Swedish Startup Hub Experiments with ‘Microchipping’ Employees

Swedish Startup Hub Experiments with ‘Microchipping’ Employees

The notion of implanting microchips in your employees’ bodies may sound like the stuff of dystopian science fiction, but in this instance, science fiction has already become science fact. The Associated Press’s James Brooks looks in on the Swedish startup incubator Epicenter, where employees are lining up to become “cyborgs” voluntarily:

The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand. The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted. …

Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and some 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them. A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants, and there are isolated cases around the world where tech enthusiasts have tried this out in recent years.

In February, Digital Trends‘ Dyllan Furness noted that microchips were just one of the ways the incubator’s members have tried to lean into the future:

Members are encouraged to participate in over 100 annual events, from workshops on biohacking to concerts. Long distance calls can be taken through telepresence robots that roam around the corridors. A “robotic” vending machine makes fresh fruit smoothies on demand. There’s even a “biohacker breakfast” that consists of bulletproof coffee and a pair of boiled eggs.

The idea is to make the workplace a place for play as well as productivity and experimentation. For well-known examples, look to startups and Silicon Valley, where offices sport things like nap pods, ping pong tables, and slides. However, for many Epicenter members, the goal isn’t just to kick back with yesteryear’s pleasures — it’s to push forward as early adopters of untested technology.

Several new technologies have come to market recently that collect data on their employees’ movements and activities in the workplace, raising concerns about privacy, but Epicenter’s implants don’t actually do that, co-founder and CEO Patrick Mesterton tells the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor:

The technology does not allow for any kind of monitoring, he said. It “doesn’t even carry that ability. It’s exactly the same as if you would use a single key card,” he said. Known as a “passive chip,” it has no built-in power supply and can’t send signals about its position. “If a person is worried about being traced, your mobile phone or Internet search history poses a bigger threat than the RFID chip we use ever would do,” Mesterton said in an email.

Future versions of this technology could be used (or abused) for employee monitoring purposes, but some analysts doubt that organizations will see embedded microchips as a good use of their money anytime soon, especially in the US, McGregor adds:

Michael Chui, a partner with the McKinsey Global Institute who leads its research on the impact of long-term technology trends, said that while there is “a broad awareness for the technical ability for this to happen,” right now there is “zero interest in actually doing it.” For one, the business case isn’t very high, with “smart badges” and biometric scanners able to do much of the same work. Then, he said, “there is a general creep factor about it.”

Here’s the video the AP produced about Epicenter which shows the microchips up close: