|Neil Harbisson. (Wiki.)|
by Louis Shalako
In the future, will all babies have an identifying chip implanted at birth?
“It’s already been done, as long ago as 1998, by what are described as ‘hobbyists.’ The first reported experiment with an RFID implant was carried out in 1998 by the British scientist Kevin Warwick. As a test, his implant was used to open doors, switch on lights, and cause verbal output within a building."
"The implant has since been held in the Science Museum (London). Since that time, several additional hobbyists have placed RFID microchip implants into their hands or had them placed there by others. Amal Graafstra, author of the book "RFID Toys," asked doctors to place implants in his hands. A cosmetic surgeon used a scalpel to place a microchip in his left hand, and his family doctor injected a chip into his right hand using a veterinary Avid injector kit. Graafstra uses the implants to open his home and car doors and to log on to his computer. Mikey Sklar had a chip implanted into his left hand and filmed the procedure. He has done a number of media and personal interviews about his experience of being microchipped.” (Wiki.)
What about Vernor Vinge’s story, Rainbow’s End, where people used contact lenses and glasses to overlay new, augmented realities on the real world around them? And what happens when they are no longer accessories, but installed or built-in to human beings?
“Pre-Google Glass, a Canadian professor had a pair of computerized glasses ‘permanently’ attached to his skull. When another person insisted he remove the glasses and then tried to rip them off his face, trans-humanist enthusiasts called it "the first hate crime against cyborgs."
But now we do have Google Glass. Now we can wire our enhanced spectacles, our satellite navigations systems, our Wikipedia, right into our heads. We could have night-vision, or watch our kids walking home from school from thousands of miles away.
‘Body hackers’ are already among us. They’re making the experiments in the classic Frankenstein sense, right in their own basements. Who knows where all this will lead, but with a chip implanted in your head, projecting text, images and sound directly into the brain, will mean that in the future you will be able to access all of human knowledge via Wifi, anytime you want it.
It seems only a matter of time before aficionados will use the same technology that will cure deafness in some folks, in order to implant ‘headphones’ in their ears. The technology used to cure blindness will be used in other, mass-market products.
Human beings (the more affluent ones) will be, like Steve Austin, ‘bionic people,’ and while the ability to leap a tall building at a single bound captures the imagination, it is the intellectual and even just the entertainment fields that are probably more relevant in normal daily life.
All of this will come to pass, for when has humanity ever passed up a good thing? Simple eyeglasses change our perception. We have come to accept false teeth, implanted teeth, hair transplants and mechanical heart transplants. We have come not to accept breast implants, which would have been a wonderful thing for women who had gone through a mastectomy, purely on grounds of self-esteem and psychological recovery from traumatic cancer surgery, but to demand them as our right in the case of less than well-endowed and very young women.
It is aspirational in the sense that some think it will help in their careers—actresses, models, porn stars yes, and of course there is that unspoken need to attract suitable mates and the unwritten laws that go along with it.
They have become status symbols in a way that the artificial hip has not.
I’m old school, I like typing away on my physical, plastic, electronic keyboard. I don’t mind it, I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s a hell of a lot easier than the old cast-iron framed typewriters.
But we’re already seeing people walking down the street ‘swiping’ at their phones.* The person sitting in a coffee shop, head wired for sound and tapping away on an invisible keyboard while they write their magnum opus, one visible only to them, might not be too far away.
The guy sitting at the back of the room with his own system, trying to hack into their heads for the sheer hellery of it, isn’t too far away either. New gifts bring new dangers.
Business executives might want to have a quick look around inside other business executive’s heads before signing any contracts, just to see what sort of people they are dealing with.
There will be locks, and blocks, and hackers trying to get inside of your head and probably trying to make you do things you might not have done otherwise.
Why risk your own valuable skin to rob a bank if you can just find some other physically-fit specimen to do it for you? Someone you can trust, because you control what goes on inside of their head and can make their legs move even when they would prefer not to like some cyborg cockroach.
Convicted felons out on parole might be implanted with a chip.
If they strayed from home during prohibited hours, law enforcement could track and monitor their movements. If everyone in the world was chipped, there would essentially be no unsolved murders, (that’s the theory) but any crime fiction writer could beat that—a killer simply cuts his hand open and leaves the chip at home on the bedside table while he goes out and does the dirty deed.
A surgeon in some rogue state cuts it out of your head and off you go to do your crime. When you come back, he has already filled in the blank time period with typical touristy stuff and he then re-implants it.
It will soon be illegal not to have a chip, and all sorts of detectors at airports would not just scan for metal, but for the embedded chip. A chip-less person would be suspicious in the extreme.
With chips embedded, employers would always be able to track employees. Such chips are relatively cheap.
You can hardly buy anything worth more than about twenty bucks at a big-box department store without a chip somewhere in the packaging, and alarms will sound if you attempt to walk off without paying. In an environment where they now have self-serve checkouts, retailers see this as necessary, even desirable for just-in-time production and shipping, stock control, and tracking our buying habits, all of which demand streams and reams of data on a moment by moment basis. It hinders, but does not prevent shop-lifting because thieves learn quickly and know how to remove a chip before leaving the store.
A recurrent theme in the works of science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer involves uploaded consciousness.
In Mindscan, a man with a fatal condition uploads his consciousness into a newer, healthier version of himself.
If consciousness could be uploaded, presumably it could also be downloaded.
So what about a downloaded consciousness? In the future, as a form of augmented reality, for a small fee, a person might be able to go to iTunes and download somebody else’s conscious experiences.
You could be Lady Gaga for an hour or so. It would only cost $0.99 after all, and you would know exactly how it feels to be onstage as her. You would be Lady Gaga, or Ryan Seacrest, or any celebrity who has such programming available.
In the case of Lady Gaga, you would get to sing a hit song and be somebody else for a while—someone who could actually sing, and a longer program might involve her experiences in longer form.
You might arrive at a concert venue, meet with adoring fans backstage, sit through the makeup session, choose the wardrobe, and then go out on stage and perform the entire show as if that was really you and not her. You would feel all of her physical sensations, and the love of her audience.
It wouldn’t be long before purely artificial experiences become commonplace. The creator opf the work would own all rights and cut out the celebrity middlemen.
Sports stars, football players, will also be big revenue earners in this scenario.
It’s a lot better than our own boring little lives, isn’t it?
Be anyone you want to be.
The process, once the technology is in place, would be a fairly simple one. Lady Gaga would have her own chip, and it would simply record all of her perceptions during a concert tour. The data would be downloaded out of her mind, and stored on a hard-drive for later.
With some editing for time, and suitable bridges between scenes—the term ‘commercial breaks’ quickly comes to mind—what you end up with is just another entertainment product.
It’s not the most noble endeavour, but it would certainly generate revenues, and for some that will always be enough justification.
It could also become a teaching and learning tool—anything is possible, and so far the limits of the new technology are still obscure.
“From locating lost children to keeping financial data and medical records handy, people are about to see a surge in data chip implants. Able to transmit and store data, chips will soon enable people to verify their identities, see if their children have traversed the boundaries (or ‘hopped the geo-fences’) set for them, give paramedics and doctors immediate access to their medical records, allow people to go wallet-free as they pay for groceries via a hand-swipe, or even store educational and employment data for a job interview. But what if the police can use it to track how fast someone is driving or monitor a person’s whereabouts? Can these implants become a mandatory form of ID? How do people protect their privacy from hackers? Can this data be sold to law enforcement or other companies? Does the good outweigh the bad?” (Laboratory Equipment.)
Now that we have the ability to map the brain, to detect, observe and identify brain-wave patterns, and with the whole world wired up with a chip in their heads, it would eventually be possible to know what every citizen was thinking at a given time. It would all be wireless and monitored by artificial intelligences working in real-time.
From there, it is a short step to the embedded Taser in the chest module and a long list of infractions, real and imaginary in the case of authoritarian or even just overly conservative governments.
Think the wrong thought and zap! You’ve been busted and punished all in one fell swoop in a scene reminiscent of an early Star Trek episode.
Hell is a little bit further down that road, but not too far. Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, there is a very good chance that we will get there eventually.
That’s why the time for debate is now.
*Such people will quickly find themselves waking up in the middle of the night and their hands are just swiping away in some subconscious locomotor patterns, which are very strong and become quickly ingrained.
Years ago, I set up a video camera at one end of the room and then went back to working on a book. It was amazing how often I reached for a smoke, a lighter, a handful of potato chips, a drink, or the ashtray, and that hand-to-mouth pattern became really distinct on fast forward. It was quite sobering.
One reason it’s so hard to quit smoking: “What am I supposed to do with my hands?”
It’s also one reason why so many people gain weight when they quit smoking. They keep wanting to stick something in their mouth.
Another good question: what deeply-rooted human need or desire is that major locomotion pattern attempting to feed without my even being conscious of it?
It’s not necessarily just about food or drink, the very real and understandable needs of the body.
The mind and the psyche are involved too.
Retailers will take advantage of all this, I have no doubt of that. Retailers in a consumer society have always known about human insecurities, hence tooth-whitening, breast implants, high-end cars and all the usual cosmetic and prosthetic devices and products we buy on a daily basis.
Okay, now I’m done.
Here is my new collection of short stories, Dark Satires. Thanks for having a look.