The promise — and peril? — of microchip implants for people.

In 2017, when employee volunteers at Three Square Market, a Wisconsin-based technology company, agreed to have microchips implanted in their wrists so that they could access the company’s lunchroom vending machines without exchanging money, some people tittered.

At best, it was viewed as a publicity effort to draw attention to the firm and its work in the microchip industry.

So where are we with human microchip implants two years later? Well … not so far along in some ways, and yet things may be poised for a sea change in the not-too-distant future.

And actually, it has less to do with human microchip implants as a convenience as it does with their potential to revolutionize health monitoring and medical diagnoses.

Biohax International, a Swedish-based company founded more than five years ago, is further along on the development curve than most other developers in the field. According to a report from Thomas Industry Insights, thousands of Swedes now have microchip implants, and the number is expected to continue growing at a robust pace.

At present, Biohax chip implants can house anything from emergency contact information to FOB and other access capabilities for cars, homes and even public transportation.

But the next frontier looks to be in healthcare. At present, prototype microchips are being developed that will enable continual monitoring of a person’s vital signs – things like glucose monitoring and blood pressure monitoring.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a day when certain patients are prescribed potentially lifesaving microchip implants that will serve as “early warnings” to nascent health emergencies.

Is this the future?

There could be a downside, of course – there nearly always is with these sorts of things, it seems. What does a world look like where physicians, insurance companies, employers or credit card companies make implants a mandatory condition for service or employment?

How far of a line is it to go from that to being part of a “surveillance state”?

And even if the situation never came to that, would people who demur from participating voluntarily in the “microchip revolution” be somehow walled off from the benefits microchips could deliver – thereby becoming “second-class citizens”?

The ethical questions about human microchip implants are likely to be with us for some time to come — and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Do you have particular opinions about the “promise and peril” of microchip implants? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Plunging Headlong into the Next Digital Decade

Looking back over the past ten years, so much has happened in the world of digital communications, it’s almost impossible to remember the “bad old days” of slow-loading web pages and clunky Internet interfaces.

And yet, that was the norm for many web users at the beginning of the decade.

So what’s in store for the upcoming decade? When you consider that a 120-minute movie file can be downloaded about as quickly as a single web page these days, how could data processing and download times get any faster than they are already?

Certainly, if the world continues with transistor-based computer chip designs, there’s very little room for further improvement. That’s because today’s chips continue to be based on the original 1958 Shockley transistor design – except that they contain many more transistors along with circuits that have been engineered smaller and smaller — down practically to the size of an atom.

We can’t get much smaller than that without a radical new design platform. And now, along comes “quantum computing” which goes well beyond the traditional binary system of using ones and zeros in information processing. The betting is that so-called “qubits” – quantum processor units – will become the new design paradigm in the 2010s that will dramatically increase processor speed and power once again.

[An alarming side effect of quantum processing, however, is the possibility that computers will become so much more powerful that current methods of encryption will become obsolete. Clearly, new ways of protecting information will need to be developed along with the new speed and capabilities.]

In tandem with the new advancements in data processing power and speed, industry prognosticators such as Wired magazine’s chief editor Chris Anderson are predicting that bandwidth and storage will become virtually free and unlimited in the coming decade. As a result, it’s highly likely that the decade will be one of much greater collaboration between people in “peer to peer” creation and sharing of information and media, online and in real-time. Think Facebook on steroids.