A few years ago when Amal Graafstra first began chronicling his efforts to live in a key-free world by implanting radio-­frequency identification chips in his hands [see our cover story, ” Hands On”], his chip hacks generated lots of geeky Internet buzz. He compiled a book of RFID tricks, like building yourself an RFID-enabled pet door ( RFID Toys: 11 Cool Projects for Home, Office, and Entertainment , Wiley, 2006). And then his girlfriend also agreed to get implants—RFID ones, not the other controversial kind—so they could share cars and homes and computers with keyless, passwordless abandon. Could Valentine’s Day RFID specials be far behind?

Graafstra’s experiments in domestic chipping are entertaining, but they point to some of the larger issues that are upon us as human RFID tagging becomes ubiquitous—first as passports, drivers’ licenses, and medical bracelets, and then as implantable devices. What happens when people and their activities can be tracked and inventoried in much the way that Wal-Mart candy bars are today? Who’s allowed to hack what and know what about each one of us?

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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