Bio-Chip/Implants

Uploading Information Directly Into People's Brains

 

A Chip for Your Thoughts
by John Hanchette
Gannett News Service copyright 2000
Second of three parts

Source: Asbury Park Press
http://www.app.com/news/app/story/0,2110,273813,00.html

May 15, 2000

Privacy advocates fear that as rapid advances are made in technology, the personal lives of Americans may be shadowed by a cloud no bigger than a computer chip.

MicroStrategy founder Michael Saylor proposes uploading information direct to people's brains via computer chip. One proposal, drawn from a recent science fiction film, is close to reality.

Michael Saylor the 35-year-old founder of MicroStrategy, who perhaps is most famous for watching his personal net stock worth drop $6 billion in a single morning without whimpering is involved with the concept.

Saylor wants to beam information directly into your mind; he calls it "telepathic intelligence."

Saylor would do it by having a tiny transmitter surgically implanted in your skull or by sewing a computer chip into your wrist and having it transmit to an embedded radiolike device near your ear bones.

His computers already process a mammoth amount of data; pertinent portions would be tailored to your life and interests, then transmitted to brain or ear instantaneously 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Your stock is tanking sell. You're on the wrong street turn here. Your spouse wrecked the other car call the insurance company. Your house is being burglarized call the cops. The doctor called in your prescription visit the pharmacy.

"I don't know who in their right mind would let somebody implant this in their head," says Fordham University Law School professor Joel Reidenberg, an expert on information privacy. "To the extent that we begin to create a system of automatons responding to chip implants in people's brains, we will be destroying the foundations of a democratic society.

"Without question, there would be a great opportunity for mischief here."

MicroStrategy spokesmen confirm that Saylor "sees potential in the future of such a chip" and that the firm's Strategy.com subsidiary a network of "customer intelligence channels" that sends 300,000 people some 2 million personalized messages a week is working long term on the idea.

But MicroStrategy spokesman Michael Quint said this would be what computer business calls "opt-in": ""It's all permission marketing. If you're talking about the privacy thing, we'd need to get the permission of the customer or the consumer."

Reidenberg is not impressed: "The notion that it's "permission marketing only' is a hoax. There's no way a citizen in our society can make an intelligent, informed decision about the risks of these implants, which would be sold through very sophisticated marketing by organizations with large economic interests whose goals are not to promote the public interest. That's a very scary vision for a democratic society.

"Forget the health and safety issues. Assume they figure out how not to kill people when they put it in. The information-control aspects are beyond what George Orwell could have dreamed about."

Not everyone is upset by this techno-vision.

When online prankster Bill Cross a few months ago put up a hoax Web site that offered $250 for letting surgeons insert an electronic chip under the right palm for cashless purchases, he was stunned at the response. People signed up for the nonexistent implant "in droves," he says.

And the techno-vision is reality.

Three months ago Applied Digital Solutions a publicly traded firm based in Palm Beach announced it had developed a high-tech transceiver chip, thinner than a dime, that could be implanted in flesh and used as a tracking device by transmitting the person's whereabouts to a global positioning satellite.

Trademarked as the "Digital Angel," the chip could be inserted in children at the behest of parents who fear kidnappers or in elderly parents at the behest of children who fear those afflicted with Alzheimer's will wander off. The chip can hold medical and financial information.

Applied Digital says the implant would be voluntary, making the privacy issue moot.

But David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., worries the device could evolve into a workplace requirement one that "would dwarf polygraphs and drug testing."

And more than 500,000 pets now carry between their shoulder blades an implanted, scannable computer chip carrying owner and vaccination data.

"The technology is there to implant chips allowing programming of devices, like in your pacemaker," says Washington privacy consultant Robert Gellman, who calls Saylor's idea "Big Brother on steroids."

Says Gellman: "I keep thinking one day soon they'll be able to beam commercials into your pacemaker that warn, "Buy our product, or we're going to skip a couple of heartbeats.' Think of all the people who believe the CIA is beaming rays into their heads already."

Saylor bothers privacy advocates in another way.

He wants the government to make the huge Medicare database available online so it easily could be compiled and searched by his firm to discover dangerous medications and unsafe physicians, about whom you would be warned.

"Give me your medical records, and I will give you more life," Saylor says.

"Privacy advocates should take him seriously," said Evan Hendricks, publisher of the watchdog Privacy Times. "He's putting out his own version of "Mein Kampf.' Saylor is very genuine, I think. The more data they have, the more strategic decisions they can make."

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