Emerging Technologies

Employees at this Swedish company can get a microchip inserted under their skin

A porter carries luggage past a group of reception staff that are reflected in the floor as they stand in the foyer of the five-star rated Sofitel Hotel in Beijing November 19, 2007. City tourism officials and Olympics organizers are confident Beijing's 700-plus star-rated hotels can absorb the onslaught of half a million foreign and domestic visitors expected each day for 17 days beginning August 8, 2008.      REUTERS/David Gray    (CHINA)

Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available. Image: REUTERS/David Gray

James Brooks
Video Journalist , Associated Press
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Emerging Technologies?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Fourth Industrial Revolution is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Emerging Technologies

The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee's hand. Another "cyborg" is created.

What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

"The biggest benefit I think is convenience," said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. "It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys."

The technology in itself is not new. Such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets. Companies use them to track deliveries. It's just never been used to tag employees on a broad scale before. Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available.

And as with most new technologies, it raises security and privacy issues. While biologically safe, the data generated by the chips can show how often an employee comes to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip.

"Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do and it was even for me at first," said Mesterton, remembering how he initially had had doubts.

"But then on the other hand, I mean, people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart," he said. "That's a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices."

Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and some 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them. A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants, and there are isolated cases around the world where tech enthusiasts have tried this out in recent years.

The small implants use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the same as in contactless credit cards or mobile payments. When activated by a reader a few centimeters (inches) away, a small amount of data flows between the two devices via electromagnetic waves. The implants are "passive," meaning they contain information that other devices can read, but cannot read information themselves.

Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, says hackers could conceivably gain huge swathes of information from embedded microchips. The ethical dilemmas will become bigger the more sophisticated the microchips become.

"The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone," he says. "Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you're working, how long you're working, if you're taking toilet breaks and things like that."

Libberton said that if such data is collected, the big question remains of what happens to it, who uses it, and for what purpose.

So far, Epicenter's group of cyborgs doesn't seem too concerned.

"People ask me; 'Are you chipped?' and I say; 'Yes, why not,'" said Fredric Kaijser, 47, the chief experience officer at Epicenter. "And they all get excited about privacy issues and what that means and so forth. And for me it's just a matter of I like to try new things and just see it as more of an enabler and what that would bring into the future."

The implants have become so popular that Epicenter workers stage monthly events where attendees have the option of being "chipped" for free.

That means visits from self-described "body hacker" Jowan Osterlund from Biohax Sweden who performs the "operation."

He injects the implants — using pre-loaded syringes — into the fleshy area of the hand, just next to the thumb. The process lasts a few seconds, and more often than not there are no screams and barely a drop of blood. "The next step for electronics is to move into the body," he says.

Sandra Haglof, 25, who works for Eventomatic, an events company that works with Epicenter, has had three piercings before, and her left hand barely shakes as Osterlund injects the small chip.

"I want to be part of the future," she laughs.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

What is the 'perverse customer journey' and how can it tackle the misuse of generative AI?

Henry Ajder

July 19, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum