Patrick Kramer believes in the digital transformation of the human being. For some years now, he has been earning his money by implanting microchips in people. From his point of view, the technology behind it offers opportunities. But microchipping humans is really progress?
Patrick Kramer seems focused. He breathes in and out hard while holding a syringe in his right hand, whose white handles resemble scissors. At the front of the syringe is a glass microchip, which will be injected into a bank employee. To do this, Kramer puts his right hand into his counterpart’s left hand, pulls a piece of skin between his thumb and forefinger upwards and pricks it with the needle. You hear a soft click. Then it’s all over.
That’s how quickly the future comes. He sticks a ribbon on the spot where the puncture occurred and advises his client to keep his hand still for a day or two. In the future, the employee will be able to walk through the main entrance of the company with one hand movement. Instead of a house ID card, he will simply have to put his hand in a contact field. In theory, he could also use the microchip under his skin to pay for his purchases or open his own door. The possible applications are many and varied.
What sounds like frightening science fiction to some observers is the progress that people like Kramer live for and want. Among other things, the entrepreneur makes his money by putting chips under people’s skin. But how safe is this technology? Is this really how the future looks? And: How much skepticism is appropriate?
Microchips under the skin: “There are no disadvantages”
A few hours earlier. Patrick Kramer is standing in front of the main entrance to the Sparda-Bank Berlin headquarters in the district of Prenzlauer Berg. He has placed himself under the canopy to protect himself from the drizzle on this gentle Thursday morning. He looks a little tired. But once Kramer starts talking, he hardly ever stops.
As soon as he’s asked a question, Kramer’s answers turn into monologues. He wants to do his part to make more people open and tolerant of new technologies. That’s what he set out to do, he says, when he founded his company Digiwell – Upgraded Humans six years ago, in 2014. The company focuses on biohacking and the digital transformation of humans. This includes, among other things, the placement of microchips for humans.
He himself currently has five such implants under his skin. One of them contains his ICE data (In Case of Emergency – medical data in case something happens to him). The number varies, he says. “They make my daily life more comfortable. There are no disadvantages,” says Kramer. Meanwhile, he sits on a couch in the reception area of the cooperative bench and strokes the small dent between his thumb and forefinger, under which one of the microchips is stuck. “Just because such a small grain of rice is under the skin, many people have conspiracy theories in their heads.”
The Sparda Bank “gives away” microchips
A few minutes later he’s picked up by the bank’s press officer. The elevator takes you to the sixth floor, boardroom. Through a corridor more than ten metres long, passing conference rooms and huge individual offices, Kramer is led to an open-plan room reminiscent of a hotel lobby. There are colourful armchairs and sofas everywhere. In one corner of the room there is even space for a brown bar at waist level with two white standing stools. “It doesn’t usually look like that here,” says the spokesman.
The motif on the furniture is an advertising clip. “You’re different”? is the motto. With this, the Sparda-Bank in Berlin attracted media attention at the end of September last year. The corresponding video was viewed over 500,000 times on YouTube. It announces the financing of the construction – with microchip implants. Anyone who takes out a loan of at least 50,000 euros at the end of March will receive a free insert.
The cooperative bank cooperates with Kramer’s microchip company. This cooperation should be celebrated today: The TV is on, a podcaster and an internal camera crew are on site. To crown it all, a chip will be implanted in the chairman of the board, Frank Kohler. But he’s sick. That’s why another Kramer employee is being “chipped”.
His name is Daniel. A skinny man with dark hair and glasses. He says he’s tired of carrying so much when he goes out. As a demonstration, he leaves his cell phone, his wallet and the keys to his car and his office on the table. “This is annoying,” he says, shaking his head. “I’d rather not use any of this anymore.”
2000 to 3500 Germans wear a microchip under their skin
Microchips should make your daily life more comfortable. You no longer want to look for a key or rummage through your wallet while shopping to pay. In the future, Daniel wants to do everything with a wave of his hand. In a small conference room, where the board of directors of the cooperative bank often discusses corporate strategies, Daniel gets his wish to come true a little later. Kramer implemented it.
Daniel now belongs to a minority. It is estimated that between 2000 and 3500 people in Germany have a microchip under their skin. Kramer is sure that there will be many more in the future. “The digital transformation will continue under the skin,” he believes.
In Sweden, this has been a reality for a long time. There, there are even implantation parties where dozens of people can be injected with piercing chips between wine and beer. At the Swedish company TUI Nordic, one in five employees carries a microchip in their hand. “We don’t chip our employees, they chip voluntarily,” CEO Alexander Huber told “Spiegel” in an interview.
Patrick Kramer is upset about the approach in Sweden: “Above all, I don’t understand that people don’t know that this technology is not new. It has been around for more than 40 years.”
Is the microchip technology new?
Jens Tiemann confirms Kramer’s statement. He works as a research assistant at the Centre for Public IT Competence (ÖFIT) at the Fraunhofer Institute FOKUS. “In fact, these microchips use RFID technology, i.e. identification by means of electromagnetic waves,” says the expert. “They have been around since the 1970s.”
The chips implanted in the dogs are based on this technology, just like the tags in the shops. “Ultimately, a device reads information from a transponder.” The microchips Kramer implants are based on this technology. However, Tiemann says we need to differentiate again. “These chips use Near Field Communication, NFC for short. This is a subset of RFID communication that allows data to be exchanged between two devices.
In everyday life, the technology is already used for contactless payment with the EC card or smartphone. The only difference with microchips is that the technology is not under the skin, but in the card or smartphone. For this very reason, Kramer cannot understand the skepticism of some people towards microchips. “It’s the same technology and it’s safe,” he says. But is it really?
Are implanted microchips safe?
There are two central security issues. The health issue and the technical issue. Andreas Sjostrom, a Swede and head of technology at IT service provider Capgemini, used one and had it removed. He has already published a blog about his findings in 2017. There he writes: “Microchips are a bad idea”. Also because he does not see the link between the benefit and the risk to health as justified.
Tiemann comments on technical safety. Are the chips safe? Tiemann says yes and no: “There are several generations now. The first ones were easy to hack into, as the Chaos Computer Club showed several years ago. But they cannot be traced, as some might suspect. Meanwhile, the encryption is also secure. A lot has happened.” From their point of view, microchips are more of a data protection problem. “BVG offers monthly contactless subscriptions. “They’re not supposed to keep anything on them. But in the past it has happened several times that stops were written on them.
Is it worth a microchip under the skin?
In other words: man becomes more transparent. Technology leaves traces everywhere, technical fragments that can be traced and evaluated. Kramer doesn’t see a problem with this. “Of course we leave information. But that’s what we do when we post a picture on Instagram, ask for something on Amazon or spread our opinion on the Internet via Twitter.
Sebastian Drosselmeier is right. The research assistant at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich is a doctoral student at the College of Ethics in Practice in Munich. He does not initially see an ethical problem in the microchips themselves: “A certain scepticism about the new technology is entirely justified. However, this should not become a dogma. There must always be a discourse about the advantages and disadvantages of ‘new’ technologies.
In Kramer’s opinion there are two clear advantages: “For people with chronic diseases like acute kidney failure, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, blindness or missing limbs, the small grains of rice give back a piece of human dignity. For example, I have a client, a young woman who has no hands. She can open doors through a chip in her foot,” she says. “The other advantage is that it makes my daily life easier, because it replaces the key to the front door, the employee ID card, the car keys, the business cards, the notebooks, the gym access cards and it secures our digital identity.
Patrick Kramer: “I’m not going to stop doing this”
From the users’ point of view, a microchip is definitely a breakthrough. It makes their daily life much more comfortable in some areas. But the discourse about the opportunities and risks has yet to be carried out. It often moves between two poles: total freedom and total control. It could become an exciting social debate.
All the more so because a chip under the skin could be just the beginning. After all, the possibilities of the digital transformation of the human being are already more advanced. Tesla’s boss Elon Musk, for example, is developing computer implants for the brain with his Neuralink project.
Later, Patrick Kramer is on the platform at Berlin’s main station waiting for his train to Hamburg. It was a long day for him. Today he implanted five microchips and answered countless questions on the subject. “Home at last,” he says. And he sounds happy. His schedule for the next few weeks is full of appointments and similar conferences. But he says it’s going on. “We just have to be more open-minded. The digital transformation has just begun.” And he wants to push it a little further every day.