work provides evidence that specialized software can achieve a 10- to 50-fold improvement in many of these cases [16] and we seek to achieve similar performance in this case. We anticipate that the design and development of domain-specific data store engines for the main services can become a critical element in attempting to lower the barrier of entry to planetary scale RFID for a variety of medium and smaller scale organizations and for individuals. Furthermore, making these implementations open could facilitate their adoption akin to the way Berkeley internet domain name (BIND) has facilitated the adoption of domain name system (DNS) on the internet.

RFID resolution is typically achieved by maintaining a record of the complete sequence of successive custodians of a particular entity and associated metadata, from the time of initial tagging and until its expiration. Data used for such resolution must be relayed by individual repositories which register the fact that information is held for particular entities at specific locations but should not replicate the information itself.

RFID resolution can take one of two modes, one-off and standing queries. One-off queries are executed once at preset time and return results synchronously or asynchronously. They can execute either in direct or relayed style and they are comparatively simple with the main complication the possibility of inefficient or withheld access to data by specific repository operators, which may prevent the system from achieving correctness or predictable response time.

The so-called standing queries are longer running specifications of interest in patterns of application-level events, and depend upon future situation updates from potentially new data sources. In this mode of operation, individual applications subscribe to specific queries and are notified when the conditions specified in the query are met. Typically, these queries relate to the existence of a new custodian or the presence of the entity at a specific location, both of which may imply a change in ownership or a prominent event in the entity lifetime. Complexity in standing queries is due to the involvement of multiple repositories, a potentially large number of subscribing applications to a particular query, and the complex distributed internal structure of the discovery service required for performance reasons.

Standing queries present close similarities to continuous query models of stream processing and distributed event management systems. The execution profile of a standing query often matches the following pattern: event metadata are inserted as a continuous stream and are subsequently cross checked against stored data, for example, access control credentials and policies. When specific criteria have been met, suitable notifications are delivered to all subscribed applications. To carry out these tasks, it is necessary to transform standing queries into an executable query plan, optimize the query plan or generate a set of candidate plans, and map query operations onto the particular network topology. Such queries could express complex spatial, temporal, and semantic relationships and include serial and class level patterns.

This modus operandi implies the need for an expressive language for their specification with rich language features, which at the same time allows for a high performance implementation for stream-based matching. Processors optimized for RFID are not currently available and we also expect significant efficiency gains through the implementation of different distributed event management techniques, for example, multilayer and broker-network architectures.

Section VII.

Future Applications

Enter the future possibilities for RFID that are sure to overwhelm more traditional business models; perhaps what some consider the stuff of science fiction, but tested enough to now be considered science fact [17]. The insurance industry is an excellent example of how technology has been used in innovative ways to introduce premium models that were previously considered impossible to implement. In 2006, IBM and Norwich Union in the United Kingdom teamed up and installed microchips coupled with global position system (GPS) receivers to track and monitor the driving behaviors of about 7000 cars [18]. By measuring the risk based on age, gender, and time of driving, they were able to introduce customized car insurance premiums. If you are a male, under the age of 25, and driving after 11 p.m. on a Friday night, for instance, expect to pay full fees. Adjust your travel behaviors based on certain driving curfews, and expect to pay far less on your premium. It will not be too far out before implantable solutions for humans based on RFID make it possible to monitor real-time blood alcohol levels, heart rates, temperature, and other physiological characteristics—the patents were filed in some cases two decades ago.

Web-services-based applications will form the underbelly of pervasive computing. The building blocks of the web services domain were established when middleware became prominent in the requirement for interoperability. Middleware brought uniformity and standardization, allowed for heterogeneity of various hardware components and operating systems, and provided a set of common services to developers and end users. Today, web services sit in the internet cloud serving multiple clients but with middleware components still very much acting as the enabler. Web services together with web-enabled technologies such as sensor motes will play a pivotal role in the context of ubiquitous computing in combination with RFID technology.

The convergence of sensor capabilities in RFID tags further expands their sphere of utility in applications such as perishable products. Sensor technology is being fused into RFID such that different variables measured by sensors can also be reported by tags instead of just plain IDs. The types of sensing capabilities reported to have been fused into RFID tags include temperature, acceleration, and chemical, among others. RFID-sensor fusion can help us to monitor large scale environmental factors by networking the readers with RFID sensors spread within certain bounds. This would help us to make real-time queries about the area under observation (e.g., bushfire prone zones) and also offer results at a much higher resolution than previously attempted.

Sensor-based tags have also given rise to a new category of tags known as semipassive tags. Semipassive or battery-assisted tags are different from the conventional passive tags, whereby, a battery source is provided in the tag to power the on-board sensors. The tag has other intelligent features such as sleep mode to conserve power. Applications where sensor-based tags have been introduced include tracking fresh cut flowers, monitoring temperature of drugs, monitoring blood and organs for transplant, etc., [19].

The diffusion of RFID and mobile technologies is greatly empowering a number of sectors. Miniaturized readers and tags are being embedded into mobile phones to expand their capabilities, while advanced wireless and mobile phone technologies are also being incorporated into readers. The connectivity of mobile technology to the internet makes it a suitable domain for development of web service components. Real-time-location-based systems consist of a group of sensors or passive or active RFID tags, working in concert to track the position of objects or people of interest in regular intervals. Several techniques have been devised to utilize the capabilities of existing RFID infrastructure in predicting locations of target items in an indoor setup. Real-time location-based operations will constitute a large chunk of RFID operations. The continuous updates provided by RFID systems enable transparency, speedy operation, counterfeit prevention, and staff safety by tracking people in hazardous or sensitive work environments. This capability complements the other utilities of an RFID system in an enterprise, as many organizations have the need of continuously knowing the location of their resources inside a complex indoor setup. Some examples of these are: locating tools inside a big factory floor or locating patients inside a hospital.

Opening office doors simply by showing your hands may have been used to demonstrate the capabilities of RFID in the 1990s but entrepreneurs and some government officials are now thinking outside the box. RFID-based applications have significantly gathered momentum in the medical domain. Consider, for instance, the swallowable sensor device, patented on April 2, 2009 [20], the U.S. health bill which was put forward to Congress in July 2009 containing a national medical device registry based on a possible class II implantable device, life supporting and/or life sustaining in nature [21], and the RFID implant that can detect the H1N1 virus patented in October 2009 [22]. Once upon a time having an implantable could only be imagined for restorative purposes (e.g., heart pacemaker, cochlear implant); now we are looking for new ways in which to improve services. A study carried out by IDTechEx RFID Knowledgebase [23] predicted that the two biggest contributors to demand in RFID in the healthcare sector would be pharmaceutical tagging and asset/patient and patient tracking. With automated patient tracking, many repetitive tasks such as keeping tabs on patient records, their daily drug doses, and their movement about the hospital will be delegated to automated systems. This will also reduce the number of human errors in the tasks. Enter the concept of uberveillance, in its ultimate form an omnipresent electronic surveillance that makes it possible to embed ICT devices in the human body for a variety of applications [24].

This does not mean that we can expect all humans to be walking around with chips implanted in their bodies, well not for the present anyway. Although constantly changing, the current culture probably does not warrant this kind of pervasive monitoring and tracking. But surveys are now showing time and time again that most people do not mind this kind of ubiquitous tracking of nonliving things and animals. If the online and mobile social networking phenomenon is anything to go by, 20 to 30 years from now, RFID embedded technologies might see a full-blown uberveillance society where everyone shares microdetails about themselves and their household with their respective community of interest for the cocreation of social services, particularly pertaining to infrastructure requirements engineering. This kind of web of things and people (WOTAP) scenario will only happen if RFID is embraced within the paradigms of integration, convergence, and coexistence. The future scenario is not about RFID rendering all other auto-ID technologies obsolete, nor is it about a story of migration from one technology to the next. RFID will be about harnessing the power of the technology within a hybrid wireless network context, knowing all too well it is the end-point data collection mechanism, the smallest common denominator of knowledge that can be acquired (the individual unit). Consider the capabilities of RFID with sensor technology, RFID and the wireless Internet, and RFID and global positioning systems. The natural trajectory when one ponders what these new convergences may herald is nothing short of breathtaking.

Section VIII.

Conclusion

But to ground ourselves in the current realities and some of the technical and nontechnical challenges that RFID still presents us with, including with respect to privacy and security issues, legal/regulatory, socioethical and economic/market issues, is to admit to the need for greater coproduction among stakeholders, especially the participation of end users from the outset of service design (i.e., cocreation). RFID is far from perfect, and a greater investment is needed by all sectors to bring about a more robust and economical technology, possibly following a PSS model, that all acknowledge as adhering to legal, ethical, and policy-related standards [25]. Item level tracking, for instance, comes with its own endowed advantages and benefits for some organizations within a retail supply chain context but may not be desirable for other application areas. A level of harmonization needs to be reached between the level of required visibility in a given service and adhering to a consumer's right to informational privacy [26]. Solutions can be devised and built-in to the design of a service to overcome such challenges; they just need to be innovative. If a consumer perceives that the value proposition to them of using a given technology outweighs any costs they may experience, then they are likely to adopt the technology. By including consumers early in the process of cocreation and coproduction of RFID technology, more innovative services are destined to come to fruition. The challenge ahead will be in harnessing planetary scale RFID services using nontraditional business models like those presented in this paper that provide us with an unforeseen level of uberveillance management and decision support.

References

1. K. Michael, M. G. Michael, Innovative Automatic Identification and Location Based Services: From Bar Codes to Chip Implants, PA, Hershey:IGI Global, 2009.

2. D. L. Brock, The Electronic Product Code (EPC): A Naming Scheme for Physical Objects, Jan. 2001.

3. The Internet of Things, 2005, [online] Available: http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/publications/internetofthings/InternetofThings_summary.pdf.

4. E. Fleisch, What is the Internet of Things? An Economic Perspective, Jan. 2010.

5. C. E. Helfat, S. Finkelstein, W. Mitchell, M. A. Peteraf, H. Singh, D. J. Teece, S. G. Winter, Dynamic Capabilities: Understanding Strategic Change in Organizations, U.K., Oxford:Blackwell, 2007.

6. S. L. Vargo, M. A. Akaka, "Service-dominant logic as a foundation for service science: Clarifications", Service Sci., vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 32-41, 2009.

7. T. S. Baines, H. W. Lightfoot, S. Evans, A. Neely, R. Greenough, J. Peppard, "State-of-the-art in product-service systems", Proc. IMechE B J. Eng. Manuf., vol. 221, pp. 1543-1552.

8. T. Qu, G. Q. Huang, Y. F. Zhang, H. D. Yang, "Analytical target cascading for optimal configuration of production service systems", Proc. Conf. Artif. Intell. Cogn. Sci., vol. 66, pp. 1627-1646, 2009.

9. R. Gadh, "RFID: Getting from mandates to a wireless internet of artifacts", Comput. World: Wireless Views, Oct. 2004.

10. G. Roussos, V. Kostakos, "RFID in pervasive computing: State-of-the-art and outlook", Pervasive Mobile Comput., pp. 110-131, 2009.

11. Welbourne, L. Battle, G. Cole, K. Gould, K. Rector, S. Raymer, M. Balazinska, G. Borriello, "Building the internet of things using RFID", IEEE Internet Comput., vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 48-55, 2009.

12. G. Roussos, S. S. Duri, C. W. Thompson, "RFID meets the Internet", IEEE Internet Comput., vol. 13, no. 10, pp. 11-13, 2009.

13. G. Roussos, Networked RFID: Systems Software and Services, U.K., London:Springer-Verlag, 2008.

 14. S. S. Chawathe, V. Krishnamurthy, S. Ramachandran, S. Sarma, "Managing RFID data", Very Large Data Bases, pp. 118-119, 2004.

15. A. Bavier, M. Bowman, B. Chun, D. Culler, S. Karlin, S. Muir, L. Peterson, "Operating system support for planetary-scale network services", Proc. 1st Symp. Networked Syst. Design Implement., vol. 1, pp. 253-266, 2004.

16. Stonebraker, S. Madden, D. J. Abadi, S. Harizopoulos, N. Hachem, P. Helland, "The end of an architectural era (it's time for a complete rewrite)", Proc. Very Large Data Bases, pp. 1150-1160, 2007.

17. M. Roberti, "Two visions of an RFID-enabled future", RFID J., 2008, [online] Available: http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/3899.

18. K. Michael, A. McNamee, M. G. Michael, "The emerging ethics of humancentric GPS tracking and monitoring", Proc. Int. Conf. Mobile Business, pp. 34-41, 2006-Jul.

19. M. Roberti, "Sensing new RFID opportunities", RFID J., 2006, [online] Available: http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/2081/.

20. M. R. Arneson, W. R. Bandy, R. A. Davenport, K. J. Powell, M. C. Sloan, System and Method for Manufacturing a Swallowable Sensor Device, April 2009.

21. To Provide Affordable Quality Health Care for All Americans and Reduce the Growth in Health Care Spending and for Other Purposes, pp. 1001-1008, 2009.

22. VeriChip Corporation to Present Its Glucose-Sensing RFID Microchip and Virus Triage Detection System for the H1N1 Virus at ID World International Congress the World's Premier Event on Identification Technology, October 2009.

23. Harrop, R. Das, G. Holland, "RFID for healthcare and pharmaceuticals 2009–2019", Proc. IDTechEx, 2009.

24. M. G. Michael, K. Michael, "Uberveillance" in Macquarie Dictionary (Australia's National Dictionary), Australia, Sydney:Sydney Univ. Press, pp. 1094, 2009.

25. Supported by the European Union under the 6th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development within the Information Society Technologies (IST) Priority, 2009.

26. B. D. Renegar, K. Michael, "The privacy-value-control harmonization for RFID adoption in retail", IBM J. Res. Develop., vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 8:1-8:14, 2009.

Authors

Katina Michael

Centre for Business Services Science, University of Wollongong , Wollongong, Australia

Katina Michael

Katina Michael

Katina Michael (Senior Member, IEEE) received the B.I.T. degree in information technology from the School of Mathematical and Computing Science, University of Technology, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia, in 1996, the Doctor of Philosophy degree in information and communication technology (ICT) from the Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, N.S.W., Australia, in 2003, and the Master of Transnational Crime Prevention degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Wollongong, in 2009. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at the School of Information Systems and Technology, University of Wollongong (2002–2010), and has previously been employed as a Senior Network Engineer at Nortel Networks (1996–2001). She has also worked as a Systems Analyst at Andersen Consulting and OTIS Elevator Company. She has published several edited books, but more recently coauthored a 500 page reference volume: Innovative Automatic Identification and Location Based Services: from Bar Codes to Chip Implants (Hershey, PA: IGI, 2009). She has published over 85 peer-reviewed papers. She researches predominantly in the area of emerging technologies, and has secondary interests in technologies used for national security and their corresponding social implications.

 

George Roussos

Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at Birbeck College, University of London, London, U.K.

George Roussos

George Roussos

George Roussos (Member, IEEE) received the B.S. degree in mathematics from the University of Athens, Athens, Greece, the M.S. degree in numerical analysis and computing from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Manchester, U.K., and the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine, University of London, London, U.K. Before joining Birkbeck College, University of London, as a Lecturer he worked as the Research and Development Manager for a multinational information technology corporation in Athens, Greece, where he was responsible for the strategic development of new IT products in the areas of knowledge management and mobile internet; as an Internet Security Officer for the Ministry of Defense, Athens, Greece, where he designed the Hellenic armed forces internet exchange and domain name systems; and as a Research Fellow for Imperial College, London, U.K., where he conducted research in distributed systems. He is currently investigating the effects of social activity on system architectures, and exploring mechanisms to support navigation and findability. Dr. Roussos is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), SIGMOBILE, the IEEE Communications Society, and the IEEE Computer Society.

 

George Q. Huang

Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

George Huang

George Huang

George Q. Huang received the B.Eng. degree in manufacturing automation from Southeast University, Nanjing, China, in 1983 and the Doctor of Philosophy degree in mechanical engineering from Cardiff University, Cardiff, U.K., in 1991. Currently, he is a Professor at the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. He has been previously employed as Research Fellow and Lecturer in various universities. He has been conducting research projects in intelligent product design and manufacturing in a context of supply chain logistics. He has published over 250 research papers, half of which have appeared in reputable journals in addition to two monographs and two edited reference books. Dr. Huang serves on editorial boards of a number of international journals. He is a Chartered Engineer and a member of the American Society Of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Institution of Industrial Engineers (IIE), the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), and Hong Kong Logistics Association (HKLA).

 

Arunabh Chattopadhyay

Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles , Los Angeles, CA, USA. 

Arunabh Chattopadhyay received the B.S. degree from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, Delhi, India, in 2005 and the M.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, in 2007. Currently, he is working towards the Ph.D. degree at the Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) Center, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles. His areas of interests are in RFID and distributed database systems.

Rajit Gadh

Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Rajit Gadh (Member, IEEE) received the B.S. degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, the M.S. degree from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, and the Ph.D. degree from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh, PA. He is a Professor of Engineering, Director of Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) Center, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA-WINMEC), and Director of UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center. He has taught as a Visiting Researcher at the University of California Berkeley, has been an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and did his sabbatical as a Visiting Researcher at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, for a year. He has lectured and given keynote addresses worldwide. Dr. Gadh has won several awards from the National Science Foundation (CAREER award, Research Initiation Award, NSF-Lucent Industry Ecology Award, GOAL-I award), The Society of Automotive Engineers (Ralph Teetor award), IEEE (second best student-paper, WTS), the American Society Of Mechanical Engineers (Kodak Best Technical Paper award), AT&T (Industrial Ecology Fellow Award), Engineering Education Foundation (Research Initiation Award), William Wong Fellowship award from the University of Hong Kong, and other accolades in his career. He is on the Editorial board of the ACM Computers in Entertainment and the CAD Journal.

B. S. Prabhu

Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

B. S. Prahbu received the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Currently, he is a Senior Research Engineer at the Wireless Media Lab and Wireless Internet for Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC), Henry Samueli School of Engineering, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). He is currently engaged in research in the areas of adopting wireless technologies (RFID, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, GPS) for enterprise applications. His areas of interest include RFID ecosystem for manufacturing, development of a generic wireless sensor interface, RFID and sensors in healthcare (both in-patient and ambulatory), and semantics-based automated applications. He has been the lead architect of a RFID middleware project, a pioneering effort in developing a comprehensive RFID architecture which supports multiple RFID technologies to work synergistically to provide best-of-breed solutions to many industry verticals. He has over 30 research publications in peer-reviewed journals, conferences, and books.

Peter Chu

Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Peter Chu received the B.S. degree from the National Taiwan University, Tainan, Taiwan, in 1990 and the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 2001.

Currently, he is a Senior Researcher at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). He is a seasoned Research Manager who has supervised and steered multiple industry and academia research projects in the field of smart grid, RFID technologies, mobile communication (WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, GPRS, 3G), media entertainment (DRM, mobile music, video, imaging, gaming, etc.), 3-D/2-D visualization of scientific data (astronomical, power system, industry process data, etc.), and computer-aided design. He has over ten years of experience in research and development of software architectures, frameworks, and solutions, and has delivered multiple project solutions and software packages to the industry globally. He leads active research collaborative projects with companies such as Siemems, Qualcomm, Motorola, HP, Raytheon, Maersk, and Northrop Grumman. He holds two patents and has published more than 30 papers in professional engineering and scientific journals, books, and conference proceedings. He had published papers focused on RFID research and more recently was invited to author a book chapter on “Mobile, wireless and sensor networks: Technology, applications and future directions” (Wiley). He has been invited to Korea and Taiwan to speak on the current status of RFID and sensor network applications. Dr. Chu received the Best Paper Award in Excellence for Applied Research at the 2004 Wireless Telecommunications Symposium.

Citation:  Katina Michael; George Roussos; George Q. Huang; Arunabh Chattopadhyay; Rajit Gadh; B. S. Prabhu; Peter Chu, "Planetary-Scale RFID Services in an Age of Uberveillance", Proceedings of the IEEE, Year: 2010, Volume: 98, Issue: 9, pp. 1663 - 1671, DOI: 10.1109/JPROC.2010.2050850

IEEE Keywords: Radiofrequency identification, Internet, Radio frequency, Technological innovation, Decision making,Technology management, Business process re-engineering, Packaging, Supply chains, Australia

INSPEC: surveillance, business process re-engineering, decision-making, Internet, radiofrequency identification, strategic planning, vision, RFID services, uberveillance, radiofrequency identification, barcode tagging, nonline of sight identification, decision making, strategic management, reengineered business process

Author Keywords: vision, Innovation, radio-frequency identification (RFID), service

RFID—A Unique Radio Innovation for the 21st Century  

In 1948, the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers published Harry Stockman's seminal work on “communication by means of reflected power,” which many consider as the first paper on radio-frequency identification (RFID). The paper concluded by expressing the expectation that “considerable research and development work has to be done before the remaining basic problems in reflected-power communication are solved, and before the field of useful applications is explored.” It is only appropriate that after more than 60 years following the publication of this work by its progenitor, in this special issue, the Proceedings of the IEEE review current developments towards the realization of the goal outlined by Stockman.

This special issue explores the state of the art across the RFID technology landscape from hardware, to systems, as well as applications and support for innovative business models.

Indeed, while RFID technology has been around for decades, it is only in the last ten years or so that considerable progress in technology and standardization, resulting in large-scale manufacturing of high-performance RFID system at affordable prices, has reignited interest in RFID, and has significantly extended the scope of possible applications. To a certain extent, addressing the main problems associated with RFID technology itself has been only the beginning of this process, as similarly extensive breakthroughs have been and are still required within associated information systems so that they can take advantage of the technology. For example, while it has become technically and economically feasible to tag a wide variety of manufactured artefacts for some time now, enterprise IT systems have been unable to cope with such detailed information and the high volumes of data generated as a result of IDs that are unique for each item. As a result such systems have already undergone considerable development so as to simply be able to record such information, with further work required in the future.

Stockman also correctly anticipated that applications would play a central role in taking RFID technology forward. While the first generation of RFID involved the concurrent reading of one or a small number of tags that moreover carried only a simple identifier, today's novel applications are making greater demands on tags, readers, middleware, infrastructure, and IT in terms of affordability, performance, and flexibility. Notable among them are the initiatives by the Department of Defence and Wal-Mart in supply chain operations, which have played a central role in increasing awareness, and in highlighting the business value and the challenges in deploying RFID. By tracking assets, supplies, and personnel, many enterprises are increasingly experimenting with new business models to integrate RFID within their digital ecosystems.

While innovation in basic RFID and supporting technologies continues to advance the field, the marketplace also plays a central role by eliminating the less viable options. To be sure, this interplay between the research community and the engineering and business community has been instrumental in the development of RFID, and in this special issue, we aim to represent both sides and their concerns.

RFID is increasingly seen as far more than a simple and effective automatic identification technology. Academic and industrial proponents view RFID as the cost-effective technical solution for the development of open, shared, universal ubiquitous computing infrastructures thus pioneering the next paradigm in computing. From this point of view, RFID is seen as the core ingredient that enables the coupling of physical entities and digital information into cyberphysical systems and is widely expected to bring about pervasive computing One of the main challenges towards the realization of this vision, often also expressed using the term internet or web of things/artifacts,1 is the provision of networked services that support interaction between conventional information systems and such augmented natural objects and manufactured artifacts.

This special issue explores the state of the art across the RFID landscape from hardware, to systems, applications, and support for innovative business models.

The first two papers consider techniques that can lead to improvements of RFID tag performance across applications. Moretto et al. employ modeling and simulation to investigate the loading effect and its implications for RFID tag antenna performance. In particular, they propose an optimal model of shunt resistance and calculate boundaries for this effect with regard to distance from the reader, which imply support for larger tag memories, on-tag encryption, and improved performance in hostile environments. Bolomey et al. introduce the concept of transfer impedance to characterize RFID systems. Furthermore, they employ two metrics to assess the performance of RFID tags, and illustrate their application in several case studies. They conclude by demonstrating how their model can be used in practical situations to investigate the tradeoffs for RFID tag design in specific applications.

Furthermore, Dardari et al. survey the application of ultrawideband technology to RFID considering specific opportunities for improved area coverage, better resilience to interference, higher multiple-access capability, and higher ranging resolution that can facilitate more accurate localization.

The following three papers consider the case of RFID-enabled wireless sensor networks. Roy et al. examine how sensors can be integrated into tags, with emphasis on enhancements to link and multiple-access layers, and support for advanced power management. The paper reports on two key innovations introduced by the authors, namely, a programmable tag powered through energy harvesting and a software-defined RFID reader. Bhattacharyya et al. discuss a scheme that allows RFID tags to be used as low-cost sensors by mapping a change in some physical parameter of interest to a controlled change in RFID tag antenna electrical properties. The paper provides three application types for which this class of RFID sensing is well suited, including temperature threshold sensing, displacement sensing, and fluid level sensing. Lakafosis et al. consider the case of printed electronics on flexible and paper substrates. They highlight their unique capabilities and the benefits of using paper as the ultra-low-cost, conformal, and environmentally friendly substrate for mass-scale and ubiquitous implementation of such applications, thus eliminating the need of expensive RFID reader infrastructure.

Merilampi et al. also consider the use of printed electronics for RFID. Specifically, they investigate the effect of the conductive ink layer thickness on the performance of printed ultra-high-frequency (UHF) RFID tag antennas. The relationship established between performance characteristics and ink thickness provides a basis for tradeoff optimization between the cost and read range requirements in certain applications.

Hande et al. present a piezoelectric vibration energy harvesting design for active RFID tags. Vibration data from high-value assets used during disaster relief have been analyzed and their results provide a comprehensive description of their prototype including system form factors, efficiency, and lifetime.

Nikitin et al. demonstrate how by using hollow metal heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts can provide a potential communication channel between passive UHF readers and tags. HVAC ducts behave as electromagnetic waveguides with much lower signal attenuation compared to free-space propagation and the authors have been able to achieve a 30-m read range for standard tags with free-space range of only 6 m.

Chen et al. propose a novel EPC application level events (ALE) compliant logical reader abstraction defined on spatial zones and implemented by combining tracking information from passive RFID and positional information from active RFID. This approach allows for fine-grain, near-real-time tracking of high volumes of assets within large spaces, at significantly lower infrastructure cost.

Sani et al. presented an implantable RFID for medical applications paying special attention to its communication range and antenna design. Their research demonstrates that a passive tag solution allows only for a limited communication range due to the electrically small size of the antenna and nulls in the radiation pattern. Active tags are found to have distinct advantages in this domain.

Gentili and Iadanza address the problem of positive patient identification within a pediatric intensive care unit. They implement a tracking and identification system using IEEE 802.11 and active RFID technologies. The system appears to result into a substantial improvement according to the total risk priority number methodology, a technique employed by carers to assess patient risk, when compared to a non-RFID system.

Michael et al. discuss different alternative futures for RFID from establishing a rather simple alternative to bar code tagging to fulfilling its full potential as a core ingredient for the internet of things. They outline a vision for an RFID product service system, the kinds of smart applications that are likely to emerge in the future as a result of this, and the role of data management capabilities in planetary-scale systems.

Finally, Baker et al. report on a recent empirical study dealing with the RFID investment decision. The study examines the factors that affect this decision in the case of early RFID adopter and nonadopter companies. While the adoption cost remains a primary concern, the opportunity for strategic benefits in decision making is seen as a key factor for RFID adoption.

This collection of papers brings out the state of the art, the technical and engineering challenges that are faced by the field, the directions taken by the academic and the industrial community, and the opportunities in technology, standards, and business. RFID has gone from a niche industry now to becoming part and parcel of underlying technology in consumer and enterprise spaces. The future of RFID is expected to be even more exciting including intelligent tags, tags that can scavenge energy from the environment, readers and tags that can create meshes of self-organizing intelligent networks, embeddable tags, etc. We hope that this collection of papers forms the genesis of intellectual thought leadership discussions that go on to create a vibrant, viable, and sustainable RFID community.

Keywords: Special issues and sections, Radiofrequency identification, Technological innovation, radiofrequency identification, corporate modelling, innovation management, innovative business models, RFID technology

Citation: Rajit Gadh, George Roussos, Katina Michael, George Q. Huang, B. Shiv Prabhu, Peter Chu, "RFID—A Unique Radio Innovation for the 21st Century", Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume: 98, Issue: 9, Sept. 2010, pp. 1546 - 1549, DOI: 10.1109/JPROC.2010.2053871

Social-technical issues facing humancentric RFID implantees

Social-technical issues facing the humancentric RFID implantee sub-culture through the eyes of Amal Graafstra

Abstract

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders have traditionally been used to identify domesticated animals so that they can be reunited with their owners in the event that they stray. In the late 1990s, industry started to investigate the benefits of using RFID to identifying non-living things throughout the supply chain toward new efficiencies in business operations. Not long after, people began to consider the possibilities of getting RFID tag or transponder implants for themselves. Mr Amal Graafstra of the United States is one of the first, and probably most well-known ‘do it yourselfer’ (DIY) implantees, who enjoys building customized projects which enable him to interact with his private social living space. Since 2005, hundreds of people have embarked on a mission to interact with their mobile phones, their cars, and their house via a chip implant, providing personalized settings for their own ultimate convenience. This paper presents some of the socio-technical issues facing the RFID implantee sub-culture, namely health and safety, privacy, security, regulation, and societal perceptions. The paper concludes with a list of recommendations related to implantables for hobbyists.

Section 1. Introduction

While some cultures embrace the practice of decorating the human body with tattoos and brands, others still perform the age-old art of scarification [1]. Of greater currency today however is the act of body piercing using a plethora of metallic materials, including titanium. Some have even opted to modify the body in outward appearance by using large subdermal or transdermal implants on their heads and forearms [2]. But beyond the purely cosmetic body modifications that some subcultures engage in [3], there are now techno-hobbyists who are transforming the manner in which they interact with their personal social living space through the use of functional high-tech devices known as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders.

On the 22nd of March 2005, Mr Amal Graafstra was implanted with his first radio-frequency identification tag [4]. Anecdotal evidence from other do-it-yourselfer implantees agree that Graafstra has been a pioneer in this field, doing things “first” and also “better” than most other implantees meddling in the high-tech art. In the Beginning of 2006 Graafstra even published a book about the applications he had built [5]. Other high profile implantees [6], some of whom preceded Graafstra, include: Kevin Warwick (University of Reading academic) [7], Scott Silverman (CEO of VeriChip Corporation) [8], Rafael Macedo de la Concha (Mexico's Attorney General) [9], Dr. John Halamka (Harvard Medical School's CIO) [10], Gary Retherford (employee at CityWatcher.com) [11], Mikey Sklar (a UNIX engineer) [12], Jonathan Oxer (a LINUX guru) [13], and Meghan Trainor (doctoral student and artist) [14]. This paper however is not concerned with professional “research-oriented” RFID implantees, such as Kevin Warwick, nor with consumers/customers who have been implanted with commercially available Veri Chip technology, nor with individuals who have used RFID for their artistic performances, such as Eduardo Kac [15]. Rather, this paper is concerned with understanding do it yourselfer (DIY) implantees who are usually technically-savvy citizens and are predominantly interested in novel convenience-oriented solutions. This paper focuses on the challenging socio-technical issues and questions that DIY implantees are faced with, related to health and safety, privacy, security, regulation and societal perceptions.

Section 2. Literature Review

A number of academic articles and book chapters have been published on the life and works of Amal Graafstra, including his own full-length book titled RFID Toys [5]. Graafstra featured in his own IEEE Spectrum article in 2007 [16] and several other academic works about him have been written between 2008 and 2009 [17], [18]. He has also figured in hundreds of popular stories in all forms of media-print, radio and television that have received worldwide coverage, e.g. [19], [20], [21], [22]. Most recently Fox News wrote about him [23] and the Discovery Channel interviewed him. While anyone in Graafstra's position would have probably commercialized their ideas by now, Graafstra remains content in pursuing things that are ‘fun’ rather than things which ‘make money,’ although he admittedly does have an entrepreneurial streak about him. Despite the attention, Graafstra remains level-headed, and it is clear upon speaking with him, that he is more about innovation than he is about becoming famous.

Section 3. Methodology

This paper takes on a non-traditional ICT methodological form in that it is written in two voices; Part A is written in the first person voice of Amal Graafstra where he describes events as a participant and Part B is written in the third person voice where Michael and Michael are relating events about Graafstra, and Graafstra is relating events about others. In 2007, Michael and Michael embarked on a full-length interview with Graafstra [24]. Some two years after the interview was conducted, the interviewers requested that Graafstra reflect on his own ideas and commentary as stated in the original interview transcript [25], and make amendments as he saw fit. Time is a very important element when one considers new radical technologies and applications, especially those that seem to evoke a great deal of interdisciplinary debate. Take the launch of the ENIAC in 1948 for instance, and the misconceptions that ensued [26], although few could have possibly predicted that such awesome machinery would find its way into humans.

In Part A, Graafstra’ s story is depicted “uncut”, and Michael and Michael do not interrupt the flow or stream of ideas but can be credited with evoking responses to questions that Graafstra is seldom asked. The usual media hype disappointingly focuses on whether Graafstra is the ‘devil’ and falls short of those all important philosophical questions about the future trajectory of technology. K. Michael has a background in information and communication technology (ICT) and law, while M.G. Michael has qualifications in philosophy, history and theology and has written on topics related to bioethics and the misuse of new technologies by society. The rich combination of backgrounds and experiences has brought about an interdisciplinary discussion between the three authors in Part B. It does not mean that the authors agree on all points, but new research should not necessarily bring about agreement, but debate toward further discussion. In some sense, this is what the IEEE ISTASIO Conference is about, respecting diverse opinions and looking at new technologies in an interdisciplinary manner that may help to shed light on future developments and how society is to absorb them.

3.1. Case Study: Amal Graafstra

According to Yin (1984, p. 23) a case study “investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context”. The case study in this paper is of a human subject, Mr Amal Graafstra. Graafstra can be considered a participant-researcher in this study while Michael and Michael act as independent observers of the subject within his real-life context.

3.1.1. Background

Amal Graafstra is the Director of Information Technology for OutBack Power Systems. He is the owner of several technology and mobile communications companies. Amal loves thinking up interesting ways to combine and apply various technologies in his daily life. A self-starter, Amal dropped out of community college and started his first company at the age of seventeen. The company was called The Guild, and it provided dial-up Internet access to customers, while small set-ups were still feasible.

Some years later, Amal started his second company Morpheus, which specialized in web hosting and web development. For some time the company did well, but as cheaper hosting services became available, it became more and more difficult to compete in the market. Amal then decided to rebuild Morpheus by supplying managed computing services to the medical industry. In parallel, Amal did some work for WireCutter, a wireless mobile messaging company that were involved in creating mobile marketing campaigns for various radio stations, sending SMS text messages to mobile phones. Graafstra decided to pour his heart and soul into the company he called txtGroups but this too was unable to make ends meet, and soon Twitter rapidly overtook txtGroups as a social text platform. His most recent employment is as the head of an information technology (IT) department where he enjoys creating novel and innovative solutions that enable the business to grow.

3.2. Interview

The interview conducted in 2007 between Graafstra (the subject) and K. Michael (the interviewer) was semistructured and contained 25 questions. The main themes addressed included:

  • Background (upbringing, schooling, qualifications, employment, age and place of residence)

  • Adoption of technology habits, value proposition for RFID implants, and prospects of commercialising intellectual property around humancentric chip implants

  • Motivations for going with an implantable technology as opposed to wearable or luggable device

  • Self-perceptions, whether he is a hobbyist or entrepreneur and what words, terms or phrases he uses to refer to himself (i.e. cyborg versus electrophorus)

  • Thoughts on implantation, who was to conduct the procedure, any barriers or challenges to overcome, and whether or not he had to ask permission to get the implant

  • Feelings on the actual implant process, how it made him feel, whether it was painful or painless and how he dealt with the aftermath of the implantation

  • Attitudes and perceptions towards the application of microchip implants in humans and ethical issues, discussed in terms of specific scenarios and stakeholders

  • Values on mandatory, voluntary, commercial and noncommercial and government-mandated humancentric applications pertaining to issues of consent, opting in/out

  • Views on the location of implantation, the type of tag that should be used, the durability of the tag, and its potential functionality

  • Experiences with Christians or civil libertarians who oppose his use of RFID and his counter-arguments to such notions as the fulfillment of prophecy/“mark of the beast”

  • Personal philosophical and spiritual perspectives

  • Knowledge on the prospect of RFID implant viruses spreading, relationship impacts, potential health risks and security breaches, and other general concerns.

3.3. Ethnography and Participant Observation

Graafstra was asked by Michael and Michael to write a reflection on the original transcript, in actual fact to take on the role of a participant observer. This reflection was integrated into the original transcript, forming Part A of this paper. The reflection remains ‘untouched’ save for changes in formatting and expression. These are the raw thoughts of Amal Graafstra, captured in an ethnographic style [27]: “[i]t is a distinctive feature of social research that the ‘objects’ studied are in fact ‘subjects’ … unlike physical objects or animals, they produce accounts of themselves and their worlds.” Michael and Michael have added relevant bibliographic sources to Part A, and in Part B the content from the original interview conducted with Graafstra is qualitatively analyzed to draw out anthropological and sociological orientations. It is here where the third person voice is used by the authors but where also, events related to Graafstra himself, are cited through direct quotation.

Part A-Participant Observation

In Part A, Amal Graafstra tells his DIY tagger story as a participant observer. He is both the object and subject of his narrative. Graafstra takes us on a tour of where and how it all began-his early interest in computing, in what he calls fun “projects”, and finally what led him to get an RFID tag implanted into his left hand in 2005. Graafstra then takes us on a journey of how he acquired his implant, and how it makes him feel to be a bearer of beneath-the-skin technology. He dedicates a great deal of space discussing health and safety issues relevant to RFID implants and concludes by emphasizing the importance for DIYers to take personal responsibility for their actions.

Section 4. In the Beginning…

Technology has always been an interest of mine. From a very early age I was doing what lots of other inquisitive toddlers were doing … tearing things apart out of curiosity and not being able to put them back together. I was intrigued with seemingly magical things. Wood blocks can only hold one's interest for so long. But a record player or a telephone, those things just held some kind of mystery that needed exploration.

It was not until third grade however, where two very unlikely set of circumstances occurred which introduced me to the boundless potential the world of computers had to offer. I had the privilege of going to a country school. It was literally nestled in a forest, the trees of which we would build forts in during recess. It was very small with only four rooms, one for each grade. Oddly enough, the third grade classroom had a PET computer in it - the only one in the entire school. It had no disk or cassette tape storage and no operating system, just a PET version of BASIC in read only memory (ROM). For the greater part, it sat unused in the corner, a simple and momentary curiosity for most… but not to me. I turned it on and got a simple flashing cursor. What could it mean? What does it want me to type? The mystery was just too great to resist, but without any book or instruction manual, or anyone who knew anything about it at the entire school, I did not get far at all and started to lose interest.

Luckily, that year the school started a new program called Reading Is Fundamental (R.I.F.), where each student was allowed to pick out and keep a free book twice a year. I loved choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) books, and started picking through the piles to find all the CYOA books available. I noticed there were two books in my stack of potential keepers that said “Computer Programs” on the cover. As I thumbed through those two books I saw there was “programming code” for IBM and Apple II computers, and I wondered if the PET would understand any of it. I picked one out and brought it back to the classroom, and that is when the fun began. If either the IBM or Apple code had worked perfectly “as-is”, it may not have captured my imagination. The fact was, I had to ask for a PET programming book from the teacher, who did manage to track one down. With it, I could cross reference the code in the CYOA book with the PET BASIC book to make the code actually work. By the end of third grade, I was obsessed with the notion I could use a special language to tell the computer exactly what to do and it would do it. I felt like anything was possible! I immediately started begging my parents to buy a computer.

4.1. Technology and Having Fun

There is something special about the latest gadget that comes out or the next release of a fondly regarded software application. It is more than just being able to get a greater number of tasks done; it is also about exploring new possibilities. The creativity one can express through building solutions that work well and people use offers a sense of accomplishment and even pride. That building process might turn out to require creating an entirely new technology of some sort, but for most that process is about extending existing technologies in some way.

Typically, extending a technology is done through standardized channels such as software components, libraries, software development kits (SDKs), and application programming interfaces (APls). In the hardware realm one uses integrated circuits (ICs) with integrated functions, or entire original equipment manufacturer (OEM) hardware modules designed to be integrated into products. What I really love to do however is take an existing product and enhance it, sometimes using methods outside the typical channels. Some people might call that “hacking” but to me it is more about getting into the nuts and bolts of a product and making it do what you want it to do.

For example, I wanted to change out the deadbolt in the front door of my home to work without a key. I purchased an electronic deadbolt that worked with a key or by entering a PIN code by keypad. That was fine for a couple days, but the first time I had a handful of groceries and tried to enter the PIN code, I knew I wanted more. I wanted the deadbolt to unlock faster, without a key and without having to enter a PIN code. I just wanted it to know it was me and let me in, even if I had a handful of groceries. I ended up enhancing that electronic deadbolt to also accept RFID tags as a form of authentication. Later I expanded this idea further to allow a PC to log entries, allow me to set alerts, and even allow me to use other forms of authentication like email and text messages to unlock the door (great for letting neighbors in to check on your pets while you are away). There is no way I would be able to find a residential deadbolt that could do all that, let alone pay less than I did to build it myself.

4.2. Hobbyist or Entrepreneur?

I definitely have an entrepreneurial streak in me. I have started several service-based technology businesses and essentially worked for myself for 15 of the last 17 years or so. When it comes to RFID however, it's mostly just a hobby. I've done some consulting here and there, but when everyday people hear about my implants and the little projects I have built, they tend to ask me if I have any patents and/or plan to market some of these ideas.

The truth is most people have no idea what constitutes a good idea versus a patentable idea versus a marketable idea, or the amount of hard work and risk it takes to bring that little idea all the way to a market successfully. I have not had a good enough idea or met the right people yet with the business experience who could really take these things as far as they would need to go to be successful. Currently my now out-of-print niche market book RFID Toys has been the only commercial venture I have undertaken with regard to RFID, and for the time I have put into it I have basically made around $0.75 USD per hour. Not to mention the whole process was more stressful than it was fun. It seems to be a universal law that states “when you turn a fun hobby into a job, it usually stops being fun”.

So at this point I am much more content with running my little RFID forum, answering people's questions as best I can, helping to solve problems, and putting out some good quality examples others can use to get a basic understanding of hobbyist RFID.

Section 5. Getting the RFID Tag Implant

5.1. The Idea

When I think back to when I first heard about RFID implants, I was very young, perhaps seven or eight years old. I remember my mother telling me how pets were getting these new computer chips and that she did not think it was right. She, and basically everyone I grew up around, thought these things were evil and they would end up controlling humanity via satellite. I remember trodding around in the back yard contemplating the end of civilization as I knew it because of these “horrible devices”. I did not doubt that point of view or those technological misconceptions for quite some time.

The thought of RFID implantation did not resurface until years later when I was faced with the decision of whether or not to implant my own pets with a “tracking chip” (a term still used by vets which does not help dislodge ever-prevalent misconceptions about RFID implantation). By then though I was much more sensible about my approach to technology, and I thoroughly annoyed the veterinarian by asking a ton of technical questions he could not answer. After doing more research (without the aid of a content rich Internet in the early 90s) and really looking into how it worked, I had my pets implanted and I came away with a much better understanding of what the technology could and could not do.

Over a decade later, in March 2005, I found myself moving heavy equipment in and out of my office almost every day. My office door had one of those latches that locked every time it closed, and I really hated having to fish around for my keys all the time. That got me thinking about how archaic the idea of a standard metal key really was. A key is nothing more than a hunk of metal, cut with a certain pattern that identifies me as “authorized”. The typical key and lock system is also lock-centric, meaning the lock is the unique bit and each key that accesses it has to be duplicated from that unique key pattern. Once a unique key pattern is duplicated and distributed, tight control over that lock is essentially lost. I wanted a key-centric solution, meaning each key would be unique and that unique key could be used with various locks. Being unique myself, ideally I wanted that unique key to be me.

I started looking into biometrics, things like face recognition technologies and fingerprint readers. The problem I ran into was the fact that these solutions, when done the right way, were very expensive and resource intensi ve to implement. At the time, there were also serious and valid concerns over the security and reliability of biometric solutions. Also, because I would need to put the camera or fingerprint reader outside, I was also concerned about vandalism. At the time, there were not many reliable biometric options rated for outdoor use that could tell the difference between my real face and a picture of my face, or my fingerprint versus a latex glove fingertip filled with water pressed against the sensor where the remnants of my own fingerprint left on the sensor would betray me. However, I did find a variety of very inexpensive RFID readers, and writing my own software to work with them was a no-brainer. The only down side to RFID was the fact I had to carry around an access card. That got me thinking about pet implants again, and I realized I could get the benefits of RFID without having to carry around anything.

5.2. The RFID Tag Acquisition

The first thing I did was look into getting an actual pet tag implanted, but there were a few issues with pet tags. I discovered there were many different kinds of RFID, and they did not all play well with each other. As it turned out, I could not find any cheap readers that would read the pet tags, and nothing really existed in the OEM hardware space which would have allowed me to easily integrate the pet tag into a custom built access control solution. Another issue was that pet tags have a special porous “anti - migration” coating on them that is designed to allow flesh to grow into and lock the implant in place, making removal or replacement nearly impossible.

There was another option for RFID implantation; the Veri Chip. I had already heard about how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the VeriChip for implantation into humans, but the Veri Chip had the same issues pet tags had. Hardware options were very limited and expensive, and the tags also had anti-migration coating on them. I also found out that you must be registered in the Veri Chip database to receive one of their implants, which I had issues with considering my goals and intended uses were all private in nature.

Left hand with EM4102 implant and USB reader

So, I figured I would just start with a basic keycard system and find some cheap RFID readers that were easy to interface with or were designed as OEM hardware I could easily integrate into my project. I found several reader options that read EM4102 based tags, so I started looking around for RFID tags based on the EM4102 chip. What I found just about made me jump out of my seat. I found a website that sold EM4102 based RFID tags that came in a glass ampoule form factor just like the pet tags! In addition, these did not have any coating on them. I immediately ordered the reader hardware and a few glass tags (figure 1).

 

While I waited for the equipment to arrive, I started calling tag manufacturers to find out what differences there might be between the glass tags I ordered (which were not designed for implantation) and implantable pet and human glass tags. It turns out there were only a few insignificant differences, the first of which was that tags did not have the anti-migration coating on them. Second, the EM 4102 based tags did not use the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) animal implant data protocol, which I did not care about either. Finally, they were not manufactured or sold as sterile equipment. After several difficult conversations with various manufacturers, I found out the glass used in the tags I ordered and the animal (pet/livestock/human) implantable tags were the same stuff. That was good enough for me, so as soon as the tags arrived, I was arranging my first implant procedure. At the time I was running a managed computing service designed for medical clinics and had several doctors as clients. Once I confirmed the glass tags worked, I scheduled the implant procedure with one of my clients, a cosmetic surgeon, and started building projects. At the time, I did not tell anyone that I was scheduled for an implant procedure, partly because I was so busy creating my first access control project and partly because at the time I did not consider getting an RFID tag implanted in my left hand to be that novel of an idea. A couple days later after a five minute procedure my left hand was RFID enabled and I had a basic access control system built for my office door.

5.3. A Cyborg or an Electrophorus?

People often ask if I feel any different now, or if I can feel the tags under my skin. Over 5 years later, the answer to both questions is no, not really. I do not feel any different, nor can I feel either implant unless I physically poke one with my finger. In fact, I often forget they are there until I have to use them.

At first it was kind of weird though, and during times of boredom I found myself mindlessly poking at them and feeling the implants under my skin. There was this kind of this cool factor to using them. I would put my hand to the front door and it would unlock, and people would be like “What!? Hold on … what just happened?” and at the time I kind of did feel like a cyborg of sorts.

But over time, the novelty wore off, and now they are just the useful tools I always wanted them to be. Even the interesting conversations I used get into with people regarding safety, security, privacy, religious concerns, and the future of the technology itself now tend to be redundant and repeat themselves constantly. Even my definition of what a cyborg is has changed.

The well-known Professor Kevin Warwick underwent the first human implantation of an RFID tag long before I even thought about doing it. He called that project Cyborg 1.0, which captured both headlines and imaginations. My definition of cyborg is a bit different however. A person with a cochlear implant or even a pace maker, those people are truly mixing technology with biology to become a cybernetic-organism (cyborg). What I have done is simply move an RFID tag from my pants pocket to a skin pocket. There is no biological interaction, and to me that interaction is what defines a cyborg. Michael and Michael [28] distinguish between what is traditionally considered a cybernetic-organism and DIY implantees who are merely “bearers” of technology (i.e. an electrophorus). I think that it is a good idea to have a term that separates us from cyborgs.

So why even bother with implanting a tag in the first place? A lot of people also ask me why “take the risk” putting it under my skin? Why not wear a watch or ring or something with a tag in it? The simple answer is-I won't wear a watch or a ring for very long without losing it. It would be like wearing a backpack everywhere you went; you would just want to take it off all the time due to it being uncomfortable. When I looked at what was possible with glass encased tags and the history these types of RFID implants had with pets, I really did not think twice about getting one implanted. Not to say that I did not do my research first [29], but the actual decision to get a tag implanted was made in a matter of seconds, and I have never regretted it.

Section 6. Is Implanting an Rfid Tag in the Body a “Safe” Practice?

Safety is a big issue, and is still a concern for every do-it-yourselfer (DIY) tagger that is considering or has already undergone an implantation procedure. Given DIY tagging is done through the sheer will of one's own accord, every tagger must take full responsibility for their decisions and actions, their health, safety, and the ultimate outcome of their RFID implantation endeavors.

Table 1. Primary safety concerns for DIY taggers

As the DIY community grows, and more people get non-FDA approved glass tags implanted in non-FDA approved locations, so too the concerns over the safety of RFID implants will grow (Table 1).

6.1. Sterilization

A common method for sterilizing medical equipment is to place it into an autoclave, where heat and pressure destroy any pathogens. The temperature reached inside an autoclave however, is well above acceptable operational and storage specifications for most RFID tags. Due to this, I did not autoclave my glass tags. Both my implants were sterilized by soaking them in a liquid antiseptic for a few minutes before the implantation procedure. As others learnt of what I had done and expressed interest in getting a RFID implant, I suggested they avoid using the autoclave to sterilize their tags as the heat may damage them.

I later performed a test, placing five 2×12mm EM4102 based glass tags in an autoclave for a full one hour cycle. All five tags came out sterile and in working order. On the RFID Toys forum, other users reported similar success with the autoclave and EM4102 tags, leading me to now suggest purchasing at least two tags and putting them through the autoclave prior to implantation. Of course, testing the tags after the sterilization process and before implantation is strongly suggested.

I believe read-only EM4102 tags are able to withstand the high temperatures of the autoclave because the IC chips typically have their unique IDs laser etched into ROM at the factory. Other tag families such as the Philips HITAG with writable memory blocks may not fare as well with such high temperatures, and significant damage to the writable blocks may occur.

6.2. Location

For his Cyborg 1.0 project, Professor Kevin Warwick decided to implant a glass encased tag into the upper inside of his left arm, beneath the inner layer of skin and on top of the muscle [31]. The location seemed to offer a safe haven for the fragile glass casing. Nine days later the tag was removed without complication.

Unlike the typical VeriChip or pet identification applications where a handheld reader is brought in close proximity to the implant, I use my implants in applications where the tag must typically be brought to a fixed reader. Because the normal operational range of small cylindrical glass tags is anywhere from one to four inches, I chose to implant both my tags (one in each hand) into the webbed area between my thumb and index finger, just under the dermis layer. This location allows me to easily position my RFID tags very close to a reader, while still providing an amount of soft tissue to cushion and protect the tags from blunt force impact. Being just under the skin and not in muscle tissue also allows for easy removal or replacement. Most, but not all, DIY taggers have chosen the same location for their implants.

6.3. Migration

Glass encased RFID tags which are designed for implantation in animals or humans typically have an anti-migration coating of some sort affixed to the glass casing. This porous material allows the implantee's flesh to grow into the material which stops the tag from moving around in the body.

The primary purpose of keeping the glass RFID tag located at the selected implantation site has more to do with consistency and ease of use than potential health risks. Veterinarians need to be able to reliably scan the same area on every pet to determine if the animal has a microchip. If tags were able to migrate from their implantation site, vets may fail to successfully scan and identify a tagged pet. In the case of tagging livestock, you do not want to accidentally have a tag migrate into a piece of meat that ends up on the consumer dining table or in scrap pieces of carcass which may be rendered for a variety of food chain-related uses.

Like myself, the DIY tagger community has taken to using glass tags which are not designed for implantation, and as such do not utilize this coating. The lack of coating allows tags to be removed or replaced much more easily than if they had this coating, and after five years neither of my tags have migrated from their implant sites. This may be due to the fact that my tags rest in congruous elastic skin tissue rather than fibrous muscle tissue which is bundled into separate strands that an implant could move between.

6.4. Structural Compromise

The thought of a glass capsule being crushed into small sharp shards while it is still inside one's body does not produce feelings of excitement or enthusiasm. Concern over the structural resilience are warranted, since the cylindrical glass capsules encasing the RFID tag's electrical components (IC, antenna coil, etc.) have very thin walls and are easily crushed using common medical instruments like forceps.

The FDA initially considered the Veri Chip as a class II device which requires special control testing [32]. However this testing did not include any sort of structural integrity test. No crush/penetration tests were performed, and key factors such as lateral stress or compression limits. are unknown. Later, the FDA reclassified the Veri Chip [33], placing it in the type III group of devices which has even fewer controls. The health risks specifically identified in the K033440 reclassification include [34]; adverse tissue reaction, migration of implanted transponder, failure of inserter, failure of electronic scanner, electromagnetic interference, electrical hazards, magnetic resonance imaging incompatibility, and needle stick. No mention of glass casing fracture or structural compromise.

After five years using my own implants and talking to many DIY taggers who have followed suit, I have not heard of anyone having any issue with crushed or compromised tags. Still, the concern is valid, and the choice of implant size, location, orientation, proximity to bone and other inflexible tissues all play a role in avoiding structural compromise.

6.5. Removal and Replacement

At the time of this writing, I have not observed any accounts of DIY taggers getting their implants removed or replaced. However, the implantation of glass tags that do not make use of a polypropylene polymer based anti-migration coating should enable the tags to remain detached and separate from the body, making removal easier.

Rather than implanting tags deep into muscle tissue, which would require invasive surgery to locate and remove, DIY taggers tend to prefer shallow implantation just under the skin. This reduces both the complexity of locating and the size and nature of the incision required to remove the tag. It also means the body is less prone to inflammation and infection-related side effects.

6.6. Cancer Risk

What started off the recent cancer discussion surrounding animal identification RFID implants was a paper published about a French bulldog who received an RFID “pet microchip” implant in September of 2003 at age 9. In April of 2004 he was examined and found to have a “lump” at the implant site [30]:

“[o]n April 2004, Leon, a 9-year-old male French Bulldog, was examined by the referring veterinarian, based in Guelph, Ontario (Canada), for the sudden growth of a subcutaneous 3×3-cm mass located on the dorsal midline of the neck, just cranial to the shoulders. The dog was regularly vaccinated against the most common canine infectious diseases and rabies, and was micro chipped (Indexel, Merial, Lyon, France) in September 2003.”

This news spread quickly, and older studies were dug up revealing similar links in laboratory mice and soon the firestorm was in full swing. I started getting all kinds of concerned emails from DIY taggers, media interview requests, and more hate mail from concerned members of the public. After reading the studies however, it became clear to me that the risks were not as exaggerated as the media and RFID critics made them out to be.

For example, many articles citing the above-mentioned study claimed the French bulldog “had a giant tumor surrounding the implant” and that the dog had died “an untimely death” from that cancer. Upon simply reading the paper I found both those assertions were false [30];

“The microchip was found, not embedded within the tumor, but immediately adjacent to it, surrounded by a very thin fibrous wall (approximately 1 mm thick) and some fresh hemorrhage.”

Reading further I found [30];

“After surgery, the dog was not vaccinated or microchipped again. Up to now, the dog is well, and no recurrence has been observed.”

So basically the dog was doing fine two years later when the study was published in 2006, and the paper calls out various other possible causes such as postinjection fibrosarcoma (a well-known pathologic entity) characterized by inflammatory peritumoral infiltration, multinucleated giant cells, and myofibroblastic cells.

The plainly published facts did not seem to matter though. Both mainstream media and RFID critics alike jumped all over the academic paper and dug up other studies from which to pull completely out of context findings. However, other papers cited within that French bulldog study do point out implants which were embedded in the center of neoplasms. So what is going on here? I started looking into other studies after visiting sites like antichips.com [35] publishing statements like the following:

“[i]n almost all cases, the malignant tumors, typically sarcomas, arose at the site of the implants and grew to surround and fully encase the devices. These fast-growing, malignant tumors often led to the death of the afflicted animals. In many cases, the tumors metastasized or spread to other parts of the animals. The implants were unequivocally identified as the cause of the cancers.”

The bottom line for myself and other DIY taggers was simple: should we be concerned about this? For the most part, what I found after digging into many of these studies was that these laboratory mice were either genetically prone to cancerous growths or subjected to radiation and/or chemical carcinogens in an effort to intentionally stimulate cancerous growth. So now the question becomes, what would cause cancer to grow around an implant? There could only be two things; the glass used to encase the RFID tag or the anti-migration coating used to lock the implant in place in the flesh. In both instances more research is needed, however it is my personal opinion that the porous coating will likely be revealed as the leading factor in stimulating cancerous growth in the area immediately surrounding implantation sites in predisposed specimens.

6.7. Taking Personal Responsibility

While I believe everyone today needs to take a bit more personal responsibility when it comes to the decisions they make, for a DIY tagger this is especially true. A draft DIY tagger code is depicted in Table 2.

Table 2. DIY tagger code

Part B-Socio-Technical Issues

In Part B, Michael and Michael relate events about Graafstra, and Graafstra relates events about others. The whole Part is written in the third person voice. Where direct quotes are used, Graafstra's sentiments and interview responses are captured verbatim. In this part the main socio-technical issues facing RFID implantees is discussed, including security, privacy, data ownership (personal versus commercial), social issues (e.g. religious responses and socio-political concerns), law and policy. Due to space limitations the authors do not go into great detail in each of the socio-technical issues addressed, rather, this remains the aim of a future work-in-progress. Part B concludes by acknowledging the role of all the stakeholders in the feedback mechanism towards social innovation.

Section 7. RFID, Implantees and Security

RFID is a very broad term that encompasses a plethora of technologies that are all designed differently but do one thing; identify something via radio frequency (RF) communication. That includes everything from the World War II identification friend or foe (IFF) systems to implantable tags to RFID enabled credit cards. As recent as 2006, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was debating the use of RFID for humans. In reports [37] and [38], it is clear that while one DHS full committee found that deployment of RFID for human identification should be done with caution, the second report by a subcommittee ruled that the practice was inappropriate [39]. The recommendation by the DHS subcommittee read [38]:

“[t]here appear to be specific, narrowly defined situations in which RFID is appropriate for human identification. Miners or firefighters might be appropriately identified using RFID because speed of identification is at a premium in dangerous situations and the need to verify the connection between a card and bearer is low. But for other applications related to human beings, RFID appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it brings for privacy and data integrity. Instead, it increases risks to personal privacy and security, with no commensurate benefit for performance or national security. Most difficult and troubling is the situation in which RFID is ostensibly used for tracking objects (medicine containers, for example), but can in fact be used for monitoring human behavior “For these reasons, we recommend that RFID be disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings. When DHS does choose to use RFID to identify and track individuals, we recommend the implementation of the specific security and privacy safeguards …”

Many RFID technologies are insecure by design, or employ weak or flawed encryption methods. However, that is not to say that an RFID system using an insecure RFID technology is itself insecure by default. Despite the early 2006 findings of the DHS reports, there are U.S. RFID-based schemes which are now in widespread use. Graafstra points to the “trusted traveler” RFID-enabled NEXUS card as an example [40]. The NEXUS card is a U.S. government issued travel card that has an ultra high frequency (UHF) RFID tag inside, which does not employ any encryption technology. Any Generation 2 (Gen 2) UHF reader can read the unique code stored in the tag. The RF technology used by the NEXUS system is insecure, but the NEXUS system that allows one to travel across various borders is not inherently insecure, so one's identity is theoretically not at risk. Graafstra elaborates: “[t]he Gen 2 ID stored in my card is a unique number, but that number in no way gives up any information about me to an attacker who may be able to read it-it is just a number. The systems that link that ID number to actual important information about me are secured in far superior ways than the systems that store your library card account, or in some states, even your dri ver license information.”

Like NEXUS travel cards, the VeriChip medical implant does not employ encryption in any way. Any passive 134 kHz reader capable of understanding the VeriChip data protocol can read the ID of any VeriChip implant. Even though these IDs are tied to medical records, the ID itself is useless to a random attacker because access to those records also requires both access to a medical network and a health professional's account password. Systems that employ encrypted RFID tags have, in the past, relied heavily on the crypto algorithms in the RFID tags themselves to secure the system in which RFID technology was integrated into.

Graafstra uses the example of ExxonMobil's pay-at-the-pump SpeedPass system and the many vehicle immobilizer systems that make use of the 134 kHz TI DST tag, which secures communication through a challenge/response mechanism. The problem with these systems Graafstra outlines is that because they do not possess any other security mechanisms outside of the RFID tag's encryption, the systems are vulnerable to fraud by cracking the encryption algorithm used by tags to generate proper responses to the challenges issued by commercial readers. Once the DST tag crypto had been cracked [41], ExxonMobil had to redesign their SpeedPass payment system to implement credit card style fraud detection to detect and prevent fraudulent transactions. Other tag chipsets that employ encryption mechanisms like MiFare and HIT AG S have also been compromised, leading systems designers to rethink security and start balancing RFID encryption with other security mechanisms.

Graafstra points to the fact that his left hand contains an EM4102 tag, which by design does not utilize any security measures. The tag ID is readable by any 125 kHz reader able to understand EM4102 tags and get close enough to read the tag. He comments, “[e]ven so, I use that tag to unlock my back door when I get home from work. Many would argue that my home is completely insecure because my implanted tag is not secure. I do not disagree, but I also do not believe that I am at any greater risk of home invasion as a result.”

7.1. Security Context

Quite often people think security is a pass/fail scenario. Either something is secure or it is not. In reality, a security policy is a collection of systems, methods, and procedures that protect an asset by removing enough value and/or applying enough deterrence that a potential attacker will not even bother or quit trying. To get to the heart of the matter, you have to start with the premise that nothing is truly secure. If there is enough desire, determination, and resources available to an attacker, they will eventually succeed.

The inherent lack of encryption in many RFID tags impacts DIY taggers building personal use applications differently than it does commercial enterprises like Veri Chip, ExxonMobil, and VISA/MasterCard with their public use applications. Graafstra argues that despite the fact that he uses an insecure RFID tag to unlock the back door of his house, if a random attacker were to get close enough to read the ID of the EM4102 tag implanted in his left hand, they would not have any way to derive his identity (e.g. name), his home location (e.g. where he lives), or his phone number. This is however discounting the simple fact that one can be covertly followed in a public space. Graafstra believes an attacker intent on entering his home would generally use more mundane approaches such as breaking a window, than going to the effort of a technical approach. Graafstra's observations are quite correct, for the time being, until more and more DIY taggers start to rig up their personal living spaces with readers.

7.2. Designing with Security in Mind

7.2.1 RFID Cards in the Corporation

Assuming the encryption algorithms used by “secure tags” today have been or will soon be cracked, system designers need to shift from exclusive reliance on tag encryption and incorporate other features to make their systems more secure. Starting with the RFID tag itself, several businesses integrate RFID access control tags with their employee name badges. These can be constructed with a simple push button membrane or switch that connects the RFID antenna to the tag IC. Graafstra recommends that given the user already has to handle their name badge in order to place it close enough to a reader to get a valid read, why not require a simultaneous press of a switch while doing so? For Graafstra, such a simple design change would eliminate almost every possibility for a non-consensual read by malicious users.

Access control systems can also be designed with more intelligence than they currently possess. Graafstra relates the following scenario with respect to physical access control to a corporation. Assume Dave of XYZ Corp has been the victim of a malicious card scan. The attacker intends to emulate Dave's card ID to gain access to the building by mixing in with the morning rush of people. Dave enters the building first, and then the attacker enters five minutes later. Dave goes to his desk by way of the elevator and a couple of other security doors where his badge is used. The attacker takes a different route to his target, using his emulated Dave badge. The system should be able to recognize the odd access pattern through validation and alert security, possibly offering up an employee photo along side a time stamped video of the various RFID access events. Security personnel could then quickly determine if there was an attempted security breach they needed to address. If so, they could lock down Dave's badge so it no longer functioned, and even set up real-time mobile alerts to tell roving security guards if and where the badge was trying to be used. In theory, Graafstra is correct, system designers for the greater part are not thinking foolproof security blueprints but the reality is that budgeting and security staff resourcing would possibly not allow for such sophisticated security interventions; detection is one thing, acting on an email or mobile alert is another.

7.2.2. RFID Implants and Diy Tagger Protection

Graafstra has spent a great deal of time thinking how DIY taggers could protect themselves from what he terms “casual” security attacks. He has documented his solution as follows. Using the read/write memory blocks that many types of tags have is a good way to increase both the risk and the amount of effort an attacker would have to exert in order to successfully execute an attack. For example, the HIT AG S 2048 tag in his right hand uses 40 bit encryption to protect the contents of its 255 byte read/write memory blocks. The 40 bit encryption will not stop a serious attacker but it will diminish the casual attacker's ability.

Graafstra elaborates in detail: to enhance the security of a system, the memory space can contain a pseudo-random rotating hash which is used in conjunction with the tag's read onl y unique serial number to confirm authorized entry. The hash is generated based on a secret key that only your system knows, coupled with an incrementing counter used to salt the hash. When the hash is read, the system uses much more powerful encryption algorithms to calculate and match the hash stored on the tag than the tag itself is capable of utilizing. The counter value is derived and checked against the system counter to ensure the encrypted hash is correct for the tag IDand to ensure the counter value is moving forward and not staying still or moving backward. Upon successful authentication, the counter is updated and a new hash is written to the memory blocks. If an attacker were able to break the 40 bit encryption to gain access to the memory contents, a successful attack is still orders of magnitude more difficult to pull off than plainly emulating an unencrypted tag. Also, a successful attack would provide a very small window of opportunity as any use of the original card would invalidate the cloned tag's counter/hash combination.

Section 8. RFID Implantees and Privacy

8.1. Misconceptions About RFID Technology

There are a lot of misconceptions in the general community about how various RFID technologies work, prompting unfounded fears of global positioning system (GPS) satellites tracking embedded tags and implants. This is not to say that in the future RFID tags will not be able to interface with a number of different mobile technologies but for now this kind of global tracking is unavailable. And this not because it is not technically feasible to do so, but rather because large-scale agreements have not yet been entered into between a variety of stakeholders.

Active RFID tags can transmit data very long distances, anywhere from a few feet to 10 miles or more, but they use battery power to do so and are bigger and bulkier than passive RFID tags. Inversely, passive tags like those used in retail inventory applications and glass encased implants are typically smaller. They do not have internal power sources, and can generally communicate with readers from only a few inches to a few feet away depending on chipset, size, and frequency used. Certain experiments have shown, under ideal conditions, that passive UHF tags can be read from several hundred feet, but those are special test cases not practical real-world scenarios. Even so, the prevalent fear amongst every day consumers is that, somehow, carrying an RFID tag of any kind will allow “them” (e.g. government agencies) to track your every move.

Today, people's activities are logged constantly. From every non-cash purchase you make to every RFID “fast pay” toll booth archway driven under to every phone call made, something somewhere is logging that activity. Graafstra points out the potential for data mining through a variety of sources, emphasizing that “[n]obody is upset about this type of information gathering as they are about RFID technology … [and that] the backlash from specific segments of the public seems to center on embedded tags, whether they are embedded in clothes, in driver license cards, or people's bodies.” For Graafstra, the stated concerns indicate people believe RFID is capable of more than it really is, and that those perceived capabilities culminate as fear of massive privacy invasion on an unprecedented scale.

8.2. Some Consumer Concerns Warranted

Although Graafstra does acknowledge that some consumer concerns with respect to RFID are valid, he believes the concern is misdirected at the technology itself rather than on human factor issues, e.g. consent. He emphasizes that unobtrusive reads amount to privacy problems, and that to some extent history has already proven that this is a valid concern. Clothing manufacturer Benetton, for example, was found to be embedding RFID tags into women's garments in an effort to quickly identify past customers as they walked into their storefronts [42]. Graafstra also singles out the idea of function creep, inferring that consent given for one use may be extended at a later date as the application grows. People who have to travel over toll roads and bridges may opt to use an RFID tag permanently affixed to their windscreen for automatic payment may find that the terms and conditions they originally signed up for have changed, and in some instances without warning. For example, some state governments collect data from RFID tollway tags to monitor traffic patterns on their roadways without notifying users. Furthermore, logs of which tags passed what checkpoint at what time are kept for undisclosed periods of time and log data could potentially be shared with an unknown number of requestors. Graafstra questions whether the next step will indeed be to issue speeding fines based on how fast people have traveled from checkpoint A to B.

8.3. RFID Tags: Personal Versus Commercial Use

Now let us take a hypothetical look at RFID privacy in a hostile environment, and the differences between personal use and commercial use contexts. When you sign up for a commercial service that utilizes RFID in some way, you surrender your personal information which is tied to that unique tag ID. Assuming the company does not share your tag ID or your information with any other person or company, your information is still associated with that tag ID and could be used to violate your privacy through nonconsensual reading of the tag. The problem gets worse if that company sells or shares that data with other companies or people.

In a personal use context, you never surrender your personal information to anyone, and your tag ID is in no way associated with you. The best any snoopy corporation or government could do would be to aggregate non-identifiable data together to determine patterns of anonymous tag IDs. Of course, there is always the concern that associations could be made through other means. For example, suppose a checkpoint was set up that could read a large cross-section of tags from RFID enabled credit cards, access cards, various tag types in UHF, high frequency (HF), and low frequency (LF) frequency ranges, etc. A properly read and decrypted RFID credit card will reveal the cardholder's name, and if other tag IDs always showed up in logs when “Dave's” unprotected RFID-enabled credit card did, then one could assume that all those RFID tags resided in Dave's wallet with his credit card. While this fact may be disconcerting, Dave can still take measures to protect himself, by choosing to shield his tags and cards [43], or even leave them at home. But what about implanted RFID tags? Leaving those at home is not possible and shielding them could be socially awkward (always explaining why you're wearing tin foil gloves), even though increasingly sentinel jackets are coming onto the market.

Implantable tags like VeriChip which are sold to the public for use within commercial systems do present different privacy challenges than the glass tags implanted by DIY taggers. A commercial system means uniformity when it comes to things like implant location, type of chip, data protocol, and frequency. Since the implant location is common to all users (e.g. in the case of the VeriChip it is the triceps muscle of the right arm), Graafstra believes that a simple reader can be set up at typical arm height in a doorway to casually capture tag IDs from passers-by. With enough people using a common system and enough readers placed in enough doorways, unique traffic profiles could be created for each tag ID much more easily.

Section 9. RFID Implantees and Society

9.1. PET and Animal Identification Systems

Whether people like to admit to it or not, society today is full of RFID tag and transponder technologies embedded in buildings, in vehicles, in packages, in clothing, in animals, and in people's wallets. This diffusion will continue to grow annually with predictions that 26.1 billion units will be sold in 2011 alone [44]. Passive RFID tags designed to be implanted into animals have been around since the early 1980s. After being widely tested by several companies in the early 1990s (such as Destron's LifeChip [45]), the number of pets with implanted RFID tags has skyrocketed as local councils and state governments move to make the chipping of domesticated animals compulsory [46]. To date this practice, above all else, has done more to raise public awareness of the positive applications of implantables than any other use of implantable RFID tags.

Today RFID tags, both passive and active, are used to keep tabs on everything from pets to livestock to wild animals on land, in the air, and in the sea. Graafstra notes, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses “microchipping” in its research of wild bison, black-footed ferrets, grizzly bears, elk, white-tailed deer, giant land tortoises and armadillos. New developments in sensors, RF, and power harvesting technologies are also leading the way to “implantable” RF enabled sensors embedded into trees (e.g. orchards). These “tree tags” relay information about the health of the tree, the surrounding forest environment, and raise an alarm in the event of a forest fire [47].

9.2. Is it Hip to Get the Chip?

Since Michael and Michael began their research into non-medical ICT implantables in the mid-1990s, they were preoccupied by the question of diffusion, and predominantly the notion of who influenced whom within the context of an actor network. For example, who was the first DIY tagger implantee? What inspired them to get an implant? How did they come to know of other implantees? When Graafstra received his first implant, he knew he was not the first. Professor Kevin Warwick had long since completed his Cyborg 1.0 project, and VeriChip had received FDA approval and was already implanting customers. Graafstra believes what he embarked on in early 2005 created such a media interest because he got the implant on his own accord, and he self-reported it all using photographs and video via the web. He also was comprehensive in his documentation of what he planned to do with his implant, and quickly demonstrated its functionality. Finally, he also believes implanting a RFID device in the hand, and not in the upper arm, sparked more intrigue and inquiry.

Since that time Veri Chip (now PositivelD [48]) have been marketing their products, and to date allegedly have between 1000 and 2000 people registered in their medical implant database, although some estimates are much lower and some much higher. The size of the DIY community is, by its very nature, unknown. Yet shortly after news of Graafstra's implant became public, he was contacted by lots of members from the general community who wanted to know how to obtain an implant themselves. Graafstra is frank, when he states: “today, anyone can buy glass encased RFID tags and watch self-implantation procedures online, and then go to their local piercing shop to get it done”. One is left pondering, however, whether DIYers are engaged in the act of blueprint copying or idea diffusion, and the repercussions that this might have on how RFID implants are utilized in the future. Jared Diamond describes blueprint copying as the act of copying or modifying an available detailed blueprint. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies idea diffusion, which is when one receives little more than the basic idea and has to reinvent the fine details [49].

Graafstra estimates there could be roughly 200 or 300 DIY taggers around the world who have opted to get a non-commercial RFID implant. Graafstra is reflective, that while he does not know the exact number of DIYers, he does know (or at least understands) the inner motivations of some DIYers to get an implant is less than technical. He said:

“I've been contacted by 16 year old kids who have had to wait until they are 18 to get this done due to - what I think are - valid parental concerns. On my RFID forum, I have repeatedly suggested that it is not worth taking even a minor health risk to get this done if you do not really know why you want it and what your goals are once you have it. Even so, when I asked a couple of these kids why they wanted to get an implant and what they were going to do with it, in both cases their responses were something along the lines of “because it's cool” and “I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it”. I have also been contacted by body-madders who, after getting their fifteenth cosmetic subcutaneous silicone implant, wanted something different … something that was actually functional in some way, even if they did not have any plans to actually use it.”

However most DIY taggers tend to view their implant as a utilitarian tool to be used in daily life with projects they have built themselves. In this loose-knit community [50] of practical DIY taggers, one could argue it is actually “hip to get the chip,” even though the best place for it is unanimously the hand!

9.3. RFID Implants for Families: Peace of Mind?

When considering the applications that Applied Digital Solutions were marketing in 2003, and those that were subsequently marketed by the VeriChip Corporation, Graafstra circumspectly calls the “brochureware” confusing from a marketing perspective at least. For Graafstra, any sort of communication that misleads the public about pinpoint location positioning via the RFID chip is widely fantastical and utterly disappointing. He does not understand, how on the basis of a commercial vision, the Mexican Attorney General allowed himself and some of his staff to be Veri Chipped with an “anti-kidnapping chip”. Parents, like that of Jeffrey and Leslie Jacobs were also lead to believe, probably through mainstream public misconceptions about the function of RFID, that getting a Veri Chip implant would provide their whole family with security and “piece of mind” [51].

The fact is, no RFID implant can provide that kind of security and “traceability” that certain members of society are looking for or are afraid of. The best an RFID implant can do today, is identify the person sitting two inches away from the scanner. That may help identify a corpse, but it will not help find missing persons. This is not to say that in the not-to-distant future, technological convergence might enable very sophisticated applications to be built. The idea of implanting prisoners, persons on parole or persons on extended supervision orders (ESOs), or military service-people with digital implantable dog tags has been considered but has yet to take place. Again, Graafstra points to public polls where consumers believe that implanting prisoners or parolees would make society “safer” because it would make implantees easier to track down and keep in confined zones if required, but he is adamant that these kinds of solutions are not yet possible using implanted RFID tags. The permanency of FDA approved implantables is especially disconcerting as they possibly do not give one-time offenders, or once military service personnel, an opportunity to rehabilitate or move onto other professions [52]. For Graafstra this is a violation of service terms, since imposed subcutaneous FDA approved commercial implants are long lasting physical remnant of requirements that have long since expired, and no longer valid.

9.4. RFID Implants for Employees and the Law

To date, no employer has required an employee or potential employee to obtain an RFID implant in order to become or remain employed. Critics jumped on inaccurate media reports that CityWatcher.com, a now defunct municipal surveillance company, had required employees to get implants to access sensitive datacenters. The fact is three employees did receive VeriChip implants and the company paid for their procedures [53]. However, five employees opted to simply carry around an access card to access those same areas. Implantation was optional, not compulsory. There was a similar optional implantation of employees at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain but this was not really publicized.

As a preemptive measure several states in the U.S.A passed laws that banned enforced implantation by employers [54]. For Graafstra the problem has more to do with laws and regulations which target a technology than the very ‘act’ of surveillance. Graafstra notes the law passed in California (Senate Bill 362) that banned employers from mandating that employees or potential employees must get an identifying implant in order to perform their work [55]. The law is written with a heavy slant toward a “radio frequency device”, but an argument could be made that this law also covers biometric technologies and other location based mobile technologies. Intentional or not, the definitions section states;

“Identification device” means any item, application, or product that is passively or actively capable of transmitting personal information, including, but not limited to, devices using radio frequency technology.

“Subcutaneous” means existing, performed, or introduced under or on the skin.

For Graafstra such laws do not do anything for employee workplace rights as a plethora of other technologies exist to determine the whereabouts of workers within campus-based facilities like manufacturing plants. For Graafstra, it has less to do with implantables, and more to do with employee privacy.

9.5. Is Getting an RFID Implant Evil?

Many people believe that RFID implants will harm society and/or humanity in some way. The two most vocal groups are people expressing their religious views, and people expressing their socio-political fears [56]‥

9.5.1. Religious Concerns-“Mark of the Beast”

The interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, by some Christians has caused Graafstra to be the target of backlash by some members of the believing community. Graafstra points to the following verses that RFID critics with a religious orientation invariably point to (Revelation 13: 16–18):

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.

From the correspondence that Graafstra has received, he has deduced that some Christians believe that “the devil” will require all of humanity to receive a mark of some kind in order to be able to participate in day-to-day societal transactions. And that furthermore, wise people will recognize that mark and attempt to refuse it. Those who are most vocal about such beliefs have gone so far as to insult and threaten Graafstra, and other DIY taggers about their involvement in ICT implants. Graafstra has spent some time reviewing the passages himself countering:

“[s]ince so many people seem to take the Bible so very literally, in my opinion there are a few things they are either ignoring or do not realize. In verse 16, it says “he causeth all” which means everyone will receive “the mark” regardless of whether they want it or not. In verse 17 it says “no man might buy or sell [without the mark]”, meaning absolutely nobody will be able to do this, even if you are living in an igloo on the North Pole trying to do it illegally. In verse 18 it says nothing about wise people refusing the mark or even being able to, it only discusses how to recognize it.”

There are, however, a number of places in Revelation (16:2, 19:20, 20:10) where it seems evident enough that people will indeed have to make a choice, viz., “the mark”. This was certainly the interpretation of all the early church exegetes who dealt with the prophecy [57]. For Graafstra, however, the mark and the beast are potent warnings about willing subscription to oppressive systems, and how using the tools of those systems will only strengthen such systems. It is very important to distinguish between oppressive systems that use technologies to subjugate a people, and technologies that liberate them, or those being used in a private, personal context.

9.5.2. Socio-Political Fears

Some people believe that RFID implants may one day be mandated on the general populace, instituted by totalitarian governments and other authoritarian regimes [58]. Such persons, firmly believe that RFID technology, particularly implant technology, will in some way enslave humanity and cause a major digital divide. These groups generally point to the involvement of large-scale corporations in the conception, development and implementation of RFID implant technology, and to some extent generate conspiracy theory-like scenarios about the future.

Graafstra also notes that he has been threatened both directly and indirectly by some people harboring sociopolitical fears. He elaborates:

“I have been accused of aiding the government and private corporations in their efforts to deploy RFID implants on a wide scale. I very strongly feel it is a priority to attempt to engage these accusers in civil discussion and attempt, however futile, to impart a bit of knowledge so they might understand how these implants function and ultimately the difference between and separation of DIY taggers from commercial solutions by corporations like VeriChip.”

Simply put, some advocacy groups are not helping the debate and whatever valuable insights they might have is lost in a host of “background noise”. The practice of

‘attracting’ hate mail is common among implantees (both in academia and DIYers), and as Graafstra emphasizes, it often does not encourage a healthy exchange of ideas, although it does alert developers to the social realities that may be stifling adoption and potential ethical liabilities development make need to address.

Section 10. RFID Versus Other Technologies

In Graafstra's opinion it is not so much that consumers should be wary of what RFID can do, but of the widespread diffusion of powerful biometrics and pinpoint positioning technologies. Despite that biometric identification is used extensively all over the world to identify and log all kinds of things, Graafstra notes that it does not receive the same amount of attention that RFID does from advocacy groups. Graafstra sums it up very well when he reflects:

“I think the reason for this is that RFID requires a tangible object carried by or implanted in the object to be identified. Biometric identification does not require this because the identifier is your own body. As biometric monitoring devices get more and more unobtrusive and fade further into the urban landscape, I fear lack of motivation will continue to get worse until a series of very serious civil rights violations occur, but by then we might have a social environment so riddled with circumstances where privacy and basic rights have been traded away for the illusion of security that the general public may actually be afraid to turn off and live without these systems.”

Today's biometric technology can identify you by your full body [59], face, voice, fingerprints, chemical scent, gait mechanics, emotional expressions, your DNA, and even your own shadow [60]. Video cameras are very cheap and easy to deploy, and developments in video processing enable face recognition systems to accurately identify entire crowds of people much faster and more accurately than ever before. If your face is not visible, gait analysis systems can still tell it is “you”, based on the way you walk or your body language. The U.S. military, among others, have been working with satellite imaging to successfully identify key targets based on the shadow they cast on the ground [61].

But beyond biometrics, there is now a plethora of positioning technologies entering the market at different levels of precision [62], [63]. Even the mobile phone (whether 3G-enabled or not) has become a potential privacy-invasive tool. In the U.S., President Barrack Obama recently suggested that U.S. citizens have “no expectation of privacy” with respect to their mobile phones, even when not making a call [64]. Graafstra is not alone in his belief that the idea that anyone from local police to government agencies should be allowed to request-without a warrant-your phone's location at any time (even if it is sitting idle in your home) “is a very scary step that moves the U.S. further toward a surveillance state”. The question as Graafstra has rightly put it is why are these issues not receiving the same attention as RFID tags and implantables? There is an obvious mismatch between perceived encroachments in privacy and actual encroachments in privacy. Advocacy groups might be lobbying for “no RFID implants” but what is here “now” is far worse.

10.1. Opting Out of Commercial ID Systems

If one wishes to opt out of an RFID-based system, users can issue requests to any third parties they enrolled with to have their account information destroyed. While this process and its full compliance is entirely in the hands of those third parties, destruction of the RFID tag is within the control of the users themselves. Tags can be returned to vendors, left at home, thrown out, physically destroyed, or in the case of implants physically removed from the body. However, removal of some RFID implants is more difficult than others. According to the company's product documentation, the FDA approved VeriChip is designed for permanent human implantation. Its Bio-Bond® anti-migration coating and the implantation procedure which seats the tag very deep into muscle tissue create a painful and expensive removal experience. The lack of anti-migration coating on the glass tags used by DIY taggers and their typically shallow implant locations allow easy removal that, in an emergency, could even be done with a sharp knife by the taggers themselves. With biometric systems however, the process of opting out is entirely handled by the third parties whose systems you have been enrolled in. Identifying all of these parties can be impossible if you have passively been enrolled in one or more systems without your knowledge. Furthermore, changing or destroying your biological identifiers can be extremely difficult, expensive, painful, or just plain impossible with today's technology.

Section 11. Conclusion

There is some truth in the belief that technology can be used for well intentioned purposes and not-so-well intentioned purposes alike; see for example the differences between two opposing schools of thought-technological determinism and the social shaping of technology. Graafstra believes that most, if not all technologies are neutral: “[i]t is the people who implement and use a particular technology that determine its effect on humanity.” In that regard, Graafstra is one of the first to acknowledge why some people might have a fear of the potential for wide-scale use of RFID implants, especially when claims are made by persons with limited knowledge of what the technology is capable of, or in other circumstances persons who are completely ignorant of technological capabilities.

In reality, people who rise up so fervently to speak out against RFID do provide valuable feedback to the social innovation process. Graafstra knows too well that there will always be people who can and will build and/or use technology in a way that may be or become oppressive to end-users. The role of the critic is to help in the provision of a balanced view and to ask the very questions that may have been ignored during the development process. Perhaps, in the end, it is even quite irrelevant that some of these opponents understand the technology's true capabilities or limitations. The challenge rather to technologists is to usefully harness the criticism, the feedback, in order to build into their products and solutions design safeguards that mean that identified “potential” threats or harms are minimized or eradicated. Religious advocates against RFID, or those that have socio-political fears about the potential uses of RFID, should attempt to enter into intelligent dialogue rather than burn energy in campaigning against global computer giants or writing disrespectful messages to individual persons who are said to be aiding in the fulfillment of prophecy. The same can be said for law and policymakers, who must be open to discussion and who must arrive at intelligent legislation and industry regulation that targets behavior and the misconduct a technology might enable, not the technology itself. For example, some anti-chipping laws in the U.S. only refer to “injectable” RFID implants but we already have swallowable sensor technologies being patented, and what of the future of nanotechnology for healthcare? Policy that singles out technology as the problem, only limits the scope and effectiveness of the policy per se, while not addressing the real issues lurking beneath the surface.

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Keywords

Radiofrequency identification, Eyes, RFID tags, Transponders, Implants, Radio frequency, Animals,Supply chains, Mobile handsets, Health and safety, social sciences, radiofrequency identification, chip implant, sociotechnical issues, humancentric RFID implantee subculture, Amal Graafstra,radiofrequency identification tags

Citation: Amal Graafstra, Katina Michael, M.G. Michael, 2010, "Social-technical issues facing the humancentric RFID implantee sub-culture through the eyes of Amal Graafstra", International Symposium on Technology and Society, 7-10 June, 2010, pp. 498 - 516 , Wollongong, Australia.

RFID-Enabled Inventory Control Optimization

Abstract

This study examines the impact of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology on the inventory control practices of a small-to-medium retailer using a proof of concept (PoC) approach. The exploratory study was conducted using a single case study of a hardware retailer stocking 5000 product lines provided by 110 active suppliers. To analyze the present mode of operation, procedural documents, semi-structured interviews and a participant observation was conducted. The basis for the proof of concept was a future mode of operation using a quasi-experimental design. Results indicate that in a small-to-medium retail environment, RFID technology could act as a loss prevention mechanism, an enabler for locating misplaced stock, and make a significant contribution to the overall improvement of the delivery process.

Section I

Introduction

Radio-frequency identification (RFID), which is defined as a wireless automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technology [1], is increasingly considered by many scholars as the “missing link” in the supply chain management [2], [3]. For example, the technology could allow the identification of any tagged item in real-time in a given supply chain with minimum human intervention [4] [5] [6] [7]. When integrating into a firm's business processes [5], the RFID technology allows “any tagged entity to become a mobile, intelligent, communicating component of the organization's overall information infrastructure” (p. 88), thus improving supply chain information flow [8], [9] and supply chain efficiency [3]. A basic RFID system is composed of a tag containing a microprocessor, a reader and its antennas, and a computer equipped with a middleware program, in which business rules are configured to automate some decisions [10]. Despite the high potential of the technology as an enabler of the supply chain transformation, the current adoption rate is still fairly low mainly because many technological and business questions are still to be answered. In order to reduce this knowledge gap, this study draws on the current RFID agenda [5] to answer the following questions: What is the impact of RFID on loss prevention? What is the impact of RFID technology on the delivery process in a small-to-medium retailer store? How can RFID help to locate misplaced stock? How may the RFID reading rate be influenced by the physical characteristics of items? More precisely, the objective of this paper is to document the results of a proof of concept (PoC) that examines the impact of RFID on inventory control. The PoC consists of RFID simulations and re-engineered business processes that demonstrate whether the RFID technology can operate within the small-to-medium retail industry and illustrates the anticipated impact of RFID on business operations.

Section 2 presents related works. In section 3, the methodology used in this study, including all simulation of RFID enabled scenarios are presented. Finally, section 4 presents the discussion and conclusion.

Section II

Background and Context of the Study

The current study uses the proof of concept approach to assess the feasibility of RFID technology in a small-to-medium retail store. Most early studies on the feasibility of RFID technology have mostly been conducted using this approach or pilots projects (e.g. [11] [12] [13]). A proof of concept is used to illustrate whether a proposed system or application is likely to operate or function as expected [14]. Using, data from “Wal-Mart RFID-enabled stores” over a period of 29 weeks, the conclusion was reached that RFID-enabled stores were 63% more efficient in replenishing out-of-stocks than stores without RFID, thus leading to a reduction of out-of-stocks by 16% over that 29 week period [12]. In a more recent study, [15] examined data collected over a period of 23 weeks from eight test stores equipped with a new “RFID-based perpetual inventory adjustment tool” and a corresponding set of eight control stores (without RFID), and found that “RFID is making a difference. Understated perpetual inventory inaccuracy declined by about 13% in the test stores, relative to control stores, with no additional labour. Furthermore, manual adjustments declined in the test stores” (p. 55). Finally, the outcome of a study by [11], who used a PoC in a laboratory setting, was that process optimization can be achieved when the RFID technology is integrated in intra- and inter-organizational information systems applications. All these studies have been largely conducted in large firms, but very few of them are concerned with RFID adoption within small-to-medium firms.

Section III

Methodology

The research study documented in this paper involves a case examining a single small-to-medium retailer. A case study method has been employed as it is ideal for investigating contemporary events and is able to take into account a wide variety of evidence [16]. For this study data have been gathered through the collection of procedural documents, semistructured interviews and a participant observation. This paper presents the data collected from the semistructured interviews conducted with employees of the organization, as well as revealing the business process flows (through flowcharts) of the organization in order to determine whether RFID is a feasible automated data capture technology for small-to-medium retailers. An observational study was also conducted over a period of two weeks in 2007. A daily diary was kept by the participant and this data was analyzed together with full-length transcripts. A single small-to-medium hardware retailer is focused on in this paper in order to analyze and present inventory control practices.

3.1. Research design

As the main objective of the overall study is to improve our understanding of RFID impacts in the context of a small-to-medium retailer, the research design is clearly an exploratory research initiative. A case study method has been conducted as it is ideal for investigating contemporary events and is able to take into account a wide variety of evidence [16].

3.2. Research sites

The organization examined in this study is located on the south coast of New South Wales, approximately 128 kilometers from the centre of Sydney. The company employs ten staff including casuals and is classified as a small-to-medium hardware retailer. The current proprietors have operated the business since 2003. The premises of the retailer measures approximately 2000 square meters, with about 550 square meters of this area making up the internal shop floor. The shop floor is composed of four sheds, each with independent access. There are two small internal offices, one designed to deal with customer purchasing and point-of-sale (POS) transactions while the other is used by managers and bookkeepers for ordering, accounting and other administrative practices. The external perimeter of the organization is surrounded by an eight foot high barbed wire fence.

The retailer currently possesses between 400,000 worth of inventory which is kept on the premises. The inventory held by the organization is estimated to consist of 5000 product lines, which are provided by 110 active suppliers. Products and other inventory are stored or displayed before purchase inside the store or outside within the confines of the premises. Items and stock within the store are positioned based on the type of product as well as the supplier. Most items kept inside the store are also shelved on racks that measure 2.1m in height. The shop floor is divided into five separate areas that include general hardware, timber, gardening, cement and building supplies. Products stored outside are generally unaffected by environmental and weather conditions such as landscaping supplies, cement blocks, treated pine sleepers and sheets of steel reinforcing. Stock is usually delivered to the store packaged at pallet, crate, carton or item level.

The retailer provides many services to its customers primarily through the selling of hardware and other building related supplies. The organization provides a delivery service to its customers if they purchase products that are too large to be transported or products that they wish to be delivered on a certain day. Products are delivered to customers in one of the three vehicles the organization owns. A flat top truck is used for steel deliveries, a tip truck is used for landscaping supplies and a utility vehicle is used for general deliveries. The organization also has a front-end loader that it uses to load landscaping supplies on vehicles. The organization offers accounts for customers that purchase products frequently.

The retailer currently has limited Information Technology (IT) infrastructure and does not utilize a server, as the current operations of the business do not require a large volume storage device. The organization utilizes two desktop computers in their administration office that are primarily used to manage customer accounts through the software package MYOB Premier Version 10. At the end of each month, the organization uses the MYOB software to generate invoices which are sent out to account holding customers, requesting that they pay for the items they have purchased. The organization has another desktop computer which is used by employees to search a program that acts as an index of paint colors provided by different paint suppliers. All computers within the organization are able to access the Internet.

3.3. Data collection

For this study data have been gathered through the collection of procedural documents, semi-structured interviews and a participant observation. This paper presents the data collected from the semi-structured interviews conducted with employees of the organization, as well as revealing the business process flows (through flowcharts) of the organization in order to determine whether RFID is a feasible automated data capture technology for small-to-medium retailers. An observational study was also conducted over a period of two weeks in 2007. A daily diary was kept by the participant and this data was analyzed together with full-length transcripts. A single small-to-medium hardware retailer is focused on in this paper in order to analyze and present inventory control practices.

3.3.1. Interviews-interviewees

Insights into the current inventory control practices at the small-to-medium retailer are based on semi-structured interviews carried out on four employees of the organization. The roles and duties of these employees are documented in Table 1.

Table 1.&nbsp;EMPLOYEE ROLES AND DUTIES

Table 1. EMPLOYEE ROLES AND DUTIES

As can be seen from Table 1, employees of the organization have minimal job specialization, which reinforces [17] observations of small businesses. The proprietor/manager and proprietor/part-time manager are responsible for the overall running of the business whereas the store manager is specifically responsible for shop maintenance and management. The delivery truck driver is primarily responsible for making outbound deliveries. The store manager and delivery truck driver are answerable to both of the proprietor/managers.

3.3.2. Interview questions and the inventory cycle

Inventory control as defined by [18] involves “coordinating the purchasing, manufacturing and distribution functions to meet marketing needs”. Coordinating these functions requires many discrete activities including ordering stock or materials and shelving or putting it in the correct position so that customers have access to it. In this section, the inventory control process has been broken down so that the inventory practices of the small-to-medium retailer can be explored in greater detail. Figure 1 illustrates the inventory cycle. It should be noted that the inventory flow cycle is focused on the flow of raw materials to their finished state, while this inventory control cycle has been developed based on a retailer that sells finished goods (p. 21) [19].

Figure 1.&nbsp;The Inventory Cycle

Figure 1. The Inventory Cycle

 

As can be seen in Figure 1, customer demand triggers the ordering or re-ordering of stock. Stock then arrives at the retailer, where it is checked and sorted before being shelved in the correct position. Stock is then purchased by a customer and delivered by the retailer if necessary.

The inventory cycle demonstrated in Figure 1 was considered when developing questions for the semistructured interviews. The majority of the questions asked related to the six different processes that were identified in the inventory control cycle. There were a total of twenty-eight questions included in the original semi-structured interview protocol but additional probing sub-questions were asked where the respondent was able to expand their response due to their knowledge of operations. The questions covered the background of the company case, the role of the employee in the organization, questions related to the current mode of operation to gauge the current inventory control practices and set-up, and more speculative questions regarding the transition of the organization from a manual-based system to barcode and/or RFID. For instance the proprietor was asked:

Can you describe the process that you use to check that orders have been delivered with the correct contents?

  1. Do you keep any sort of record of how much stock you carry, either in physical or electronic form?
  2. How would you describe the theft prevention measures in your workplace?
  3. What triggers your organization to reorder or order stock?
  4. Are there any issues affecting your adoption of automated data capture technology?
  5. Do you think that RFID could be used within your business to improve inventory control?

The interview transcripts were analyzed using a qualitative approach and the findings were presented using a modular narrative style based on the steps in the inventory control cycle. The following sections summarize the findings of the semi-structured interviews.

3.3.3. Participant observation

A participant observation requires the researcher to become a direct participant in the social process being studied by becoming a member of an organization. The participant observation was carried out over a two week period with the intention of recording observations relating to the inventory control practices used within the small-to-medium retailer. This study utilizes an overt participant observation as members of the organization were already aware of the researcher's presence due to interviews being carried out at an earlier date. The overt approach was perceived to have had minimal influence on the behavior of the organization's members as they were informed that the purpose of the study was to examine inventory control practices of the retailer, not their personal behaviors. During the participant observation annotations and issues were documented through the use of a diary. Field notes were recorded during each day, and were formalized at the end of the day.

3.3.4. Procedural documentation

The small-to- medium retailer's procedural documents were used to complement the semi-structured interviews and participant observation. Documentary secondary data, such as an organization's communications, notes, and other policy and procedural documents have been examined.

Table 2.&nbsp;THE FOUR RFID-ENABLED SCENARIOS

Table 2. THE FOUR RFID-ENABLED SCENARIOS

Official documents, like procedural documents can be treated as unproblematic statements of how things are or were (p. 104) [20]. The procedural documents have been used as evidence to support the determination of the inventory control practices of the small-to-medium retailer. The interviews conducted, participant observation and the collection of procedural documents were combined to develop the business process flows of the organization. A narrative presentation is used to bring together participant observational data and interviewee responses.

3.4. Simulation of RFID-enabled scenarios

Eight simulations have been developed which are aimed at examining different aspects of inventory control and known RFID issues that have been documented in the literature. However, within the scope of this paper, we'll only present and discuss four RFID-enabled scenarios (Table 2): (i) RFID-enabled loss prevention, (ii) RFID-enabled delivery portal, (iii) RFID tag environment simulation and (iv) RFID-enabled locating misplaced stock.

The results of the simulations are documented qualitatively, discussing read rates as well as any other technical issues experienced in the following section.

3.4.1. RFID enabled-loss prevention simulation-method

Exhibit 1.&nbsp;An RFID armed entry/exit

Exhibit 1. An RFID armed entry/exit

A fixed RFID reader with one and then two antennas will be placed above or around the entry/exit of the store with the aim of identifying any tagged item or product that passes through the entry/exit. Items that have been tagged with RFID labels will be moved past the reader in order to determine if the tag is interrogated and identified successfully. The tagged product will be concealed by the participant carrying it so the effect of this can be gauged. Multiple items will also be carried out by the participant to test if the reader identifies multiple tagged items.

In the initial part of this simulation a fixed reader was set up with one antenna which was positioned above the entry/exit, 2.1 metres off the ground.

The antenna was orientated at a 45 degree angle, sloping inwards towards the interior of the store. The participant walked towards the entry/exit with an RFID tagged item held 1.5 meters off the ground. Five different items of stock were used in this simulation, each being RFID tagged in a different configuration. Two of the items had tags wrapped around them so the tag was overlapping itself, one item had its tag wrapped around it but was not overlapping, another item was labelled with a tag that was folded in half and the final item had a tag applied to it in a general flat configuration. The tagged items were passed through the RFID monitored entry/exit individually in plain view of the reader, then concealed under the jumper of the participant and finally all items were passed through the entry/exit simultaneously in a plastic basket.

The results revealed that items which had RFID tags wrapped around them and were overlapping could not be detected by the reader when passed through the entry/exit. It was also found that concealing items had an effect on whether they would read or not with a single concealed product being identified compared to the three tagged items which were identified when they were passed through the entry/exit in plain sight. Table 3 summarises the results of the simulation = read successfully, = not able to be read).

Figure 2.&nbsp;Configuration of the loss prevention portal

Figure 2. Configuration of the loss prevention portal

Once this simulation was carried out another antenna was attached to the fixed reader and a small portal was created to see whether it was more accurate to identify tagged products from side-on than from above. Figure 2 illustrates the configuration of the portal.

The participant once again walked through the doorway with items held 1.5 metres from the ground. The items that had RFID tags wrapped around so they overlapped were still not able to be read in this variation of the simulation, but three tagged items that had been concealed were identified compared to the one item identified in the previous variation. The range of the antennas was also tested with items being passed through the portal held above (1.8 metres from the ground) and below them (30 centimetres from the ground). The three tagged items that were identified initially were also read when they were passed above and below the antennas at the entry/exit to the store.

Table 3.&nbsp;LOSS PREVENTION SIMULATION RESULTS

Table 3. LOSS PREVENTION SIMULATION RESULTS

The results of this simulation revealed that RFID experienced poor to average read rates when implemented for loss prevention. It is perceived that if RFID was applied in the small-to-medium retailer for loss prevention purposes, theft may be reduced but the reliability of the technology could not be guaranteed; unless orientation issues are resolved and read rates are improved.

 

3.4.2. RFID-enabled delivery portal simulation-method

This simulation involves RFID tagged items being placed on a pallet then onto a delivery vehicle at the loading dock of the hardware store. A portal will be created at the loading dock, equipped with two antennas originating from an RFID reader which will be used to identify the products and stock that are moving in and out of the premises.

Exhibit 2.&nbsp;Tagged RFID products on pallet (top); the flat top truck being reversed into the loading dock (middle); the utility vehicle in the RFID portal (bottom)

Exhibit 2. Tagged RFID products on pallet (top); the flat top truck being reversed into the loading dock (middle); the utility vehicle in the RFID portal (bottom)

To test the RFID delivery portal, a flat top truck is reversed into the loading bay of the organisation. Seven products that are commonly delivered to or by the organisation are RFID tagged, including a wooden pallet which the items are placed on. The truck is reversed in and out of the loading bay on five occasions and the read rates are recorded each time.

Three of the tagged items including a piece of treated pine, a roll of foam joint and the pallet are successfully interrogated on each of the five times the truck is reversed.

A tagged piece of treated pine is also identified on the first and the last time the vehicle is backed into the loading dock.

The other three items on the truck are unable to be identified at all, most likely due to the back tray of the truck, sitting higher than the antenna (all the RFID tagged products on the truck were situated above the antenna).

Another vehicle, a utility that is used by the organisation to deliver products is then employed in the simulation with the same products and pallet being placed in the vehicle's tray. The tray of this vehicle is at a more suitable height for the RFID antennas, as it sits 80 centimetres off the ground. Exhibit 2 demonstrates the RFID portal with the utility vehicle reversed into the loading dock.

The read rates experienced when products were placed on the utility were far superior to those experienced when the flat top truck was employed, with read rates ranging from 71% to 100% of all items and products tagged. Table 4 reveals the read rates of the tagged items and products on the utility vehicle (= read successfully, = not able to be read). This simulation illustrated that if an RFID portal was constructed appropriately by considering the conditions and vehicle used by the small-to-medium retailer it could effectively monitor stock being delivered to the business and stock being delivered to customers of the business.

Table 4.&nbsp;READ RATES OF RFID TAGGED ITEMS ON THE UTILITY VEHICLE

Table 4. READ RATES OF RFID TAGGED ITEMS ON THE UTILITY VEHICLE

3.4.3. RFID tag environment simulation-method

This simulation involves trying to identify RFID tagged products of various compositions using the mobile RFID reader. Items composed of wood, metal, plastic, stone and those containing liquids were tagged and attempted to be read. Items left outside and exposed to the elements were also tagged and attempted to be read, along with other items that are stored in dirty manufacturing type environments.

Ten products composed of varying materials were RFID tagged and attempted to be read by the mobile RFID reader. The compositions of the ten items tagged varied greatly with some of them being made or packaged from metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, wood and stone. Some of the items such as the container of nails and the bag of cement were also dusty and dirty. The mobile RFID reader was used to make six attempts to read data from all of the tagged products individually. Table 5 reveals the results of the six attempts for each product (= read successfully, = not able to be read).

Exhibit 3.&nbsp;An RFID tagged treated pine sleeper (top); An RFID tagged pipe (bottom)

Exhibit 3. An RFID tagged treated pine sleeper (top); An RFID tagged pipe (bottom)

As can be seen in Table 5 all items could be read by the mobile reader, but objects made of metal took around 5 or 6 attempts to be read successfully. It should also be noted that dirty and dusty products were interrogated successfully by the reader on every attempt.

In order to further test the effect the environment had on the readability of tags, four items that were regularly kept outside were RFID tagged. These items included a treated pine sleeper, a stone paver, a bale of sugar cane mulch wrapped in plastic and a 6 metre length galvanised pipe (Exhibit 3).

Table 5.&nbsp;READ RATES OF THE ENVIRONMENT SIMULATION

Table 5. READ RATES OF THE ENVIRONMENT SIMULATION

After being tagged with RFID labels these items were left outside for five nights. It rained quite heavily over the time the items were left outside and upon examining the products and RFID tags after the fifth night had elapsed, they were saturated.

This however did not have any effect on the readability of tags, with all items being successfully identified in all six of the scans except for the metal item (the 6 metre length of galvanised pipe) which was only interrogated successfully on the sixth attempt.

To compare the robustness of RFID tags and barcodes, a cardboard box with a barcode imprinted on it in ink was also left outside over the same period as the RFID tagged items. Like the RFID tags and products the cardboard box was saturated after the fifth night outside. The barcode on the box was able to be scanned successfully, but when the researcher applied some friction to the barcode it was damaged. Once the barcode was damaged it could not be identified by the barcode reader. Unlike the barcode the RFID tags were not affected or damaged by friction in this simulation.

This simulation revealed that the readability of RFID tags was not affected when applied to products of varying compositions, except for products composed of metal which resulted in these products only being identified in about one out of six attempts. It was also revealed that RFID tags were able to function after being stored outdoors and exposed to the elements over five nights. To further test the robustness of RFID tags it is recommended that they are exposed to the same environmental conditions for longer periods of time in a future study.

3.4.4. RFID-enabled- locating misplaced stock simulation-method

An RFID tagged product will be positioned so that it can be read by an antenna attached to a fixed RFID reader. Once data have been read from the tagged item it will then be moved around the shop to another location so it is within range of another antenna. The results of this simulation will focus on the ‘tag reads’ at each of the antennas. After one tagged item has been tested the read rates of multiple items will be observed.

A fixed RFID reader was set up with two antennas situated 10 metres apart. RFID tagged items were initially positioned in front of an antenna then put on a trolley and moved outside the range of the antenna and into the range of a second antenna to simulate stock being misplaced within the retailer. Exhibit 4 shows RFID tagged products that have been moved past an antenna on a trolley.

Exhibit 4.&nbsp;RFID tagged cartons of nails within the read range of an antenna

Exhibit 4. RFID tagged cartons of nails within the read range of an antenna

A plastic 5 kilogram carton of galvanised bullet head nails was RFID tagged and moved from the read range of the first antenna to within the read range of the second antenna which resulted in it being detected by both antennas. Once a single RFID tagged carton was tested more were introduced to further examine the accuracy of the antennas. Table 6 illustrates the results of this simulation. It should be noted that in the table, tags which were identified by both antennas (at the first antenna prior to being ‘misplaced’ and or the second antenna after being ‘misplaced’) were recorded as being read successfully (✓=read successfully,= not able to be read).

Table 6.&nbsp;PRODUCTS IDENTIFIED IN THE LOCATING MISPLACED STOCK SIMULATION

Table 6. PRODUCTS IDENTIFIED IN THE LOCATING MISPLACED STOCK SIMULATION

The results revealed read rates ranging from 67% to 100% for the five tests conducted in this simulation. When products were placed on the trolley and transported between antennas they were placed in a random configuration which meant that the RFID tags applied to them were not presented to the reader in the same arrangement for each of the tagged cartons of nails.

It was noted that tagged cartons that were not detected when moved between antennas, had tags orientated perpendicular to them or had tags that were applied to the opposite side of products. Figure 3 illustrates where RFID tags were applied on products that were not identified by the antennas.

Figure 3.&nbsp;The position of RFID tags that were not identified

Figure 3. The position of RFID tags that were not identified

Apart from the orientation issues that were encountered, this simulation illustrated that RFID could be used within the small-to-medium retailer to monitor the positioning of products within the store. If RFID was employed in the store and appropriate backend software was developed it is highly likely that misplaced items that had been tagged within the store could be registered on the system, and found thereafter.

Section IV

Discussion and Conclusion

The simulations revealed that items with overlapping RFID tags wrapped around them could not be detected by the reader when they passed through the entry/exit. It was also found that concealing items had an effect on whether they would read or not with a single concealed product being identified, as compared to the three tagged items which were identified when passing through the entry/exit in plain sight. Moreover, the results showed that RFID experienced poor to average read rates when implemented for loss prevention. It is perceived that if RFID was applied in the small-to-medium retailer for loss prevention purposes, theft may be reduced but the reliability of the technology could not be guaranteed, unless orientation issues were resolved and the read rates improved. Also, if an RFID portal were constructed appropriately, taking into account the conditions and the vehicle used by the small-to-medium retailer, it could effectively monitor the stock being delivered to the business and the one delivered to the customers of the business. In addition, the study revealed that the readability of RFID tags was not affected when applied to products of varying compositions, except for metal products - which were identified only once on six attempts. Moreover, the RFID tags were able to function after being stored outdoors and exposed to the elements over five nights. These results provide strong support to previous studies on RFID technology [11], [12] and highlight the fact that RFID technology is mostly product driven, and therefore, the best performance of the system heavily depends on the type of product, the context of implementation, the level of tagging, etc.

Consequently, a scenario building, validation and demonstration of RFID-enabled process optimization is highly recommended prior to any large RFID technology deployment [13]. To our knowledge, this study is among the first studies to illustrate that RFID technology could be used within a small-to-medium retailer in real-life settings to monitor the positioning of products within the store, to help small-to-medium retailer prevent in-store stock losses, enhance delivery process and improve the process of locating misplaced stock within the store. Nevertheless, these findings are consistent with results of prior research by [15] at Wal-Mart stores, which are mainly large stores. Despite these encouraging results, further tests on the robustness of RFID tags should be conducted when they are exposed to the same environmental conditions for longer periods of time. Moreover, given that the more recent RFID tags have a tag reading accuracy of almost 100%, their use is highly recommended [21]. The study was conducted in a single store of a small-to-medium retailer situated almost at the last node of the retail supply chain, and therefore was not able to capture the network effects of RFID technology.

Therefore, further works need to be done to assess the impact of RFID technology at the supply chain level in a real-life setting and to develop different models of cost sharing between stakeholders involved in RFID-enabled projects.

References

1. S. Fosso Wamba, L. A. Lefebvre, Y. Bendavid, and É. Lefebvre, "Exploring the impact of RFID technology and the EPC network on mobile B2B eCommerce: a case study in the retail industry," International Journal of Production Economics (112:2), 2008, 614-629.

2. R. Roman and J. Donald, "Impact of RFID technology on supply chain management systems," in 19th Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications (NACCQ 2006) Wellington, New Zealand, 2006.

3. C. Loebbecke, J. Palmer, and C. Huyskens, "RFID's potential in the fashion industry: a case analysis," in 19th Bled eConference, eValues Bled, Slovenia, 2006.

4. C. Poirier and D. McCollum, RFID Strategic Implementation and ROI: a Practical Roadmap to Success. Florida: J. ROSS Publishing, 2006.

5. J. Curtin, R. J. Kauffman, and F. J. Riggins, "Making the most out of RFID technology: a research agenda for the study of the adoption, usage and impact of RFID," Information Technology and Management (8:2), 2007, 87-110.

6. N. Huber and K. Michael, "Minimizing product shrinkage across the supply chain using radio frequency identification: A case study on a major Australian retailer," in IEEE Computer Society of the Seventh International Conference on Mobile Business Toronto, Canada, 2007.

7. B. D. Renegar and K. Michael, "The RFID value proposition," in CollECTeR Iberoamérica Madrid, Spain, 2008.

8. F. J. Riggins and K. T. Slaughter, "The role of collective mental models in IOS adoption: opening the black box of rationality in RFID deployment," in Proceedings of the 39th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences Hawaii, 2006.

9. S. Fosso Wamba and H. Boeck, "Enhancing information flow in a retail supply chain using RFID and the EPC network: a proof-of-concept approach," Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research (3:1), 2008, 92-105.

10. Z. Asif and M. Mandviwalla, "Integrating the supply chain with RFID: a technical and business analysis," Communications of the Association for Information Systems (15), 2005, 393-427.

11. Y. Bendavid, S. Fosso Wamba, and L. A. Lefebvre, "Proof of concept of an RFID-enabled supply chain in a B2B e-commerce environment," in The Eighth International Conference on Electronic Commerce (ICEC) Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, 2006, 564-568.

12. B. C. Hardgrave, M. Waller, and R. Miller, " Does RFID reduce out of stocks? a preliminary analysis," 2005.

13. S. Fosso Wamba, E. Lefebvre, Y. Bendavid, and L. A. Lefebvre, From automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) to "smart business process": a proof of concept integrating RFID: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

14. W. E. Solutions, "Appendix A: Glossary," 1996.

15. B. C. Hardgrave, J. Aloysius, and S. Goyal, "Does RFID improve inventory accuracy? a preliminary analysis," International Journal of RF Technologies: Research and Applications (11:1), 2009, 44-56.

16. R. K. Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1994.

17. J. Diamond and G. Pintel, Retailing. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996.

18. T. Wild, Best Practice in Inventory Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

19. R. Tersine, Principles of Inventory and Material Management. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.

20. P. Knight, Small-Scale Research. London: Sage, 2002.

21. M. H. M. News, "UHF Gen 2 RFID delivers 100% read accuracy for item tagging," 2009.

IEEE Keywords: Australia, Business process re-engineering, Hardware, Humans, Inventory control, Radio frequency, Radiofrequency identification, Supply chain management, Supply chains, Testing

INSPEC: optimisation, radiofrequency identification, retail data processing, small-to-medium enterprises, stock control, RFID-enabled inventory control optimization, delivery process, hardware retailer, participant observation, procedural documents, proof of concept approach, quasi experimental design, radio-frequency identification technology, semi structured interviews, small-to-medium retailer

Citation: Dane Hamilton, Katina Michael, Samuel Wamba, 2010, "RFID-Enabled Inventory Control Optimization: A Proof of Concept in a Small-to-Medium Retailer", 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), Date of Conference: 5-8 Jan. 2010, DOI: 10.1109/HICSS.2010.473

Privacy-value-control harmonization for RFID adoption in retail

Abstract

Privacy concerns have, at least in part, impeded the adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) in retail. The adoption of other automatic identification (auto-ID) applications shows that consumers often are willing to trade their privacy or their control of personal information against some value afforded by the application. In this paper, the interplay between privacy, value, and control is examined through a literature survey of four auto-ID applications: mobile phone, electronic toll collection, e-passports, and loyalty programs. The consumer value proposition for the use of RFID in retail is investigated through an online survey exploring end-user perceptions. The results of the survey are: 1) the customer value proposition has not been communicated well to customers; 2) privacy concerns are higher than other previously adopted applications despite similar privacy issues; and 3) harmonization of privacy, value, and control is likely to be achieved only after adoption, when customers will be educated through experience with the application.

Introduction

Over the past decade, organizations have aggressively pursued the use of radio frequency identifi- cation (RFID) as a means to better identify, control, and track stock throughout the supply chain. The linking of RFID, an automatic identification (autoID) and data collection technology, to consumer goods has resulted in widespread concern surrounding privacy issues. The mainstream media have been quick to expose these privacy concerns, with most articles focusing purely on the potential of the technology to track consumers without their knowledge or consent. Prior to 2004, this resulted in many major retail organizations around the world temporarily halting their RFID initiatives because of consumer backlash and many more organizations hesitant to proceed further.1 Since that time, a number of U.S.- and European-based large retailers have either adopted RFID or conducted trials.2 Whereas privacy may not be the single biggest issue stifling the deployment of RFID, it has acted to delay uptake in the retail industry.3 This paper explores whether an appropriate harmonization between consumer privacy, value, and perceived control can be established for the use of RFID in retail.

There are three vital considerations in achieving this aim: (1) how consumer awareness influences perceptions, and consequently the development of such a harmony; (2) the balance evident in other, similar, auto-ID technologies and services that have already been adopted successfully; and (3) how an appropriate harmonization between value, privacy, and control can be achieved. In fulfilling the aims of the study, the consumer value proposition for the use of RFID in retail will be explored. Consumer perceptions of RFID and associated privacy issues will also be investigated. Finally, the extent to which education and awareness affect perceptions of value, privacy, and control will be measured.

RFID is best characterized as an auto-ID technology that uses radio waves to identify objects. In the context of this study, the specific RFID technology of interest is passive tags, which are tiny transponders that can be embedded or attached to an object requiring identification. These transponders, as small as a grain of rice, do not have a power source of their own; rather, they use the energy from an incoming radio frequency signal to transmit stored data to the reader. The most important characteristic of RFID technology in relation to the tagging of consumer goods is that it does not require line-ofsight positioning, which is a requirement of bar code systems. For EPC Gen 2 UHF (electronic product code generation 2 ultra high frequency) passive tags, the read range is 3.5 meters and the write range is 2 meters, depending on the RFID system setup and the environmental conditions. It is also possible to achieve reads of up to 8 meters away using these tags. The ability for RFID tags to be read covertly is the main concern among privacy advocates.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In the next section, definitions of privacy, value, and control are provided in addition to a survey of related RFID works. Then, the methodology used in the current study is briefly described. In the following section, four widely adopted auto-ID applications are presented using a literature survey to explore the actual privacy, value, and control dynamics that have led to consumer acceptance of these auto-ID technologies. In the next section, the results of an online survey investigating consumer perceptions of RFID in retail are presented and a comparison is made between the qualitative and quantitative findings. In the following section, the principal outcomes of the study are discussed. A brief summary of the material presented concludes the paper.

Previous Works

The classic definition of privacy is provided by Westin, as the ‘‘claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.’’4 This study is primarily focused on information privacy, which is described by Clarke as ‘‘the interest an individual has in controlling, or at least significantly influencing, the handling of data about themselves.’’5 Of primary concern in regard to RFID usage in retail is the collection of personal information that pertains to consumer shopping preferences, actions, and behavior. It is the collection, use, and disclosure of this information, particularly when it may be incorrect or unverified, to identify, track, and monitor individuals without their awareness or express approval, that is commonly recognized as one of the most prominent threats. It is important to understand that Clarke’s definition, along with other definitions of privacy from Altman,6 Schoeman,7 and Margulis,8 all emphasize that privacy is not separate from control; rather, it is ‘‘deeply intertwined with it.’’9

Value in this study will be viewed in terms of the benefits RFID technology affords consumers. It is how an individual prizes a certain outcome against all others.10 The value proposition to consumers for RFID usage in retail is generally phrased in terms of convenience. It is an equation of all the positive factors that interest the individual. It can include cost savings, time reductions, efficiency, personalization, safety, and security, as well as convenience and other tangible and intangible benefits. Therefore, in creating a harmony of privacy, value, and control, it is a harmonization between consumer willingness to lose some degree of privacy versus the strength of the retailer’s value proposition for using the technology.11 The value proposition can essentially be seen as a combination of benefits versus risks that consumers will evaluate in their decisions and perceptions.

Inness12 is clear that in characterizing the function of privacy in terms of control or restricted access there are ramifications for the normative value we accord privacy. For the purpose of this study, control becomes a relevant dimension of RFID acceptance, because it is only through a perceived level of control over their personal information that consumers will feel their privacy is being respected.13 The level of control that is provided either through the technology or by the service provider, whether that be perceived or real, is seen as an important element that, when combined with the value proposition, can affect consumer acceptance.

The consumer acceptance of RFID has been investigated in a number of studies. Some have proposed solutions that protect and enhance privacy and afford consumers a level of control.14–16 These solutions are typically technology-based, legislative, or regulatory in nature. Despite the different privacy solutions, a number of studies critically highlight that consumer perceptions and fear of RFID technology, brought about by a lack of understanding, remain.17,18 Thus, regardless of which privacyenhancing technologies are used, the concerns from the consumer’s perspective are the same.9,19 It is apparent from such studies that the real issue becomes one of fear or other underlying motives, that, when combined with perceptions of privacy and control, motivate a consumer’s acceptance of RFID technology. One quantitative study found that consumers felt a lack of perceived control over the technology as well as a great power distance,20 and another study found that cultural dimensions affected the way in which consumers viewed the privacy threat.21

The privacy debate has developed due to the identification and tracking capabilities inherent in the RFID technology. The argument is that if the tags were to remain active after the consumer has left the store, the technology could provide retailers and manufacturers the ability to track an individual’s movement and behavior in a clandestine manner.22 This is introduced by Roussos,23 who explains the ability of the technology to silently retrieve and record unique identifiers as an important contributing factor toward consumer uneasiness. Garfinkel et al.15 discuss seven key privacy threats that arise from the capabilities of RFID: (1) action threat; (2) association threat; (3) location threat; (4) preference threat; (5) constellation threat; (6) transaction threat; and (7) breadcrumb threat (i.e., leaving a trail of actions). Such threats have given rise to much concern by privacy advocates. In 2005, Eckfeldt24 explained that many major companies around the world had already scrapped RFID plans following consumer backlash. If it were not for the ‘‘haunting cries of privacy running afoul,’’ many more companies would have tested and launched RFID initiatives.1 This can also be seen clearly in the results of a Cap Gemini Ernst & Young consumer perception study of RFID that highlighted privacy concerns as ‘‘the most significant issue among consumers in all countries.’’25

The value proposition for RFID use in retail is an important topic that underscores consumer acceptance of RFID. What is apparent in surveying the literature is that while the benefits of RFID have been clearly defined and expressed for retailers, they have not been so clearly communicated to consumers. Eckfeldt24 makes an important assertion in discussing the value of RFID to consumers: ‘‘... the difference between successful and shunned RFID applications turns on delivery of clear, tangible value to the average consumer.’’ Furthermore he stresses that in assessing consumer benefit, organizations must consider consumers’ interests above their own; otherwise, they will produce a solution that fails to provide a positive balance between risk and reward in the eyes of the consumer. He further highlights that a tangible consumer benefit is pivotal to all these solutions. McGinity1 stresses the key value to consumers: better prices and product selection brought on by better efficiency at the back end, including reduced waste, reduced shrinkage, and improved supply chain processes. However, because the systems have not been widely implemented, assessing or promoting such benefits would appear to be speculative at best.

Balancing the economic interests of business against the privacy interests of consumers is another cornerstone in the privacy debate. Culnan and Bies11 introduce the centrist perspective, whereby corporate access to information should be balanced against the legitimate rights consumers have toward protection of their privacy. In addressing this balance, the notion of second exchange is introduced, whereby consumers make a non-monetary exchange of their personal information in return for improved service, personalization, and benefits.11 Importantly, they highlight that, for both organizations and consumers to realize the benefits, consumers must be willing to disclose their personal information and thus surrender some degree of their privacy. It is proposed, therefore, that people may be willing to accept a loss of privacy as long as there is an acceptable level of risk accompanying the benefits.

This idea of balancing interests is touched on by many authors. Eckfeldt,24 for example, emphasizes the idea of risk again in stating that successful RFID applications over-compensate for any privacy fears. He furthers the idea of risk in proposing that consumers will accept the risks if the application is worth the benefits. Langheinrich’s26 discussion on privacy claims that privacy practices and goals must be balanced with the convenience or inconvenience associated with them. In balancing the interests of consumers against organizations, the important issue that seems to dominate is the balancing of convenience and other terms of value for the consumer against the privacy incursion that is inevitable in providing such applications. It must be underscored that an underlying assumption made in this study by the authors is that privacy incursions, especially in the form of breaches in information privacy, are inevitable in the adoption of any emerging mass-market technology, and even more so if that technology happens to be wireless or mobile.

Methodology