Microchip Implant Controversy: a Mark of the Beast or the Coming "Singularity"?

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 3:54 PM EST

The news that Novartis wants a deal with Proteus Biomedical to produce a microchip called "Raisin" that will text your mobile phone when it's time to take another pill, and VeriChip's efforts to link microchip implants to online health records, has caused two separate controversies that seem bound to collide: some Christians believe the devices are eerily similar to the "mark of the beast" as described in the book of Revelation; while "singularity" buffs -- those who look forward to the merger of humans and intelligent technology -- regard it as a bold step forward in improving health.

The Christians make the obvious argument. On the subject of "the beast," Revelation 13:16-18 states:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
The suggestion is that if the government starts requiring chip implants, then this will be a sign that the antichrist is in charge and we're at the end of days. (Of course, the beast in question will have "two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon," which should be easy to spot in a presidential candidate.)

On the other hand, the singularity buffs see nothing but good news. There's an obvious advantage on the club scene, as VeriChip could replace both photo ID and cash:

Beautiful club-goers have a problem: If you're going to wear a halter top and micro-skirt, there's not much of anywhere to put a wallet. And who wants to carry a purse when you're there to dance? Luckily, a company called VeriChip this year unveiled a solution based on radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

More importantly, the chip that increases your compliance with your prescription -- so you don't stop taking them before the full course of pills is up -- will only improve public health, the singularitarians believe:
Raisin, or any system that helps us discipline our health habits is bound to help us live longer and happier. That's the promise of Body 2.0 and I hope that the partnership between Proteus and Novartis means that promise is gaining ground in the global marketplace.
And finally: Proteus CEO Andrew Thompson believes his company's market opportunity could be $100 billion. This is delusional. The serious debate here is over privacy and tracking concerns, and whether anyone might be required to have an implant. The vast majority of patients and consumers simply won't want one.

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