IT may sound like sci-fi, but hundreds of Australians are turning themselves into super-humans who can unlock doors, turn on lights and log into computers with a wave of the hand.
Shanti Korporaal, from Sydney, is at the centre of the phenomenon after having two implants inserted under her skin.
Now she can get into work and her car without carrying a card or keys, and says her ultimate goal is to completely do away with her wallet and cards.
“You could set up your life so you never have to worry about any password or PINs” she told news.com.au.
“It’s the same technology as Paypass, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to pay for things with it.
“With Opal you get a unique identification number that could be programmed into the chip. Any door with a swipe card … it could open your computer, photocopier. Loyalty cards for shops are just another thing for your wallet.”
The microchips, which are the size of a grain of rice, can act like a business card and transfer contact details to smartphones, and hold complex medical data.
Shanti has had some messages from ultra-conservative Christians on Facebook telling her she’s going to hell, but the reaction has mainly been one of intrigue.
“My nana wants one,” laughs Shanti. “I’ve had more opposition to my tattoos than I’ve ever had to the chip. My friends are jealous.”
When the 27-year-old realised just how coveted the implants were, she set up an Australian distribution service called Chip My Life with her husband, Skeeve Stevens.
It costs between $80 and $140 depending on the sophistication of the technology, and (while you can do it at home) they work with doctors who charge $150 to insert the implant.
“They do minor surgery, Botox and so on,” says Shanti. “They give you a local, an injection and a quick ultrasound to make sure it’s in place.”
The biohacking couple both have RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips in their left hands and NFC (near-field communication) chips in the right. The implant is almost impossible to spot, leaving a mark as small as a freckle.
Shanti is appearing at today’s Sydney launch of cyborg-themed video game Deus Ex Mankind Divided alongside US implantable technology pioneer Amal Graafstra.
Amal considers himself a guinea-pig for human augmentation, making headlines in the US last week with a prototype of the world’s first implant-activated smart gun.
He became one of the world’s first RFID implantees in 2005, and has since founded an online store to sell the “at home” kits to people who want to “upgrade their body”. He’s written a book, spoken at TEDx and appeared in documentaries.
“On a psychological level, this is completely different to a smartphone or a Fitbit, because it goes in you,” he told news.com.au.
“Your kidneys are working hard but you’re not thinking about them, it’s not something you have to manage.
“It’s given me the ability to communicate with machines. It’s literally integrated into who I am.”
He is aware of the ethical and security concerns, but points out that the data is encrypted, and most of your access cards are not secure anyway. This is simply a case of “computing in the body.”
Rather than worry about people being forced to be microchipped, he’s now busy advocating for the rights of citizens who use them.
Implant pioneer Amal Graafstra is pushing the limits of the technology.
He believes the destruction of the chip could in some cases classify as assault (as with a pacemaker) and other dangers might be governments forcibly extracting implants or data from them.
“I want to make sure it’s treated as part of the body, like an organ,” he says.
One firm in Sweden has allowed employees to choose chips over a work pass, with 400 taking up the offer, but Amal says he more often hears from interested individuals who want to try it out.
“At the moment, it’s mainly access — house, computer motorcycle. But in the future there’s the potential to use it for transit, payment. You could get rid of your keys and maybe your wallet.”
Other uses might include children tapping to let parents know they are at school safely, refugees checking in at camps or women at shelters.
It can share diet, exercise and sleep information with you and your doctor, and the next generation could even release medicine as and when you need it.
For Shanti, adding an extra dimension to life is a childhood fantasy come true.
“Ever since watching movies like the Terminator, Matrix and Minority Report I wondered if we could actually live like that. I always wondered why we all weren’t living as ‘super-humans’.”