Around the world innovation

Investigation: Microchips Under the Skin – Is the Story from Sweden True?

It’s time to investigate. There have been numerous reports throughout the year about Swedes injecting microchips under the skin to replace ID cards, and for a number of other reasons. In May of this year, the most widely circulated story came from Business Insider that spread like wildfire around the world – from the circle of Tech, all the way to Biblical prophecies being discussed on religious websites. One of them referred to these injections as a sign of “The Mark of the Beast”. It was reported that around 3000 people received these injections in order to facilitate the mundane tasks of regular life, including unlocking an office or using it as an ID. It was shocking to read about, and for some reason, it summoned judgements about Swedes being “naive” to do so. However, this has nothing to do with naivety or even truth to the myth of the naive Swedes that underlie the new microchip phenomenon, a Swedish researcher explains…

The Cash Phenomenon

There is a backstory to all of this, that has often been overlooked in other articles online. According to a report from The Guardian, there are now so few banknotes in circulation that Sweden is about to become the world’s first cashless country, and that progression is not something new if we look at the digitalized services that have become prominent in today’s Swedish society. Sweden was once the cash-king of Europe and took some of the first steps in European history in the 17th century. In 1661, Stockholm’s Banco, a pioneer of the Swedish Central Bank, issued Europe’s first banknotes. They appeared on a thick water-stamped paper with the bank’s seal and eight handwritten signatures. Sweden, however, likes to stay on top of new technology and has never lagged behind since the wave of going-mobile in the beginning of this century. Mobile payments have taken over, which has caused a shift from cash. Let’s take the example of public transportation, which is common in larger Swedish cities. In recent years, it has been almost impossible to buy a bus ticket with cash. If you want to buy a ticket on the Öresund railway in Skåne and Denmark, you will receive a fine of SEK 800 instead.

According to the Riksbank, cash transactions accounted for only two percent (!) of all payments in 2015 and the figure is expected to fall to 0.5 percent by 2020. But this is a different story when it comes to regular stores. In stores, cash accounts for more than 20 percent of all transactions, which is half compared to the beginning of this decade. What about on a global scale? Globally, cash accounts for 75 percent of all transactions. According to Visa, the Swedes use a card three times as often as the average European, which on average means 207 payments per year. In addition, around 900 out of 1600 banks have stopped managing cash. Can you now understand why this next step has been taken? When society becomes used to such simplification and being used to life being as easy as the swipe of a swish, then you could expect developments in other areas, but this is a question of psychology.

Trains and “biohackers”


The story from Business Insider did, indeed, mention something about this. If you were paying attention, one of the uses of these microchips was overlooked but relates to the earlier statements. It came from last year, precisely in the field of public transportation. Last year, a story broke out about a few thousand people in Sweden using these microchips as payment on trains. To some, it looked unbelievably strange when a passenger embarked on an SJ train with the arm reaching out for the microchip under the skin to be scanned. To others, it was hailed as exciting and cool. In fact, SJ is the first travel company in the world to enable passengers to use microchip implants to validate tickets. SJ is also, interestingly enough, government-owned. The chip itself costs around 1,500 kronor and has been used for a long time on pets like dogs and cats, but now it is becoming more and more common for human-use. Of course, we’re not talking about an entire society using this yet as it only relates to a couple of thousand, but some say that this “experimentation phase” can become even more widespread. 

According to a Swedish researcher, this phenomenon reflects Sweden’s unique biohacker culture that has appeared from the shadows in recent times. Swedish society has always embraced new technology and if you look closely, Sweden’s love for everything digital strides deeper than these microchips. The term biohacker covers amateur biologists who perform biomedical experiments outside the traditional institutions – such as universities, pharmaceutical companies and other scientifically controlled environments. Like computer hackers hacking computers, biohackers hack everything biologically. But is this really limited to Sweden? Western countries partake in a similar mindset. This acceptance of this stepping stone to transhumanism reflects current societies and cultures. The Age of the Internet is taking another phase, but even these biohacker groups take many different forms according to the societies and cultures in which they evolve. For example, European biohackers differ generally from their North American counterparts.

The North American groups are keen to develop alternatives to the established healthcare system’s approaches. The European groups, on the other hand, focus more on finding ways to help people in developing countries or participate in artistic bio projects. The Swedish biohacking culture differs from the rest of Europe as Swedish biohackers are generally part of the transhumanist movement.
And it was precisely those transhumanists – more specifically a subgroup called grinders – thousands of which injected these chips between their thumbs.

We can, therefore, conclude that this story has some truth to it. The Swedes have a deep faith in technology’s positive potential and this is no exception. While some of the articles that blew up were sensationalist in nature, they did carry some weight – the number really is in the thousands for the moment. The customer manager of SJ, Lina Edström, suggests that their use in their train-service is growing in popularity, so expect to see more of these stories appearing in Sweden and beyond. The Swedish government’s heavy investments in technological infrastructure can definitely be felt, especially when taking into account the Swedish economy which is largely based on digital exports, digital services and digital tech innovations. It’s still uncertain whether society will accept these microchips on a wide scale, but we should be wary of the fact that they are here. For good or bad, that is up to society to decide – but they are here…

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.

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