Monday, July 6, 2009

Will Your ID Soon Be a Microchip Under Your Skin?

Posted in by Illuminated One | Edit

Will Your ID Soon Be a Microchip Under Your Skin?
Drew Halley
Singularity Hub
July 3, 2009

Yet another sci-fi milestone is upon us: microchips implanted under your skin and used to identify you.

The VeriChip is the first radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchip that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in humans. The chip is the size of a long grain of rice, and can be implanted pretty much anywhere in the body (most commonly along the tricep). Depending on how it’s used, the chip could do anything from telling doctors your medical background to buying you a round at the club.

Outside of human bodies, RFID is already used for a wide range of purposes. If you pay highway tolls electronically, that little box in your car has an RFID tag in it. Lots of folks implant their pets with RFID chips in case they get lost, as animal shelters increasingly scan pets for them. Wal-Mart tracks their shipments with RFID, which has apparently revolutionized supply chain management. Hell, there’s even one in your passport.

But why put one inside your body? As interesting as it might be to have your ID show up on an x-ray, most people would rather suffer a line at the DMV than a rice-injection. Sure, it might make for good conversation at a party. But is that worth the needle? What would it take to get one under your skin?

Emergency Situations

VeriChip Corp. markets their product to address what they call “a serious need for personal identification and information in emergency situations.” Over the past two years, the company has piloted their product with 200 Alzheimer’s patients in a Florida facility. Because of their condition, many patients are unable to effectively communicate if they are admitted to the hospital without caregivers present. The VeriChip contains a 16-digit ID number which links the recipient to a secure computer database where their medical information is stored. The chips are used to replace MedicAlert wristbands, which can be removed or damaged.

Most other proposed applications for in-body RFID are medical in nature: providing doctors immediately with a patient’s medical records, or identification if they are unconscious or unable to communicate. Still, these applications require that each hospital contain a computer database to connect an individual’s tag with their information. That’s probably a long way off.