Implant Chip, Track People

It's 10 p.m. You may not know where your child is, but the chip does.

The chip will also know if your child has fallen and needs immediate help. Once paramedics arrive, the chip will also be able to tell the rescue workers which drugs little Johnny or Janie is allergic to. At the hospital, the chip will tell doctors his or her complete medical history.

And of course, when you arrive to pick up your child, settling the hospital bill with your health insurance policy will be a simple matter of waving your own chip — the one embedded in your hand.

To some, this may sound far-fetched. But the technology for such chips is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it may soon offer many other benefits besides locating lost children or elderly Alzheimer patients.

"Down the line, it could be used [as] credit cards and such," says Chris Hables Gray, a professor of cultural studies of science and technology at the University of Great Falls in Montana. "A lot of people won't have to carry wallets anymore," he says. "What the implications are [for this technology], in the long run, is profound."

Indeed, some are already wondering what this sort of technology may do to the sense of personal privacy and liberty.

"Any technology of this kind is easily abusive of personal privacy," says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "If a kid is track-able, do you want other people to be able to track your kid? It's a double-edged sword."

Tiny Chips That Know Your Name

The research — and controversy — of embedding microchips isn't entirely new. Back in 1998, Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at Reading University outside of London, implanted a chip into his arm as an experiment to see if Warwick's computer could wirelessly track his whereabouts with the university's building.

But Applied Digital Solutions, Inc. in Palm Beach, Fla., is one of the latest to try and push the experiments beyond the realm of academic research and into the hands — and bodies — of ordinary humans.

The company says it has recently applied to the Food and Drug Administration for permission to begin testing its VeriChip device in humans. About the size of a grain of rice, the microchip can be encoded with bits of information and implanted in humans under a layer of skin. When scanned by a nearby handheld reader, the embedded chip yields the data — say an ID number that links to a computer database file containing more detailed information.

Building a Built-in Digital Guardian

Keith Bolton, chief technology officer for ADS, says that VeriChip is only the beginning.

According to Bolton, the company has already started experimenting with combining the Verichip with another ADS product called Digital Angel. That pager-sized device allows caregivers and parents to monitor the health and whereabouts of seniors and children through the use of space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites.

"In the migration path, those two products that can be bundled together," says Bolton. The resulting product would be about the size of an American quarter coin and offer an improved way of monitoring patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease, for example.

See How an Embedded Locator Chip Would Work

Safety Against Terrorists?

And the interest in testing embedded chips has been steadily increasing — especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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