An invasion of cyborgs into our working places is no longer the stuff of sci-fi – it is an everyday occurrence at the Epicenter, a hyper-cool working space in Stockholm, Sweden. Epicenter is the home to a grab bag of new and established IT companies, covering everything from RFID implants to genital yogurt. Epicenter might be the future’s awesomely odd office.
Workers at Epicenter have the optional perk to get a chip injected into their hand, freeing them from the need to carry around that cumbersome office pass/lanyard combination or the fear of losing the set of keys.
Chips and dip
To open doors and log in, all the newly chipped employees have to do is wave their hands near the sensor. And there is more. The chip is also all that is they need to use the printers at the Stockholm working space or pay for a drink at the Epicenter bar.
The chip is nothing revolutionary. It uses near field communications (NFC) technology – the same thing that is used for your contactless payment card and is likely an option in your smartphone.
As a really cool working space, Epicenter provides the chip for free. And if you had joined them in March for their monthly “Chips and Whiskey After Work” event, getting this chip could even be recreational. Yes, a chip could be injected into your hand as you savor a shot of the 100% Swedish Mackmyra whiskey.
Take this technology home
Being chipped could have real advantages outside of the office. If the NFC chip details were shared, it could make logging into fitness center/pool easier. And what happens if this chip data is shared with your home technology system and integrated with your IoT ecosystem? The home reader could alert all of your presence: The coffee machine starts up, kids are reminded that they should stop gaming and greet you, and the dog goes berserk in anticipation of a walk. Yes, a sterling example of better living through technology.
Forget the hack, remember that data
The advantage to the NFC chip is convenience. The big drawback is security and privacy. As we have learned, just about any electronic device or storage can be hacked – and everyone who decides to toy and use technology like the chip, should be very aware of it.
The bigger question to ask is what data is being recorded and why. The NFC technology – whether injected or not – raises the specter of companies tracking employees to a much more granular level: How much time is John losing down by the coffee machine? Why is he spending so much time with that cute colleague who is not in his department? Was he really in that meeting? Of course, this level of information could be quite useful when it comes to teenagers. 😉
How close is close?
NFC technology needs to be close to work. Quite close. According to the NFC forum – a trade association for the technology – just four centimeters. Researchers have claimed they can extend this communication range to 45-80 cm. The range is not an academic question as the ability of readers to grab NFC information from afar would significantly alter the security equation. This question of distance is what led PC World to recommend turning off an NFC device if it is not being used. Whoops. That is kinda hard to do when the chip is inside your body. Maybe wear a lead glove – or a tinfoil hat.
Chips for the active and passive
NFC is based around a device or reader that creates a 13.56 MHz frequency current with a second NFC compatible device or a tagged chip. When the second device can send or receive information from the first, for example, your smartphone with the Samsung or Android Pay system, it’s an active device. If the NFC just announces its presence to the reader, like the Epicenter chip, but can’t record any information, it’s a passive device. But from the privacy perspective, it is still broadcasting data about your presence.
So far, only around 150 of the thousand workers at Epicenter have opted for the chip – a rather low penetration rate. But this “Bio-Hacking” concept is not going away. Despite the multitude of privacy concerns, you can expect to see this cyborg concept gaining steam and experience in trendy working spaces before then spilling over into the mainstream. After all, it’s just one less device that you can lose.