Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Apocalypse watch -- ten minutes and counting

I knew it. They're talking about putting microchips into people, and folks can't wait.

So what's the problem, right? It's just a thing to help people with complex medical problems get quicker care by being able to communicate more complete and accurate health record information.

I've got two problems with this. One is already hinted at if you make it to the end of the article. Consider these two little throwaway graphs:

... Silverman said chips implanted for medical uses could also be used for security purposes, like tracking employee movement through nuclear power plants.

...Meanwhile, the chip has been used for pure whimsy: Club hoppers in Barcelona, Spain, now use the microchip to enter a VIP area and, through links to a different database, speed payment much like a smartcard.

Problem number one: no matter how isolated the proposed use for this chip is at present, once it's linked into security and electronic payment, its popularity will explode.

What I'm really expecting to see within ten years is a microchip that turns you into a walking telephone/e-mail receiver and sender. The same technology plus GPS could be used to determine anybody's whereabouts at any time in question, making many crimes a cinch to solve.

Actually, I'm pretty sure the technology exists now. It's the climate for its proliferation that doesn't exist. The current generation is cautious about such threats to privacy and freedom, and wouldn't throw that away for convenience and a lower crime rate. But I don't think the next generation will see it the same way. There are some forces in modern culture that have become runaway trains -- constant communication, immediate transfer of funds, unhindered medical research advances and complete personal safety being some of the fastest accelerating ones.

It all sounds ludicrous, and the idea of having a chip implanted would be too horrible for most people to do it. But only a generation or so ago, test-tube babies were unthinkable. Sex change operations. And of course my favorite -- cloning. Given enough time, the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and then -- if it seems to follow the general trend toward making life move along faster than it does now -- it becomes acceptable, desirable ... and finally, like all the other advances that have taken a little bit of our humanity, it becomes worth whatever cost we have to pay for it.

That's my second problem with the microchip idea. It seems to me that whenever we take these bold new steps, we pay for them. From the time of the Industrial Revolution on, we've been striding forward, moving out. Better lives, more things -- faster, cleaner, safer, more affordable, better quality. But we never want to notice the things that are lost to pay for them. We've got speedy transportation -- but we've got paved landscapes, air pollution and daily fatalities. We've got a dizzying array of affordable goods -- but we've got a trade agreement with China and a country where over half the people are overweight.

In short, these technological advances seem to me like deals with the Devil, and our recent inclination has been to pay.


Blogger John said...

...Yeah, yeah...but will the chip prevent me from buying or selling goods!


October 14, 2004 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

I don't know. But the second they tell me these things come with a three-digit pass code, I'm packing my bags!

October 16, 2004 at 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pack the kids and the dog Ma, were emmigrating back to Serbia...

October 16, 2004 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Wait for me!

October 17, 2004 at 7:01 PM  
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