Biometric Implants

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Contents

Background

A microchip implant is a device shaped like a cylinder which contains a small microchip encased in glass. The device is implanted under the skin, most commonly in the hand by way of injection into the subdermal fascia between the thumb and forefinger [1]. The key benefits of microchip implants in its present form is the impact on convenience: the technology improves upon access management, making payments, and storing confidential and valuable information all within your fingertips. While currently being experimented in a wide variety of industries and explored by early adopters for consumer use, microchip implants are still considered an emerging technology as the use cases and applications are relatively limited and have not fully matured. However, the market size of the microchip implants industry is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years and increasing investment by companies like Tesla will only build upon the existing framework and expand upon the technology’s versatility.

A Microchip Implant

What is a Microchip Implant?

The microchip implant is made up of three components: an integrated circuit which stores the information, a means of acquiring power for that circuit, and an antenna for receiving and transmitting signals between that circuit and an external reader [2]. With the internals coated in epoxy resin, lead-free borosilicate glass or soda-lime glass is used in encasing the components of the microchip because the material is bio-compatible and not harmful to living tissues, which helps eliminate any undesirable local or system effects in the human body during implantation [3]. In both its use in humans and animals, current microchip implants are field powered; the technology has no external battery or power source accompanying the device [4]. Instead, microchip implants remain inert until they come in contact with the magnetic field emitted by an external reader, which also acts to facilitate communication between the two devices [5]. This reinforces the limitations that current day microchip implants have in terms of operating range as the technology is reliant on external sources to operate.

Microchip implants utilize RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to communicate, which are typically found in three frequency channels: low-frequency (125 and 134 kilohertz), high-frequency (13.56 megahertz), and UHF (800-915 megahertz) [6]. In the current market, microchip implants utilize either low or high frequency to communicate. NFC (near-field communication) chips, which are a branch of high-frequency radio waves popularly incorporated in smartphones, are also utilized frequently in microchip implants due to the widespread transferability of existing frameworks that support the frequency.

Microchip Specifications

Access Management

The primary use from the user side will be the ease of access into entryways or restricted areas into buildings. Whether this is entering your apartment or a high security area in a medical lab, the ability of the microchip to replace traditional access cards and passwords allows for this.

Making Payments

The microchip creates everyday convenience and efficiency during payment transactions. The ability to use debit and credit card information without the hassle of carrying physical cards creates a virtual wallet for the user to benefit from.

Storing Valuable Information

Using passive data technology within the microchip allows for the user to take advantage of the storage capabilities of the implant. The capacity to carry information such as your drivers license, SIN number, transit and personal medical cards becomes highly suited to a individual who is on the go [7].

Final Thoughts

The basic idea of getting the implant is to make everyday routines more convenient and efficient. And the ability for access, storage and transfer of sensitive data are the key benefits from getting a microchip implant [8].

Components of an RFID System

Components of an RFID System

RFID microchips in implants are part of a greater system of components that interact with each other to exchange information. The four components of this system are:

  • The RFID chip (also known as a tag) which stores information about the chipped person and transmits this information back to the reader when the corresponding signal of the proper frequency is sent to the chip by the RFID reader in response [9].
  • The RFID reader which is a device responsible for broadcasting an electromagnetic signal to receive responses from any RFID chip within operating range [10]. An encrypted signal will be transmitted from the RFID chip to the reader, which will be decoded by the reader and the resulting information passed along to a network [11].
  • The network which receives the decrypted information from the reader and sends it to the computer for further processing [12].
  • The computer (also known as a host or controller) which utilizes software controls to manage the RFID reader [13]. It analyzes and processes the information gathered from the network to enable decision-making from an operator [14].

To summarize the basic operations of a RFID system based on a Report titled The Use of Chip Implants for Workers published by the European Parliament [15]:

  • The RFID chip enters the RF field of the reader.
  • The RF signal powers the chip.
  • The chip transmits its data.
  • The reader captures the data.
  • The reader sends data to the computer.
  • The computer sends data to the reader.
  • The reader transmits data to the chip. (This is only the case in an active device, not passive)

This process outlines the overall transfer of information within an RFID system, but not all steps are necessarily incorporated based on the chip specifications and user needs. For example, in a purely passive chip like the current generation of microchip implants, there is no need for data to be returned to the chip, although some passive systems include a requirement for security encryption purposes [16]. The identification (ID) and characteristics of the information such as time and location might be stored by the computer for future reference and analysis to be applied in further business applications [17]. A good use case for this information is demonstrated in transportation networks like TransLink where rider statistics and metrics are collected from the authority’s Compass cards to further optimize transportation schedules and operating efficiency.

Myth: Microchips Can't Track Your Location

When you watch Hollywood movies or American TV shows like Prison Break, the portrayal of microchip implants embedded in escapees and prisoners as they are being hunted by the authorities show an advanced technology capable of transmitting large files of information under an unlimited operating range. These cinema versions of microchips allow for real-time location tracking across vast swathes of land with the ability to transmit detailed information in seconds. In reality, present day microchip implants can only perform a fraction of what is shown on the big screen due to the variety of limitations that narrows the scope of the technology’s features. For one, while chip implants can assist with identification similar to the technology used to chip pets in case they go missing, the microchips do not have a GPS (global positioning system) card installed in them [18]. This is not only due to the size constraints of the GPS card that makes the incorporation of the technology impractical, but also because devices capable of tracking require a battery that would need regular recharging and eventual replacement every 2-3 years [19].

Because of the need for an external power source, microchip implants are also hindered by the utilization of passive RFID technology over active RFID technology. The microchip implant gets power from electromagnetic waves emitted from an external which limits the effective operating range of the device; the implant needs to come in contact with the reader to work effectively [20]. Passive RFID technology is also read only as opposed to read and write of active RFID, meaning that while the microchips can hold data to be read by other devices like an external reader, the implant itself cannot read information [21]. However, the use of microchip implants for location tracking is not theoretically impossible in the future, but current application of the technology in this manner is not economically worthwhile as there are better and less expensive ways to achieve this same purpose [22]. In China for example, the country’s extensive camera sensor system allows for a level of monitoring and surveillance equivalent to being tracked in real time. Regular consumers also essentially carry around portable tracking devices in the form of cellphones, which can be tapped into to track a person’s time and location through the extraction of data from cell networks.

Evolution of Microchips

Kevin Warwick and Project Cyborg 1.0

Project Cyborg 1.0

The first documented case of the microchip implant was a research project called Project Cyborg 1.0 in 1998. The experiment was conducted by Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the University of Reading and involved Warwick implanting a silicon chip transponder in his forearm using only local anesthetic [23]. With the microchip, a computer could monitor the professor’s movements as he moved through the halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics using a unique identifying signal emitted by the device [24]. Kevin Warwick was able to operate doors, lights, and heaters and other computers without lifting a finger.

VeriChip

Introduction

The first consumer push for human use of RFID chips comes from a chip manufacturer called VeriChip. The CEO of VeriChip Corporation Scott Silverman was often quoted “describing the need for implants, particularly for first responders, given the tragic way so many firemen lost their lives in the Twin Towers following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks” (RO). The microchip became the first of its kind to obtain FDA approval in 2004 for human use, and according to VeriChip over 2,000 people have been implanted worldwide by the end of 2008 (RO).

Application Contexts

VeriChip launched their consumer products with four cornerstone application contexts in mind: VeriPay, VeriMed, VeriGuard, and Corrections [25]. The VeriPay payment system allowed for end-users to perform cash or credit transactions with the microchip implant, similar to the core functionality that exists with the current generation of microchip implants [26]. VeriMed was a healthcare information portal driven by its users where patients can maintain and update their own personal health record (PHR) online [27]. With this information uploaded onto the portal, healthcare professionals such as hospital staff and emergency services can access this information readily to bring up patient history such as allergies to specific drugs and health conditions to assist in diagnosis and treatment of the patient [28]. VeriGuard was a versatile security solution that utilized secure access technology in the microchip to confirm and deny authorizations of personnel in secure facilities [29]. Finally, Corrections targeted the prison system by integrating microchips into the incarceration process by tracking people who had committed a crime, were on parole or probation, or were awaiting trial [30].

Business Failure

A number of factors following VeriChip’s fan-fared consumer launch resulted in the decline and ultimate folding of the company three years after it obtained FDA approval. For one, research conducted by VeriChip indicated that 90% of Americans were uncomfortable with the technology, citing safety as a major concern in both the implantation process and the long-term health risks [31]. Bad publicity also played a part as well; the company’s chairman came out in a 2006 television appearance on Fox and Friends that “VeriChip implants could be used to register migrant workers at the border and verify their identity in the workplace” [32]. In the same year, a proposal by then Columbian President Alvaro Uribe to American senators Jeff Sessions and Arlen Specter was discussed to have Columbian workers implanted before entering the United States for seasonal work, sparking broader fears by advocates on the use of the chip’s technology to degrade human freedoms and rights through location tracking [33]. The final nail in the coffin, however, came from research at the time showing a potential link of RFID transponders to cancer in lab animals [34]. While a 2016 study debunked these claims and found the risk of cancer to be virtually nonexistent in humans and negligible in animals, the damage to the company was substantial [35]. All these factors culminated in poor consumer adoption of VeriChip products and the folding of the company in 2007. As described by Kayla Heffernan, a research at the University of Melbourne, chipping was ‘a chicken-and-egg problem’ where people do not adopt the technology due to its limited use cases, but because the market for microchip implants is not growing or developing, the devices do not receive additional investment to make them better and thus remain relatively unchanged [36].

Technology

Implementation with Virtual Currency

BitCoin Wallet

Patric Lanhed who is a youtube experimenter, thought he would utilize the capabilities of the technology in order to create something cool. Lanhed implanted a microchip in his hand in order to perform the “worlds first biopayment”[37]. By implanting himself with the microchip, Lanhed would tap his palm on a NFC reader which would be connected to his computer. While using a custom software that he built, Lanhed would create a two way connection that would help send and receive Bitcoin [38]. The implanted chip would be able to recognize the connection between the NFC reader and the computer software when the hand is tapped. This would then activate passive data which would then become active creating a live Bitcoin transaction [39].

BiChip Virtual Currency

Following the trend in using the microchip implant to transfer cryptocurrency by users, BiChip which is a Danish technology firm made the process easier and more efficient. Ripple and Bitcoin are two of the primary forms of cryptofunds and currently when a user wants to send and receive funds they have to connect to their personal bank account. However, BiChip created a bypass to this step and created a one way connection to the Ripple payment system.

Final Thoughts

The ability to have a virtual wallet within your hand to have on demand access for making payments is remarkable. From Patric Lanhed’s experiment to BiChips update to the methodology of performing cryptocurrency payments, the use of passive data in this case is key. It now creates a scenario for the average user of the microchip implant to create, store, transfer and delete data when they want without complication. This allows data to be held and used when activated by the user when they wish.

BiChip Update

Application Around the World

Based on what the microchip implant is in terms of the features and capabilities. The understanding of the technology in terms of how it is perceived across the globe is important to note. The current attitudes towards the microchip on the human and non human spectrums remains controversial. The current medical and workplace uses of the technology creates many obstacles such as legal, ethical, privacy and security issues. Despite this, the microchip implant can be positively used in order to better the way of life for humans and when used correctly it can be a technology that can be highly beneficial.

Sweden

The acceptance of microchip technology has been embraced and accepted by the people of Sweden unlike anywhere else in the world. Citizens have long accepted the sharing of their personal details as people can find out each others salaries through a quick phone call to the tax authority.Sweden has a transparent demographic that has now established a culture of using microchip technology in their everyday lives [40]. The lack of resistance from Swedish people towards new technology is a key benefit for the growth of microchip implants as the technology is accepted amongst the Nordic countries 10 million strong population.The attitudes towards the implants allows for companies like Biohax International which is the market leader of microchip implants to thrive. This allows for continued innovation for the technology in order to try involving it in more aspects of everyday life for Swedish people. 1 in 4 people who live in Sweden currently use cash less then once a week [41]. The countries central bank, Riksbank states that cash transactions have dropped from around 40 percent a decade ago to about only 15 percent.In general, Swedes do not worry and stress about their data privacy unlike other countries [42]. This can be due to the fact that Swedish people have installed a high degree of trust in Swedish companies, banks along with large corporations and the government itself.

Current Use of Microchips in Sweden

  • National Swedish Railway uses the microchip implants for reserving and booking tickets [43]
  • Employees use the technology for access management at work
  • Employers offer free microchip implants to employees that can be used for work purposes and outside of work
  • Microchip Implant friendly restaurants and bars are now accepting the chip for making orders

Rest of the world

The attitudes towards Microchip technology across the globe is in contrast to Sweden. The general lack of trust in government institutions and corporations creates hostility towards microchip implants. With malicious attacks increasing around the globe, the already sensitive individual of a western culture will have second thoughts of implanting themselves with a microchip [44]. Privacy, security and control of sensitive data are the key issues currently outside of Sweden and with the microchip creating, updating and storing delicate data, users around the world will be skeptical. There is also a lack of understanding and knowledge around microchip implants around the world and that spreads throughout culture and amongst government bodies.

What Sweden has in terms of having a culture that is open to new technology without resistance is rare. However, Sweden has had cases of cyber attacks and hacking before but that has not decreased the morale of its people towards embracing technology. To install this positivity to people around the world about Microchip implants is difficult due to the dynamic cultures that are in place. Each culture is unique around the globe and in this case it just happens that Sweden has a very open culture that accepts technology as a key accessory for everyday life [45].

Business Applications

Three Square Market

A case study example of a company that has implemented microchip implants in the workplace is Three Square Market. This provider of self-service breakroom vending machines has introduced a voluntary microchip implant service for its employees to enhance its business processes and increase efficiency.There were 50 out of 80 employees who got chipped voluntarily [46]. The remaining employees declined due to the lack of research on health risks. The microchip implants replace passwords, ID cards and wallets. They allow employees to enter the building, log into computers, make purchases with a simple hand wave on a sensor [47]. Most employees agreed for the implant due to the convenience.

Non-Human Use

Microchip implants serve various purposes considering this technology is implemented in both animals and humans. One of the primary non-human uses of this technology is chipping pets. The microchip implantation is a quick and inexpensive procedure to provide the pet with a permanent ID in the event the pet is lost. The microchip implant increases the chances of finding your lost pet [48]. A needle is used to place a little chip under the animal’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades [49]. The RFID pet recovery systems rely on the microchips that are the size of a grain to contain the unique number for the pet, the pet owner’s contact information and animal’s medical history [50]. The vets can scan the lost pet with a RFID reader to verify if the animal has been microchipped [51].

Also, farmers have been using RDIF technology to keep track of their livestock. The RFID tags enable ranchers to retrieve information about an animal’s lineage, weight, health records and production history [52]. For instance, cows are typically implanted to determine when the cow is at the feeding trough and for keeping track of diseases [53]. Also, if more ranchers adopted the electronic tracking technology, tracing disease would be faster and more precise in the event of a disease outbreak. In addition, horses are typically microchipped to increase the chances of recovery of stolen horses.

Mechanism for Chips Used in Healthcare Industry
[54]

Current and Future Medical Applications

Store Medical Records: this device can simply be used to store a patient’s medical records and make it accessible for use by designated authorities such as first respondents. This will allow for faster and efficient care. Authorities can simply scan the chip embedded in the patient and access all their medical records such as any allergies, heart conditions, diabetes, etc.

Drug Delivery Devices: microchip implants can be used as a drug delivery device to administer the use of drugs. This can eliminate the need for patients to remember to take their pills or inject themselves daily. This is beneficial for patients with mental health disorders because it ensures that they do not miss their doses and is also easier for the health care professional in terms of giving these patients their medication. With this microchip, health care professionals can strictly monitor the usage of schedule II and III drugs such as morphine and reduce the abuse of these drugs.

The microchip used as a drug delivery device is made of solid silicon which consists of hundreds of reservoirs filled with drugs to administer [55]. These microchips are then sealed to avoid degradation and covered by an anode membrane which can be ablated electro thermally to release the reservoir contents [56]. This medical delivery device allows for patients to have a better day to day life and enables efficient delivery of drugs in their bloodstream.

Osteoporosis case study

Microchips were tested with women who have osteoporosis to administer their hormones, which gave great results. Eight female patients were implanted with microchips which were activated eight weeks after implantation, to allow for the formation of a tissue capsule [57]. The devices released a dose of the drug at a specific time each day, replacing the daily hormone injections currently used to manage the disorder. While the implants remove the inconvenience of popping pills and, for some patients, the pain of regular injections, the greatest benefit will come from patients receiving the right dose of the right medicine on time. The failure of patients to take drugs as recommended is one of the most common obstacles to effective healthcare [58].

In a half-hour procedure under local anesthetic, women aged 65 to 70 had the domino-sized chip implanted through a 2.5cm-long incision just below the waistline. All were able to walk out of the surgery and leave the hospital without help. During the trial, doctors used a wireless link to check the implant was working properly [59]. The device was protected from accidental interference from other electronic devices and that other security measures were in place to prevent unauthorized reprogramming of the device [60]. The chips worked as well as daily injections, as measured by blood levels of drug and biological markers for fresh bone growth, which reduces the risk of a fracture. The number of drugs found in the bloodstream was equivalent to the number of patients who were to inject themselves. This is a benefit of these drug delivery devices because of the efficient dosage the patients receive. All the women stated that they would get microchipped again because of the ease and convenience the device offers them [61].

AIDS case study

In Papua Indonesia, the government was planning to implant individuals with AIDS to monitor their sexual activity. The government was planning on passing a bylaw in hopes of preventing individuals with AIDS infecting others. Under this bylaw, patients who have shown active sexual behavior will be required to get a microchip so authorities can track their activities [62]. Experts in the community stated that “the disease has been spreading rapidly from prostitutes to housewives in the past years[63]. Also, there were concerns about high rates of promiscuity, rituals in some Papuan tribes where partner swapping takes place, poor education about AIDS and lack of condoms are among factors that cause the spread of the disease there[64]. This example shows the potential misuse of microchips in our society. It would be very unethical to microchip individuals with AIDS in order to track them. This would make them feel isolated in society and affect their mental health adversely.

Business Implications

Health Issues

A primary health risk is adverse tissue reactions and infections. Therefore, it is strongly advised to refrain from inserting the chips yourself and following proper aseptic procedures [65]. The infection can potentially result in MRSA, a type of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics. However, this deadly condition is very rare [66]. In fact, it is argued microchips are so safe that the risk to humans from an ear-piercing is greater since chip implants scab quickly [67]. The risk of infections can be easily mitigated by hiring a professional body piercer who is familiar with aseptic procedures [68].

A common symptom after the installation of the microchip is swelling. The swelling and bruising can occur for a few days after the procedures [69]. It is reported that the microchip tag becomes encapsulated with the person’s fibrous collagen tissues within 2-4 weeks [70]. It is important to acknowledge that people may experience temporary itching or pinching sensations for up to two years after the installation because it takes some time for the body to heal and adapt to the tag [71]. Also, the chips do not always stay in place and may migrate to a different location, resulting in difficulty locating the chip in the event of medical emergencies or removal of chips.

There are concerns pertaining to the incompatibility of microchip implants with medical equipment. However, studies indicate implantable microchips are compatible with MRI machines and are not picked up by metal detectors [72].

Legal Issues

Legal Issues in Europe

With employers in Europe utilizing microchip implants in workplace culture, the use of the technology on employees must fall within Europe’s Labor Laws. Currently, the European Union has six key labor law principles that become engaged when an employer requires a worker to have microchip implants for work purposes. The European Union has no regulation that bans microchip implants enforced by employers for work but there are strict guidelines that need to be followed and respected. [73]

1) Data Protection Regulation

This regulation primarily intends to ensure that workers have voluntarily consented to the collection, maintenance and processing of any personal data or sensitive personal data about them. The European Unions general data protection regulation (“GDPR) which came into effect in May 2018 demands a very high standard of consent from workers.[74]This consent must be given by the employee and needs to be clear and affirmative which establishes the data protection regulation. Consent must be freely given, specific, informed and with indication of the workers agreement to their personal data being processed.[75]

2) Right to Privacy

If the employee has voluntarily consented to being microchipped then that engages the right to use private data of the employee for work purposes by the employer. This private data can include sensitive information such as SIN number, medical issues and financial information. However, if the employee realizes that unlawful surveliance or use of the microchip is ongoing by the employer, then legal action can be taken.[76]

3) Legal Duty of Employee

Where an employer instructs the employee to follow one of its orders or instructions while using the capability of the microchip, then most legal systems will support the employers command. If the use of the microchip by the employer relates to measuring and evaluating work performance, then employee data can be used by the employer for work related purposes. However, if the command or instruction made by the employer to the employee is against health and safety, then this is unlawful and legal action can be taken.[77]

A Three Square Market employee getting chipped

4) Constructive Dismissal

If a command issued by the employer to the worker has health and safety implications then the employee has a case to engage the law of constructive dismissal. Even if there is intial consent between the employee and employer regarding a duty to complete a task using the microchip, legal action can be taken by the employee.[78]If the employers behavior puts the employees health and safety at risk, then this is a reupidatory breach of work contract. With this, the employee has the right to make a constructive dismissal claim and terminate their contract.[79]

5) Religious Discrimination

For an employee to establish a claim for religious discrimination, the use of the microchip by the employer must put the worker at a direct religious disadvantage when compared with other workers.[80] An example would be if the use and implant of the microchip within the body goes against their religious belief or amounts for a breach of that religions fundamentals.

6) Ownership of Data

When an employee has either left their respective organization or has been terminated by the employer, then he or she has the right to data erasure and the right to be forgotten. This means that all microchip data regarding personal information about the employee or work related information has to be removed, destroyed and forgotten.[81] The employer can not access or store data without the employee being apart of the company and termination of the work contract results in the loss of the right to own employee data.[82]

Legal Issues in the United States

The acceptance of mircochip implants in the United States is well behind the legal acceptance the technology currently has in Europe. Currently, there is no regulation that completely outlaws or prohibits voluntary consent between the employee and employer in the United States. However, the technology is met with great criticism and controversy among American law makers. House Bill 1177 is similar to the current set of European Labor Laws. [83] It is a bill that states the right and wrongs of the use of microchip implants by the employer on its employees. It is a regulatory bill with a set of standards for microchipping employees as organizations in the United States start to adapt the technology for work related measures.[84] Repbulican Stephen Meeks stated that “This technology is coming to our state and to our nation whether we want it or not, adding that he preferred regulating microchipping rather than banning it”. [85] Whats important here is that their exists a set of rules for employers and employees to follow when using microchip implants. As the United States and other nations outside of Europe begin to understand and gain knowledge about microchip implants; a set of regulatory rules will greatly help embrace the technology.



Privacy Risks

The loss of privacy is the primary concern in relation to microchip implants. The chip itself presents the possibility of being able to monitor the user along with tracking the user. The technology has the ability to extend the read of the range of readers which allows for monitoring over a large area. If hacked, the release of a persons whereabouts can be easily tracked. A malicious attack can take advantage of the vast amount of passive data that exists on the microchip itself. The possibility of a data breach which exposes sensitive user information is a possible reality. Current microchips are not secure and hold passive data which can be accessed and hacked by third parties. The more serious aspect of a potential data breach is the data itself that would potentially be stolen by a malicious attack. Sensitive personal data such as financial and medical information can currently be easily accessed with the right software that supports NFC reading. This is why it is important to secure your personal data before having it loaded onto the microchip.

Security Risks

While real-time location tracking is not currently feasible with microchip implants, there are still circumstantial security risks associated with the technology.

Information Theft

RFID tags associated with implants are capable of storing a small amount of text data. Because an implant is more discrete than a USB stick or hard drive for example, there is a risk of information theft where data is exfiltrated from a secure facility to procure information off-site [86]. However, the limited storage in microchips restricts the amount of information that can be stolen, and current alternatives such as microSDs are much more common methods of information theft due to the larger storage size and compact size.

Unauthorized Access

Beyond information theft, the risk of cloning attacks, more specifically through the use of implants in place of keys or key cards, is a real threat towards commercial businesses [87]. This risk will not be likely for regular home break-ins, but becomes a real possibility when someone is infiltrating a secure facility with classified and valuable information such as a security or military firm. As microchip implants do not have an on-off switch, the implant cannot freely be made inactive, and this increases the risk of compromising corporate keycards and badges as the information is being transported everywhere with no safeguards in place [88]. A high-level security clearance can also be stolen and implanted onto the chip by a lower-level employee to access off-limits locations because identification will not be as apparent. However, while the current use of company cards as security measures already run the risk of duplication, companies implement protective processes such as RFID blocking sleeves and safe storage practices to combat these risks [89]. This cannot be easily replicated with biometric implants that are embedded in the individual at all times.

Market Analysis

SWOT Analysis

Strengths

This is an emerging technology with great potential and opportunities for growth. As more use cases and applications are developed for microchip implants, the technology will increasingly appeal to a more versatile demographic due to better convenience and cost efficiency as well as enhanced security features. For instance, within the healthcare space, potential to treat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's in the coming decades will open up huge potential opportunities for growth in catering to a under-served market looking for solutions.

Opportunities

There are numerous growth opportunities for microchip implants as the market for artificial intelligence continues to develop and increasing investments into technological developments are made. In particular, there is an increasing demand for microchip implants in the medical industry as research for brain implants seek to provide treatment for neurological disorders, but opportunities area also present in other industries such as security and the general consumer base [90].

Weaknesses

While microchip implants show great potential for growth, this is currently a controversial product that lacks consumer trust due to the health and security concerns revolving around it. There is a general misconception portrayed by the media of the ability for these devices to track humans, and it is important for chip manufacturers to debunk these myths and educate consumers in order to remove the negative stigma attached to microchip products. Additionally, the long-term health and legal implications of microchip implants are unknown, as laws and regulations governing these devices are relatively immature and implants have only been utilized by a small subset of the general population so far. Further testing and research into microchip implants as well as a longer track record of safety and health must be made to reinforce these weaknesses and reassure consumers that microchips are a viable product.

Threats

Because of its limited applications so far, the primary threat to this product is the wide variety of alternatives that can be deployed in place of microchip implants. The benefit of other substitutes such as company keycards and microSDs is that they are non-invasive and not very permanent in nature while achieving the same purpose and functionality as the current generation of microchip products. Additionally, as the market for microchip implants continues to grow and develop, the increasing adoption and success of these devices will draw the attention of regulator, who through laws and regulations can limit or even inhibit the use of microchip implants in some applications due to reasons such as privacy, health, or security risks.

Elon Musk and Neuralink

Market Size

The microchip implant industry will experience exponential growth in the coming years. In fact, according to a report by Grand View Research Inc., the global brain implants market is anticipated to reach 8.29 billion by 2025 [91]. This market growth is largely contributed to increasing cases of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and dementia [92]. The increasing number of research activities associated with brain implant studies have yielded several technological breakthroughs that sparked this growth, especially the development of self-charging implants and memory chips which are expected to experience exponential market opportunities in the coming years [93]. In addition to technological advancements in brain implants, market growth is also being driven by secondary factors such as rising disposable income in developed countries [94]. Within the competitive landscape, the primary competitors in the industry include Biohax International, Dangerous Things and most famously Tesla's Neuralink; these companies are expected to be the key players fighting for global market share in future periods.

Moving Forward

Future Application: Neuralink

Elon Musk envisioned a version of humans combined with artificial intelligence. He proposed that this will be achieved by chipping human brains with a tiny chip that will allow them to access more of their brain functions [95]. Neuralink works on technology focussed on developing interfaces between brains and machines. A great application of this technology will be in helping quadriplegics control smartphones to be more independently functional in society. The chip would collect electrical signals sent out by the brain and interpret them as actions [96]. Musk said human trials could start by the end of next year, though the company doesn't yet have approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for such a study [97]. Musk hopes that this invention will not only help treat neural conditions such as Parkinson's but also could one day facilitate symbiosis between humans and AI. He also excitedly announced that the company had successfully got a monkey to control a computer with its brain and that Neuralink hopes to start human testing before the end of next year [98].

Authors

Nehmat Sandhu Angus Ting Jessie Dhadda Jaspreet Kandola
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
nehmats@sfu.ca amting@sfu.ca jessie_dhadda@sfu.ca jaspreet_kandola@sfu.ca

References

  1. https://arstechnica.com/features/2018/01/a-practical-guide-to-microchip-implants
  2. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2018/614209/IPOL_STU(2018)614209_EN.pdf
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