Taking wearable tech to the next level, Ben Slater talks about how he bio-hacked his body to further the ‘transhuman agenda’
In a move that has Christian extremists rallying to prepare for the end of times, Australian advertising executive Ben Slater is one of a handful of people now walking around with a microchip implanted in his body. A grain of rice-sized RFID microchip has been implanted into subcutaneous tissue between the webbing of Slater’s thumb and index finger in anticipation of the iPhone 6 release. Biohacking and microchip implant technology has been around for at least a decade, though until recently, the application and usage has been limited. Recent developments of near-field communication (NFC chips) in our mobile devices is opening up a new frontier of interconnectivity and body customisation which allows devices to ‘talk’ to each other simply by touching or being in proximity to another chip-enabled device. So why get on board with bio-hacking? Ben Slater explains why he took the plunge.
What are your feelings about technology and bio-hacking in general?
Ben Slater: We’re right at the very beginning of where its going to go. At the moment it’s still quite fringy. Fringy because people are interested and confused, but mostly just scared. The most surprising I’ve noticed since my chip was implanted was just the sheer amount of negativity from people in the ‘tin-hat brigade’ just freaking out.
Are you talking about the right-wing Christian groups that believe your chip implant is “the mark of the beast”?
Ben Slater: Yeah, those religious groups but also the others saying that “now the government knows everything about you”. In terms of bio-hacking, it’s going to become so stock-standard for those of us moving forward because everything is being miniaturised. We can have things willingly inserted into ourselves to monitor vitals, to influence our vitals and no one will even know that you have it. It will be relatively soon where we’ll see events like the Olympics, where we’ll not only drug test athletes, we will implant test athletes to make sure they're not being given any advantages. You just can't tell. There’s no way to tell that I’m walking around with a bloody microchip in my hand.
You know that they actually believe that you’re Satan and that your chip is the mark of the beast. What do you make of that?
Ben Slater: (laughs) I find it confusing! They can believe whatever they want to believe. It’s not for me to tell them otherwise. That particular segment of people giving feedback online are doing it in a non-rational way and they just repeat the same scripture over and over with no rational thought behind knowing what the technology does. All it is is a little microchip the size of a grain of rice that holds information, it’s not foretelling the end of times. I fail to understand how The Bible can predict that.
Why were you so keen to get this chip implanted?
Ben Slater: I’ve always been interested in this type of evolution, the next steps. There really wasn’t much thought or consideration to be honest (laughs). I’ve been following dangerousthings.com for a while and I was really interested in what they were doing. I just thought it’d be cool.
So did you weigh the decision carefully or was it just a spur of the moment thing, like getting a tattoo or piercing?
Ben Slater: Yeah, pretty much like that. The major consideration I had was the possible health issues that could come about. If it’s implanted incorrectly then I face some challenges. It could’ve gone sideways or moved around my body, or got infected. It’s a glass chip, so if it broke-up, I’d be in quite a bit of pain.
Had the guy who implanted it done many other chip implants and body-mods?
Ben Slater: Mainly body-mods. I believe he’s done a couple of chip implants. Probably half a dozen people have done this in Australia but they've tended to be uber-geeks.
Would you put yourself in that uber-geek category?
Ben Slater: I’m interested in the evolution of technology, but I’m definitely not an uber-geek. I’m the director of an advertising agency, so it helps me to have conversations with my clients. When most ad agencies are taking about the future of wearables, I can say, ‘Well, I have an NFC chip implanted in my hand’. Let's have a conversation about that.
Take us through the process.
Ben Slater: Amal Graafstra from dangerousthings.com has been doing this for about ten years. He has a team of very smart people who’ve managed to miniaturise an NFC chip down to the size of a grain of rice and it’s inside a glass casing. I run an automated home, so all of our lights are wifi controlled and our door access and our security system are all controlled automatically. So, if someone opens a door that’s not supposed to be open, my speaker system starts barking dogs and the video cameras start recording. When I heard that I could have an NFC chip put in my hand to control all of it, I thought, ‘Cool, let’s try that’.
I ordered the chip pack, which arrived in a little box with a surgically sealed, large-gauge injection needle and from there, it was just a matter of finding someone to do it. There’s a network of piercers around the world but there’s only three people in Australia who will do it. I arranged to meet Pete from The Piercing Urge in Melbourne. He sat me down, marked out my hand, just inserted the needle and we were away. I did have to be careful with my hand for two weeks because if you press it too much before it heals in the tissue, it might move sideways across the bone and it’s like having a glass shard dragging across your bone. I just had to be careful but now it’s completely healed and you wouldn't even know I have microchip in my hand.
Did you need stitches?
Ben Slater: No not all. It’s just a big needle being stuck into your hand then pulled out again.
What will you do when this chip’s tech is no longer compatible or up-to-date?
Ben Slater: I’d just go to my GP and have it removed. They’d give me local anaesthetic, then using a scalpel they’d just cut it out. It’s just sitting in the sub-dermal layer, I’d probably have a small scar, not the end of the world. As soon as I had it done, a friend of mine said, 'You should've got the one with the blinking lights under your skin, it would've been way cooler.' There isn’t one available like that, but the way my brain works, I immediately thought, ‘Yeah I should've got that one’, even though I knew there wasn't such a thing.
Do you think that type of cosmetic customisation is far away? We will be adding LEDs under our skin and be able to read text messages on our palms?
Ben Slater: That’ll be the next step. We’ll start to use body adornments more. Imagine someone putting a row of LEDs down their skull which glow when they're near a power source? It’s completely possible now. It’s not something I’d do though. I have a tattoo and that’s just about it for me.
“Imagine someone putting a row of LEDs down their skull which glow when they're near a power source? It’s completely possible now” – Ben Slater
Is chip implantation something you’d recommend for everybody?
Ben Slater: At the moment, the ability to use it is limited. It’s really only used for access control, storing bitcoin information, sharing business card information to a phone and that’s about it. It’s fun and I’ll probably use it for awhile, but I can’t use it for a lot of things. But that’s not the point. The point is it's the start of what’s to come. It’s an experiment, a talking point. It’s just fun and we all want to do things that are fun. I wouldn't go skydiving for instance, but I’d have an RFID chip implanted into my hand.
Has it done anything you weren't expecting? Like has it called someone accidentally or shocked you in anyway?
Ben Slater: It’s surprised my wife! While I was interstate and she was at our home in Brisbane, I was testing the chip and I accidentally turned off all the lights… 1000 miles away. That’s what makes it dangerous, dude, when you piss off your wife. That’s been the worst thing.
Could someone potentially hack into your body, maliciously?
Ben Slater: It depends on how you define ‘hack’. They’d have to physically touch me, I’d have to put my hand on a device. Any information I put on my hand is secured with a password or pin. If someone even knew I had a chip in my hand, and knew that it had my bitcoin information on it, and could get close enough to me to put their phone on my hand for two or three seconds while it pulled my information, then yeah, sure, I could be hacked. But the likelihood of that happening is incredibly small.
So technically, you and you're information are more protected?
Ben Slater: Exactly, you’re more secure. They don’t know that I have access to a particular building or house because I’m not walking advertising that I work at a certain building with the lanyard hanging around my neck. I can’t imagine the office workers are going to be microchipped so they can have access to a building.