RFID Implant Developments: Where Are We Headed and Why?

By on June 29th, 2017 in Editorial & Opinion, Human Impacts, Magazine Articles, Societal Impact

From a feminist perspective, author Donna Haraway makes inference to a type of teleology within technology itself that displaces the focus of the ideological historical culmination back to the actual technology. Concerning cybernetics as a steering mechanism, Haraway writes [1]:

An implant device is an inanimate object, void of spirit, and has no motive or underlying teleology residing within the technology itself.

The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine. Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.

Haraway’s statement directs us to investigate technologies, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) implant developments, and ask where are we headed and why? Are such devices being designed and engineered to replace former infrastructures that have been in place to help monitor, control, and assist the activities of the general populace? It is my opinion that when reflecting on RFID implants, or other body-intrusive devices, we do not switch the emphasis to the technology itself, as implantable devices are in a rapid state of change with a utility that are both universally adaptable and individually exclusive. In addition, the implant device itself is not to blame for negative social implications that might ensue. It is an inanimate object, void of spirit, and has no motive or underlying teleology residing within the technology itself. Rather, much the same as theorists of power have argued, there is a driving force behind this movement in history that is external from the apparatus of control [2]. Whether the motive behind this movement is intentional or inadvertently transpiring, its archaeology is yet to be fully unveiled. However, it surely has to do with a rhetoric of fear, an “adapt or die” mentality.

If one were to endeavor to adopt the power theory perspective, cyborg monitoring technology can be correlated with the interrogator (i.e., analogously the interrogator being the human motive behind the RFID reader). It is here that Haraway has questioned whether technology has any self-piloting nature. While I take the position that the machine does not have a self-piloting nature or contain human spirit, current researchers are grappling to rationalize whether technology has a teleology. It does have artificial energy, and with the lines of distinction between human and machine being increasingly blurred, this fusion of the human energy (spirit) and artificially generated energy has potential to take a radical homogenous shift, in which technology is being recharged through the human body in which it is embedded. In the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Hoven and Vermaas [3] write,

Apart from a race to the bottom and the aim of making RFIDs smaller, (and more economical) one of the research challenges is to make the chips self-sufficient and energy saving or even energy “scavenging,” in which case they will get energy from their environment in the form of heat, light or movement.

Contrary to Haraway’s perspective, Foucault views technological apparatuses as containing no teleology other than what now can be traced as a device created by the industry to parallel the mandate of its consumer. He argued that within the paradoxical relationship of society and the state, society becomes a property of control. The institution [or the apparatus] becomes the mere facility — not the source of control, not the controller, but the human-made structure — the penal apparatus that simultaneously is established incrementally throughout history, as newer structural mechanisms replace the former as a means to accommodate higher culminations of canonized practices of knowledge. Such penal systems are designed to ensure civic control and typify an ideologically-based governing order of practical rationale a conscious goal to see a job finished [4], referred to by the Greeks as the techne [5].

Current researchers are grappling to rationalize whether technology has a teleology.

It is here one can take a stance against power theorists who argue that the leaders endorsing such shifts are consciously aware of what is transpiring. Instead, it can be argued that they are being lead unconsciously, which disqualifies the likelihood of a despotic conscious theoretical mind leading the endeavor. Instead, view the motivating factor within the ruling class as a desire to move civility towards emancipation — even a utopian world. However, in saying this, it becomes necessary to disclose that although ridding humanity of social inequalities is highly prized, if this is done through a top-down insistence that leaves no room for fundamental human choice, then in this sense, the ruling class can be argued to share a common teleology that is emotivistic [6]. Whether this movement is driven by economic factors, or a need to maintain social control, the underlying principal should be disclosed, for it all rests on principles of fear.


Sharon Rose Bradley-Munn is a Canadian-based researcher, currently completing her Ph.D. with the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia. Email: srbm802@uowmail.edu.au.