Sweden is often described as being a world leader in innovation and new technologies, but inserting microchips into your body – that is where many draw the line, even Swedes.
Things may change soon, though, because cyborg solutions are becoming more and more popular.
Recently, a group of seven tech-enthusiasts gathered at a tattoo and piercing studio in Stockholm's hip district Södermalm to get microchips implanted into their hands. They were literally letting technology get under their skin.
The group of seven - most of them met for the first time at the piercing studio - joined a RFID microchip implant party organised by the Swedish bio-hacker group BioNyfiken, or BioCurious.
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, and bio-hackers are people who like to get together and explore biology, as Hannes Sjöblad, co-founder of BioNyfiken told Radio Sweden.
“We explore what we can do with modern technology on any biological being, from bacteria to plants and all the way to homo sapiens,” Sjöblad said.
“The concept of bio-hacking has really developed on the basis of technological developments in lab equipment and in modern sensor technology. What 10 years ago was only possible to do in a big lab can now be done by two students in a dorm room.”
What has so far been mostly an underground phenomenon - inserting microchips into the human body - is developing into a bit of a trend. According to Sjöblad there are now around 100 people - give or take - with the chip in Sweden.
Chai Maibert, a piercing professional who inserted the microchips at the implant party, confirmed this. "I would say, all in all, I’ve done about 75 of these now, but 30 of them were done in the past three weeks so it's taking off right now,” Maibert said.
Much like the microchips that pet owners use to keep track of their cats and dogs, human microchip implants can also store information about those who wear them, as Sjöblad demonstrated.
“I have an app on my smartphone that I use to scan my chip and in just a second all my contact information, my LinkedIn profile and some Latin poetry show up on my display. If you want to exchange details with someone in a noisy bar and you don't happen to have your business cards around and don't want to shout and scream your phone number in somebody's ear, well then this is a very handy way of giving out your details.”
The chip can also be used to open doors and to unlock smartphones. So, what used to be the stuff of sci-fi movies is now very real. There are no special effects. All it takes is a quick incision with a thin needle and you can become a true cyborg.
But it does takes nerves, as Sarah Bernhard, a social-media strategist, found out at the implant party.
“I'm a bit nervous,” Bernhard told Radio Sweden. “That's probably because I don't know exactly why I'm doing this. My first idea was to get all the information about myself and my children on to the chip - our blood types, names and ID numbers.”
Bernhard said she is not usually the type who wants to keep up with all the latest gadgets. “But sometimes you just have to do things that are way out of your comfort zone,” she said, “and for me, this is it, I guess.”
“ I sort of mentioned to my family that I would do this but they didn't think I'd go through with it, and I haven’t told my mum. She'd freak out!”
Bernhard said she has considered the privacy implications. “I have thought about it, but on the other hand I give away information every day through my phone about where I live, work and move. And I log my run keeper's data. So why not have a chip..?
Hannes Sjöblad - the co-founder of the biohacker group BioNyfiken - said the idea of humans morphing into cyborgs is nothing to fear - and it is nothing new, either.
“Humans have used technology for millennia. We use fire and clothes! If you look at improving the body with technology, well most people we know have had vaccines, which is really a way of upgrading your body with technology,” Sjöblad insisted.
“And I'd like to add that this technological development is happening whether we want it or not so we'd better be on top of it and understand what's going on.”
Commenting on his own microchip implant, Sjöblad said: “It's definitely becoming a part of me. I see it a little bit like any organ in my body. I have my kidneys, I have my collar bone and I have my little implant in my hand!”