Sunday, July 22, 2007

now we're trackin'

Just in case you were wondering why we live in the future, but we don't have flying cars and jetpacks...

...well, it's because the mad scientists are busy working on that OTHER kind of future.

The one where the government can track you thanks to microchips implanted in your arm.

In design, the tag is simple: A medical-grade glass capsule holds a silicon computer chip, a copper antenna and a "capacitor" that transmits data stored on the chip when prompted by an electromagnetic reader.

Implantations are quick, relatively simple procedures. After a local anesthetic is administered, a large-gauge hypodermic needle injects the chip under the skin on the back of the arm, midway between the elbow and the shoulder.

"It feels just like getting a vaccine — a bit of pressure, no specific pain," says John Halamka, an emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

He got chipped two years ago, "so that if I was ever in an accident, and arrived unconscious or incoherent at an emergency ward, doctors could identify me and access my medical history quickly." (A chipped person's medical profile can be continuously updated, since the information is stored on a database accessed via the Internet.)

Halamka thinks of his microchip as another technology with practical value, like his BlackBerry. But it's also clear, he says, that there are consequences to having an implanted identifier.

"My friends have commented to me that I'm 'marked' for life, that I've lost my anonymity. And to be honest, I think they're right."