Wired News, March 11, 2002 <http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,50769,00.html#>
New Body Art: Chip Implants
By Julia Scheeres
A Canadian artist has implanted microchips in her hands in a quest to
explore the relationship between identity and technology in an era when
life is increasingly regulated by gadgets and machines.
The creation of a biochip that can be implanted into people to transmit
their personal information has been fantasy fodder for technophiles as
well as being an Orwellian omen for others.
These are some of the issues Nancy Nisbet hopes to explore.
"I am expecting the merger between human and machines to proceed
whether we want it to or not," said Nisbet. "If I adopt it and make it my own,
I will have a better understanding of this type of technology and the
potential threats and benefits it represents."
Nisbet, 34, purchased the chips from a veterinary clinic -- they are
commonly used to identify livestock and pets. And after several rejections,
she finally found a doctor willing to implant them in her body. (Microchips
haven't been approved for human use in either the United States or
Her chips, which emit a read-only 134-kilohertz frequency that is read by a
scanner, contain a 12-digit alphanumeric ID. They were injected into the
back of her hands, in the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger;
the first was implanted in October 2001, the second in February.
She plans to modify her computer mouse to incorporate a scanner to pick
up the chips' signals and monitor her Internet use. She'll use one hand to
surf when she's working, the other for recreation, then compare her two
"identities." And while the chips track her online movements, a webcam
and GPS unit will track her physical movements.
"It's a way of connecting physical and virtual space and tracking my
relationship with my computer, as well as my identities as I use it," said
Nisbet, who teaches fine arts at the University of British Colombia and
has degrees in both fine arts and genetics.
She had the chips placed in her hands for a symbolic reason: People use
their hands to interact with technology and to identify themselves (think
fingerprints or palm prints).
The location Nisbet chose for one of the chips -- the back of the right hand
-- is also the precise spot where, according to Biblical lore, the "Mark of
the Beast" will be placed during the apocalyptic end of the world detailed
in the Book of Revelations.
Indeed, some Christians already believe that the Mark of the Beast is a
microchip. When Applied Digital Solutions announced the creation of an
implantable microchip for medical and security purposes, fervent
believers decried the product as the sign of Satan.
But for Nisbet, the only demonic use of the microchips would be their
"The objective of this project is to further question issues of identity and
control. By consciously appropriating this technology, I will be able to gain
an understanding of its limits and failure while retaining control of what
information is being gathered and how it is being used," she said.
Nisbet isn't the first artist to be chipped in an effort to break down the
boundaries between biological and digital realms. In 1997, Eduardo Kac
inserted a chip into his ankle during a live performance in Sao Paulo, then
registered himself in an online pet database as both owner and animal.
After he implanted the device, a collaborator in Chicago read the chip
information with a robotic arm controlled over the Internet, in effect making
Kac's body a node in the Internet network.
The exercise was "emblematic of the dangers and potentials of what
might lay ahead," Kac said. "Just the idea that someone can retrieve
information from inside you without you knowing is frightening."
Back to Kac Web