Thousands of people in Sweden have opted to trade in their identification cards for tiny microchips implanted underneath their skin, Lund University digital culture lecturer Moa Petersén writes in Quartz. The chips, which use near-field communication (NFC) technology, can stand in place of key cards and rail cards, and they could someday be used in lieu of credit cards, although that doesn't appear to have been tested yet. Future applications of this technology are likely to be developed as it gains popularity.
The chips are typically the size of a grain of rice and are implanted just under the skin between the thumb and forefinger. While they're commonly used in pets, some critics say any human application of the technology starts to cross over into dystopian territory.
So why have they caught on in Sweden? Some suggest that Sweden's strong social welfare programs have made Swedes too trusting of their government—a view Petersén disagrees with.
"The factors behind why roughly 3500 Swedes have had microchips implanted in them are more complex than you might expect," she writes, noting that the country fosters a highly technological society. Skype and Spotify were both founded in Sweden, and its citizens tend to place a lot of faith in the latest technologies. The country also has a thriving biohacking scene that promotes bio-digital experimentation. A video by Dezeen shows passengers on Sweden’s SJ Railways, who have had microchips containing their membership number implanted under their skin, simply holding up their hands for the ticket collector to scan.
This trend isn’t just happening in Sweden. Thousands of Germans have gotten microchip implants in recent years, including one man whose microchip contained a link to his last will and testament. In Australia, a technology festival called Pause Fest attracted media attention for giving VIP guests injectable microchips that would grant them access to all areas of the festival, while also unlocking special digital features and allowing them to exchange business cards with ease.
And in the U.S., a software company in Wisconsin announced last year it would give its employees the option of getting microchip implants that could be used to unlock doors, log into their computers, and even purchase vending machine snacks. As for whether microchip implants will go mainstream in the U.S., only time will tell.