Microchipping Animals, Products, and People

The development and use of wearable, stickerable, and injectable microchip identification technology holds far reaching consequences for our future. The technology, also known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging and scanning, provides the ability to identify and track anything and anyone, and furnish digitally encoded information about that object or being to a RFID-enabled scanner/reader.

In other words, RFID technology connects the physical world to the digital world. The possibilities extend far beyond pet recovery, inventory management, and point-of-sale strategies. By seeding the physical landscape with microchips, we encode it in a machine-readable format that can be integrated into interfaces, databases, and a global, networked user experience.

Two examples, fresh from the headlines:

Clearly, the grade school mandate implies just the kind of “big brother” image that RFID critics fear. On the more optimistic side, we see RFIDs already being used electively to embed critical medical information for those with life-threatening conditions. And on the less-controversial side of RFID product tagging, we can envision a consumer landscape where products are smart enough to tell you about themselves. Nokia has already created a cell-phone with RFID scanning/reading capabilities for business use.

Since both the positive and negative potential for human-RFID tagging is virtually limitless, it’s important for conversations about legal and ethical use of this technology to start today before it becomes pervasive.

In the post-desktop world of ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) and ubiquitous networking (ubinet), microchipped devices talk persistently to each other and occasionally to us. As designers and users of the present and the future ubicomp-ubinet reality, let’s make sure we’re part of the dialog.