05-01-2022 | | By Robin Mitchell
Implantable chips have slowly become more popular thanks to the convenience they present, but a company in Sweden has developed one for use as a COVID vaccine passport. How do implantable chips work, what did the Swedish company develop, and why is it a terrible idea?
While implantable chips are rarely found in humans, they are a popular device amongst pets and livestock. They allow for a convenient way to electronically store information such as registered owner name, locations, telephone numbers, and even special dietary requirements. In fact, their use is so convenient that by law, dogs and cats in the UK must be chipped so that pets can be tied to owners.
At their core, an implantable chip is nothing more than an RFID or NFC chip connected to an antenna and then implanted into the body under the skin. The real magic behind implantable chips is their casing construction because devices implanted into living tissue must be biologically inert. Anything inside living tissue that is not biologically inert (i.e. reactive) can trigger a dangerous immune response which forms pus, clots, and blockages. In the case of implantable chips, the casing is generally made from silicate glass.
The use of RFID and/or NFC removes the need for the implant to contain a power source, and this means that, in theory, implanted chips can last for the entire lifetime of the user. Currently, such chips are rarely found in humans, but they could present a real opportunity for improving health. For example, an implantable chip can have allergy data and medical history, which could be vital for emergency medical professionals. Such RFID and NFC chips could also provide users with a more convenient payment method where a wave of a hand over a reader can be used for transactions.
A Swedish company called Epicenter has recently announced the development of an implantable COVID vaccine passport that can be used to verify users who are vaccinated. This development aims to provide a physical method that is very hard to replicate while also creating a convenient way for demonstrating vaccine status.
While some critics have hit back at the development, the implant developer stated that such technology is inevitable. As technology continues to progress, its integration into everyday life will also continue to progress, and this will eventually be in the form of devices on and inside humans. If history tells us anything about progress, it is almost impossible to stop, and if someone can do something, they absolutely will.
Engineers are responsible for turning a concept into something real, and this is clearly demonstrated by every great engineer who has ever lived. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was arguably one of the greatest and conceived of ships entirely built from metal. Many said that his ideas were dangerous, but all were proven wrong time and time again.
Engineers are increasingly becoming responsible for their designs, and this is being demonstrated with the increasing legislation around data privacy and protection. This also raises whether engineers should bring an idea into reality. In the case of using implantable devices as COVID passports, it could be argued that such a product is highly damaging against vaccinations and potentially to the rights and liberties of individuals.
Let’s examine how implantable vaccine passports can quickly fuel distrust. Whether you agree with the COVID vaccine or not (there is ample evidence that COVID vaccine mandates are unethical and unnecessary), vaccines, in general, have been one of mankind’s greatest medical achievements. National programs to eliminate viruses such as measles, mumps, rubella, and polio ensure that future generations never again deal with genuinely fatal infections.
Such programs rely on trust, which is why vaccine mandates never work and education is everything. Conspiracy theories surrounding vaccines and microchips often float around, which prevents the vaccination of a tiny proportion of the population. Still, the evidence to support such conspiracy theories is often non-existent.
The moment a company develops an actual microchip that can be delivered with a vaccine suddenly presents the microchip theorists with all the ammunition they need, the idea of the COVID vaccine having a microchip becomes an indisputable fact. Even though the chip has limited tracking capabilities and only proves that the user has been vaccinated, such points can quickly be convoluted and misunderstood. Thus, trust in vaccines and researchers is diminished rapidly.
When engineers apply technology to a problem to create a solution, it is essential for engineers to understand how their solution will affect the wider world. Technology has never been more personal than it is today, and the relationship between technology and the individual will continue to become more intertwined.
From personal experience as an engineer, I remember when someone presented an idea to me that would try to reduce attacks on vulnerable people using an SOS beacon. However, after discussing the idea, it quickly became clear that the concept would lead to vigilantism and put those trying to help in potential danger.