Swedes are now using implants in their hands to replace credit cards

Forgotten your wallet in Stockholm? Don’t panic – a tiny organic chip is replicating the Apple Pay experience in the palm of our hand.

Jul 7, 2019 |
6 min read

It’s no secret that our relationship with money is continuously evolving. Many of us carry considerably less cash, given the rise of plastic. Even credit and ATM cards are less commonly used in an age of Apple Pay, where goods can be purchased with the wave of a smartphone or wristwatch.

Now, Swedish nationals have taken the concept of “cash in hand” to its logical extremity. Tiny microchips – around the size of a grain of rice – have been implanted into the palm of a number of individual’s hands.

These chips contain all the digital data required to get through the day. They monitor health, open doors with electrical locks – and enable people to make purchases. Forget about lugging around three or four gadgets, in addition to a wallet. It seems that in Sweden at least, the future is in the palm of our hands.

Why use organic tech?   

These chips are the brainchild of Biohax, a technology company that is dominating the market in Sweden. Former piercing specialist Jowan Osterlund started Biohax some five years ago. Since then, Osterlund has been handling the insertion of these chips himself. As the business continues to boom, he is looking to encourage healthcare professionals to pitch in and ease his workload.

As for why this is such an appealing practice? Osterlund points to the fact that we live in a time-poor society. Anything that can save a few moments will always be embraced, as the inventor himself explains.

“Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense. Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined.”

There is certainly some appeal to having everything we need in the palm of our hand. This chip eradicates the need to carry a separate wallet, range of key cards, and Fit Bit or similar device.

That’s less to think about in the morning, which is always appealing. It also won’t ruin your day if you forget one or more of your possessions.

Also, eradicating plastic will prevent loss – and save you a lot of time and aggravation. Losing your wallet means a painful day or phone calls and emails. You need to cancel all your credit cards, arrange new key card access to various buildings, purchase new travel tickets…

All of this can be eradicated with the chip. Whether you’re doing a weekly shop, letting yourself into the office or gym, or looking to board a train, all you need to do is wave your hand.

Losing your hand is significantly less likely than losing your wallet so, in theory, everything you need day-to-day is literally at hand.

Even wearable technology comes with risks and inconveniences that can be combatted by an organic approach. This contactless revolution is undeniably compelling and may just change the world. Like all great scientific advances, however, there are potential issues that can be exploited.

What the risks of organic tech?

Right now, this concept is taking Sweden by storm. It remains to be seen if the rest of the world follows suit, though. Sweden is a famously tech-friendly nation, and its citizens place a great deal of good faith in politicians and business leaders.

With other major countries showing increasingly massive chasms in terms of ideology, the same cannot be said elsewhere.

Ask yourself a simple question. Would you be happy with the ability to be traced, anywhere, at any time? Because, ultimately, this is what a microchip in your hand permits somebody to do.

It’s like having a personal GPS, and it cannot be deactivated or switched off to protect our privacy.

If we’re being flippant, that means that you could get in trouble with your partner. There will be no more sneaky shopping trips when you claimed you were stuck in the office – they’ll be able to check on your whereabouts any time. That may not sit right with many people.

Privacy in your palm

Arguably of more prominent concern, however, is the fact that your real-time data could be broadcast to anybody prepared to pay for it. Just picture the targeted advertising and invasions of privacy that you could be subject to. Restaurants, stores, and other businesses will know when you are close to one of their sites and start a campaign of targeted advertising.

This may not concern you. After all, anybody can ignore an advert. What about the fact that this chip will also hold your medical records, though? This could be considered a real invasion of privacy.

If records were hacked, this could also create a severe problem. Sure, it’s GDPR-compliant. Life moves faster than the law can keep, though, and the EU’s mandate isn’t even followed outside of Europe. Scientist Ben Libberton elaborated on this, asking the New York Post:

“The problem is, who owns this data? Do I get a letter from my insurance company saying premiums are going up before I know I’m ill? If I use the chip to buy lunch, go to the gym and go to work, will someone have all of this info about me? Is this stored, and is it safe?”

There is also the fact that the chip could give away more than we’d hope. Right now, it seems that there have been no real issues. Can we be sure that banking transactions taking place through the palm of our hands is entirely secure when everybody indulges, though?

This is undoubtedly the equivalent of wandering around the streets, waving a contactless credit card.

If somebody in the vicinity can take remote payments – and all that typically takes is a smartphone or tablet app – they could draw payments from unwitting bank accounts. Also, who is to say that a simple handshake will not go awry?

Before we know it, we could be exchanging funds every time we touch another human.

At the time of writing, this is essentially whataboutery. There is no reason to suspect that anything untoward will come from these chips. All the same, it pays to remain cautious. Carrying every piece of precious data about ourselves is always something to consider very carefully, even when it’s located in our flesh.

Will this catch on?

It remains to be seen if the rest of the world is ready for organic technology. Sweden has always been a nation of early adopters, prepared to embrace new technology before others. For example, many Swedish nationals refuse to use cash for their transactions. A natural cynicism is likely to emanate from most territories.

Despite this, the same was also said about countless past advances in technology. Devotees of the abacus no doubt considered the calculator to be an act of witchcraft. While we may be protecting our data more fiercely than ever, the human race can rarely resist in a gimmick. Curiosity will no doubt kick in sooner or later.

Next time you’re in the supermarket, and it looks like somebody walked away without paying, take a moment. They likely were not waving their hands around in some form of Jedi mind trick.

They’re just at the forefront of a brave new world and have embraced palm payment technology. Whether or not you’re prepared to join in is down to you.

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