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2:00 a.m. March 11, 2002 PST
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.
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 scripture, the "Mark of the Beast" will be placed in 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 mandatory implantation.
"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."