RFID chips: Getting Chipped or Jibbed?

There has been a growing amount of RFID (radio frequency identification) chips used in the past decade, specifically in healthcare, academic institutions, and domestic animals. The push for these tiny glass grain-sized chips has been to, in theory, add to the ever growing era of convenience. They are advertised as providing efficiency, track-ability, along with practicality to peoples lives. The use of chips have claimed to track lost pets, prevent truancy in high schools, as well as help to avoid identity theft and security issues in healthcare. However, I can’t help to question that, along with the supposed claim of preventing identity theft, there is the undeniable question of privacy issues. Our privacy concerns are continuing to be challenged as companies and clubs are now not only “chipping” objects but also their employees and club members.

By attaching radio frequency tags to both people and objects, inevitably the debate of ethics comes into conversation. How much do we want others- whether others means our loved ones, employers, or government- knowing our location at all times? Moreover, how much do we want personally sensitive information made more readily available? And by personally sensitive information, we are talking about the things beyond your SSN- the things you think no one knows or sees. Truman show? Mind control? 1984? Dare I bring up Stalin and Hitler? Yes these are conspiracies, however, one question continues to present itself- just how far off are we from such methods of control?

Reasons for using RFID Chips

The Healthcare industry is claiming that RFID chips are resulting in better patient care, to be able to correctly identify patients faster and improve safety. Seems pretty innocuous. The improving safety part is more ambiguous because the sites where I was doing research did not disclose exactly how the chip would be improving safety, however they claimed, unequivocally, it does. Fine, I thought, improving safety I suppose seems harmless enough. However, I did become more suspicious upon discovering that these chips are now being used by a Swedish company on their employees -rather, in their employees- purely for convenience reasons. Those reasons include -opening doors, unlocking photocopiers, and paying for lunch.

Are grain-sized microchips really making our life any better?

The drive for convenience in our culture may be at the expense of independence, at the expense of rational, smart, informed choices. Does the future consist of us voluntarily (remember: people are doing these things voluntarily at the moment- perhaps with little forethought) relinquishing ourselves all personal responsibility of health, safely, and free speech for that of efficiency? Hasn’t the causation of cancers been inextricably linked to different forms of technology? At the end of the day is injecting a grain-sized microchip under the skin in order to wave a hand to open a door really easier than just taking a card or key out of your pocket and twisting your wrist in a similar fashion? Okay, so maybe you’ll shave a few seconds off with chip, and it could be argued that time is our only real resource, however, the next question that comes to mind is what are the long-term repercussions and are we truly saving time or are we adversely affecting our bodies and independence, in exchange for, cough, laziness?

I believe, and yes this is extremely subjective on my end, the worst use of these chips have been found to be utilized among club members in Barcelona. Where, due to many of the members ambling about in bikinis and trunks, there was a decision made by the club owner to offer VIP members a chance to do away with cumbersome bags and wallets and get a RFID chip implanted in their arm to enhance their sumptuous lifestyles.

Micro Chips are Intuitive?

One company is advertising the use of the hand chip as “Intuitive”. I would consider an injection of a human programmed, laboratory built, inorganic material anything but inborn, innate or natural- far from intuitive. Is this going to change the course of evolution? Are we shifting away from survival of the fittest, to survival by design? While the Swedish company implementing these chips on their employees at the moment claim they are doing so to get some foresight into the future to see how chips work, before governments and big corporations adopt them for use mandating all citizens to wear them, at the moment to only be using this technology to open doors and use photocopiers, in my eyes, is hazardously using powerful instruments as superfluous tech candy.

 

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31042477

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3697940.stm

 

Kayleigh Stack

Blogger, Marketing Assistant & Research Associate

A Future Where Reality Is Not So Real

Lately, or not so lately, there has been a great amount of buzz around Virtual Reality. However, I would rather not talk about the tech itself -since I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there about that- but rather, I would like to discuss the philosophical side that this form of tech may be bringing into question in decades to come.

In this post, I would like to introduce another buzzword that has been in the tech world for quite some time now. What that word is you may wonder? If you guessed Singularity, you were right. For the people out there reading and seeing this term for the first time, allow me to give you some quick background on this term.

Singularity

For a long time, this term has been used by mathematicians and physicists. However, more recently in history, Singularity made its way into the tech industry. It is often described as a point in time when technology will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization. In a much simpler way to explain it, Singularity is the point in the future where human life as we know it will be changed beyond possible imagination.

If you have heard of this before, then you know that Singularity mostly revolves around A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). There are many predictions regarding when machines will take control over humanity. In fact, there is a great documentary from the 80’s on this subject. And to clarify, by documentary I mean movie, and by movie a mean Terminator .But let’s not get too distracted here because, if I remember correctly, this post is about V.R., not A.I.

As someone that works at Ruckbau, a company that specializes in Machine learning and path finding software, I’m pretty confident to say, although sorry to disappoint, that machines will not be taking over the world anytime soon. At least for the “first Singularity”. I see more chances of V.R. being the first tipping point in society. Oh, and what is the name of that other late 90’s documentary? You know, the one with Mr. Anderson? Oh yea! The Matrix. Possibly the worst human nightmare as far as technology goes -V.R and A.I combined together. But once again, lets not talk about A.I. and just focus on V.R.

A future where reality is not so real:

We are approaching the foreboding era of  having the possibility of implanting chips directly into our brains. Something close to giving your brain the right stimulus to trick you into feeling and seeing things that do not physically exist. With that being said, I don’t want to get into what may or may not be a possibility, but rather discuss what is already a “reality”.

The Oculus Rift headset

Last year I purchased an Oculus Rift headset (second generation), and I got to experience how V.R. really works. Even though the tech is “not there yet”, it is very obvious that it will become more and more refined in the years to come, eventually allowing a full submersive experience. This doesn’t mean you will be able to touch and feel things; however you will be able to stand and walk around a room that can be transformed into infinite possibilities.

Here is the part where the philosophical aspect of the post comes in. It order to describe it best,  I will refer to a very simple thought experiment, I like to call- “The Ocean experience”.

To  start the thought experiment, we first need to set up a “real” environment. So here we go:

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon during the summertime. You are provided with a backyard,  a beach chair (think- the kind that fully reclines and allows you to even sleep on it if you want to), of course a bucket full of your favorite beer, and your V.R headset. You are also provided with NO time or money to travel to those amazing caribbean beaches that you want to explore so bad.

Now, lets turn your real setup into a “not ‘real’ but very real experience”. You place your bucket full of beer next to your beach chair and now all you have to do is sit, recline and put your V.R. headset on. A few seconds later you are transported to a beautiful, very relaxing caribbean beach.

Are you there? Well, the first answer that comes to mind when you think about it is, no. You are in the middle of your backyard. In spite of your first instincts, I would like you to put more thought into the question and reconsider. Think about this, you are now a few beers deep, and you can feel the heat of that summer sun on your skin. You look around and all you see is ocean, sand, some people nearby and maybe the occasionally seagull. So I ask you again, are you there? Once more, I’m sure you want to answer no. But isn’t it really, at least to some extent (here is where the real debate starts), nothing less than what your brain is able to perceive and process? So how can you tell, until the moment that nature calls and you are in need to take your V.R. set off your head and run to the bathroom, you weren’t “there”.

Chip Implant…Reality?

What’s going to happen when/if that chip implant becomes a “reality”? Then you could create the right stimulus to trick your body to feel the sand in between your toes. You could tell your brain that the smell of grass is actually the smell of ocean.

About a year ago, when I bought my V.R. set, I had an argument with my dad about reality. He kept saying that no matter how “real” it feels, it’s not “reality”. This is where I disagree.

So I would like to ask you this question: If you feel that sand between your toes, you smell the ocean  breeze, and you see the ocean -does it matter where you physically are?

 

Forget about machines taking over humanity. “Smart Machines” created by humans, at least at this point in time, are actually not so ‘Smart’. And it will take another 40 or 50 years before they are somewhat “Smart”. However, I do see a future where you’ll be choosing your own “reality”.


All I can do at this point is just sit here and ponder about the infinite possibilities…

Fede Pisani

Technical Blogger

Who is doing the Watching?

We are living in a world, these days, that allow many companies and services, who participate in some form of data collection, to get more “bang for their buck”. In most of history, consent was imperative due to the very blatant fact that companies had to hire or notify their informants directly, in person or through surveys. The collected data was then used as a general idea for how a certain social demographic operated, relaying that information to advertisers. Nowadays, whether voluntarily or not, information is constantly gathered from the everyday choices we make online, which is easily, and cheaply, gathered and sold, no bulky surveys or drawn out interviews necessary. Even better, this information is more targeted! Rather than a general summary of a demographic, the advertisers can pitch a product directly to a specific user, like we often see on Facebook.

Smart TVs and Consent

The truth is, consent is still very much apart of every company’s business model, however, with the advent of the internet and the minute-by-minute advancement of technology, consent is hidden in the manifesto known as “the terms of agreement” tucked way between politics and disclaimers, which we inevitably skim through with little reading in effort to use the service or product.

And well, if that doesn’t satisfy, than perhaps we should be sticking to a good old fashion 12 inch screen with a VCR, or better yet, a book.”

The issue of data collection, privacy and security is constantly coming up as technology advances. Due to the recent release of a voice activation feature on the Samsung Smart TV, owners are bringing up an ethical concern of “who is doing the watching?” Orwellian references have been circulated throughout social media inevitably. In response to this international concern, Samsung has made a statement saying the voice activation feature is manually operated by the user to deactivate. It the effort to be as transparent as possibly, the company also mentioned that upon purchasing the product their policy readily discloses that all information is shared with a third party. The third party being- Nuance.com -a company Samsung works with to provide speech-to-text conversion to deliver customer demands. Unlike Facebook and other social media companies, Samsung also claims they are not selling or retaining customer’s information to advertising companies.

Privacy Issues and Tech Gadgets

So what are the most critical takeaways of privacy issues regarding this new gadget? I believe the most important aspect is- this form of technology evolution has been egged on by what our culture thrives on. There is the constant crave for better, faster, more complex tech to make lives cushier, more convenient, and lazier. Therefore, perhaps the finger is being wagged in the wrong direction when it comes to privacy issues. With the Samsung Smart TV, the user has full control over whether or not to use the voice activation device, deactivating it whenever they choose. One can sit on their couch, not use the remote, yell at the big bully of a screen, and then pick up the remote and deactivate the feature to have their privacy back. And well, if that doesn’t satisfy, than perhaps we should be sticking to a good old fashion 12 inch screen with a VCR, or better yet, a book.

 

Kayleigh Stack

Customer Liaison & Research Associate