Digital Angel Corp (DOC) recently received a patent for a miniature Radio Frequency ID [RFID]-based device that reports an animal’s body temperature. The device is implanted with a syringe and can be queried with a small wireless reader. Potential applications include monitoring horses, cows, sheep and poultry for disease. The companion animal market is also being assessed.
What I want to know is, why stop with temperature…and why stop with animals? I’ll bet that equally tiny sensors could be made for blood pressure, glucose level, respiration, heart rate, cholesterol, Guinness (a sign of intelligence, incidentally), and so on. Why not put a whole range of sensors on a chip, glue it to an RFID tag, and implant it in something…or somebody?
Why would you want to be implanted? Well, it would simplify visits to the doctor–no more blood draws or cold things in private places: Just a quick pass with the reader. More than that, however, it would herald the beginning of cheap, near-continuous monitoring of your body’s parameters. Say the device was implanted in your hand. Hide a scanner in your front door knob and your readings would be recorded every time you touched it. Over time, the door might note negative trends and bring them to your attention, perhaps (shades of Martin Luther) with a display nailed up just under the peephole.
Of course, government has a compelling interest in public health since (in many countries) it pays for a large percentage of medical care. It would welcome the opportunity to gather aggregate medical data on the population, perhaps by putting readers in the card scanners that provide access to buses and subways. With this data, the government could get early warning of major disease outbreaks. (Of course, the card scanners may themselves be disease vectors, a possibility that doesn’t bear thinking about.)
The government could get proactive (hate that word), too. Since your implant identifies you, the Surgeon General (the US’s public health czar) could e-mail you little bar charts chronicling your progressive degeneration and enjoining you to eat right and exercise. And, of course, the readers could be put in lots of other places, places we wouldn’t necessarily know about. This would be helpful less for public health than for public safety. Missing kids, fugitives from justice, slippery witnesses, people with outstanding parking tickets, whatever. Hmm. I grant that it sounds a little Orwellian…but I suppose that if the sheep don’t mind, we probably won’t, either.