An unusual, new program is becoming the norm at a technology company in Sweden.
The company, called Epicenter, offers to place a microchip in its workers. It asks them for permission to inject the electronic device in the employee’s body.
Each microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It works like a “swipe card” an employee might use to enter an office building. It can open doors, operate printers, and even buy food, all with just a wave of the hand. The injections have become very popular that Epicenter even has parties for its workers who want to get microchips implanted.
“The biggest benefit, I think, is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, Chief Executive Officer of Epicenter. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” he adds.
The technology itself is not new. Some pet owners use virtual collars with microchips on dogs or other animals. Companies use microchips to follow the movement of products to buyers. Yet, this technology has never before been used to follow so many people. Epicenter and a handful of other businesses are the first to use chip implants in such a large way.
The chip implants do raise concerns about security and privacy. They cause no harm to the employees, but the information the chips provide says a lot about their activities. They can show when and how often an employee comes to work, or what they buy.
Company swipe cards or smartphones provide the same information, but the employee can easily separate themselves from that technology. This is not the case for someone with an implanted 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.
In the beginning, he also had concerns. “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 began implanting microchips in its workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have the chip. Another company, based in Belgium, also offers such implants to its employees. There are even several cases around the world where individuals have tried the technology on their own.
The small implants use technology called Near Field Communication. It is the same technology that’s used in contact-less credit cards or payments from a mobile device. When activated by a reader, a small amount of data moves between the two devices through electromagnetic waves. The implants are considered “passive,” which means they contain information that other devices can read, but cannot read information themselves.
Microbiologist Ben Libberton warns that someone knowledgeable about computers could gain large amounts of information from implanted microchips. These concerns will grow as the microchips become more developed.
“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. “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 information is collected, the big question is what happens to it, who uses it, and for what purpose? For now, Epicenter’s employees do not seem too concerned.
“People ask me; ‘Are you chipped?’ and I say; ‘Yes, why not,'” said Fredric Kaijser, the 47-year-old 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 hold monthly events where workers can be implanted with the chips for free. The chips are injected by Jowan Osterlund, who works for Biohax Sweden. The process lasts only a few seconds, and more often than not, there is no shouting.
“The next step for electronics is to move into the body,” he says.
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