Aborting any Possibility of an Identity Crisis


Future Chips

Source: Arizona Daily Star

September 21, 2000

"I'm nobody! Who are you?" asked the poet Emily Dickinson.

Emily died in 1886 but only recently has the technology developed that could adequately address her concerns. Better late than never, we say.

For the last few years, computer scientists have been experimenting with chip implants that would render it impossible for you to be a nobody. Researchers now say it is possible to implant a dime-sized computer chip under your collarbone, which would abort any possibility of an identity crisis.

The chip could record volumes of information - your name and address, your nearest relatives and their telephone numbers, your bank and credit card numbers, your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and any medications you may be taking.

There even are rumors that chips can be used to control the behavior of violent inmates in the prison system. Forget about Valium. Forget Ritalin. Forget Thorazine. Instead, sedate an inmate long enough to implant a chip somewhere on his body, then send signals to the chip to control different parts of the brain. A particularly dangerous inmate could be kept drowsy all day long.

Some of this, we grant you, remains pure speculation, but much of it is already here. In England, an adventurous cybernetics professor - yes, we know the word is strange to a poet born in 1830 - had a silicon chip implanted above his left elbow. Using radio waves, the chip communicated with computers. The computers, in turn, sent messages to other machines that turned on lights, opened doors and even hailed him with a sprightly "Hello!" as he moved from room to room at the University of Reading.

Kevin Warwick, the professor, said he felt "bereaved" when the chip was removed after nine days. He also said his experiment was just the beginning. Next he will get a new chip implant "and this one will send signals back and forth between my nervous system and a computer."

These experiments seem whimsical on one level, and yet they carry profound implications, especially for individuals suffering from severe spinal injuries. Is it possible that a computer chip can be implanted in a quardraplegic and that communication between the chip and the brain can reverse a crippling injury? There is a temptation to think of such possibilities as farfetched, and yet 25 years ago - when the advanced chip technology we know today was not available - scientists at the University of Utah had already shown that similar brain and nerve stimulation could allow blind individuals to see tiny specks of light.

Next month, one company plans to unveil a new product called a "Digital Angel," which will enable parents to keep track of their toddlers and allow adults to keep track of elderly parents who may be suffering from Alzheimers Disease.

The new chips function a little like a Global Positioning System but communicate with computers rather than an orbiting satellite. Some of these chips reportedly are already being used in Italy by wealthy families who are worried about being kidnapped.

Clearly, the chip implants offer extraordinary possiblities in the world of biomedical engineering, but there are other implications -privacy issues, behavior control questions, and others - that will have to be addressed eventually. One of those questions may go well beyond Emily's, "Who are you?"

Warwick, thinking about the astonishing possibilities of chip implants, sums it up this way: "I was born human. But this was an accident of fate - a condition merely of time and place. I believe it's something we have the power to change."

Think about that one. Someday you could be an eggplant.

Back To Biochip Implants