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Dawn of the bionic age: Body hackers let chips get under their skin
By Tim Johnson McClatchy Newspapers August 03, 2017 6:16 PM
LAS VEGAS — If you’re prone to forgetting your card key for the office or your computer password, here’s a solution: Get a microchip implanted in your hand.
That’s what Brian McEvoyhas done multiple times. He’s got five implants, mostly for functional reasons but one just for fun.
“There’s a glow-in-the-dark implant on the back of my right hand,” said McEvoy, a 36-year-old electrical engineer from St. Paul, Minnesota.
For years, owners have implanted microchips in their pets to recover them if they go astray. Farmers use them in cattle. Now, humans are experimenting with subdermal microchips, which are the size of a large grain of rice, to make modern life easier.
Ever so slowly, a trend that began in the hacker community is moving toward the mainstream. A Wisconsin firm that specializes in designing company break rooms, Three Square Market, announced last monththat it was offering implanted chips to all its employees.
The chips will allow employees to “make purchases in the company’s break room market, open doors, log in to computers, use copy machines, among other things,” it said in a statement. “ It can emulate every card in your wallet, so you can chuck your wallet away.
Many hackers gathered here for a recent global hacker conference, DefCon 2017, view implants as a way to interact seamlessly with a technological world and to enhance human senses. They await the day when microchips give humans the ability for echolocation, and to see infrared and ultraviolet light, enhance the capacity to smell, sense direction, even feel vibrations that reveal movement in the stock market.
It is a sharp departure from the use of implants, like pacemakers and insulin pumps, to restore function lost through impairment or ill health.
Tim Cannon, a software engineer who co-founded a company that sells implantable chips, Grindhouse Wetware, said some critics believe tinkering with the body’s capabilities is improper, even unethical.
“It tends to be viewed as something like hubris,” Cannon said.
But he doesn’t care. The coming years will be “about breaking through that barrier and saying it’s okay to want to be more than what biology offered you,” he said
Dozens of hackers lined up on a recent night at the DefCon conference to have microchips installed in the fleshy web between thumb and index finger of their hands.
The biohackers call themselves “grinders,” a term taken from a comic book by Warren Ellis. The technology they implant is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Most opted for a small radio frequency identification (RFID) or a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip suitable for subdermal use.
“This is my train ticket,” said an Australian hacker who goes by the name Meow-Ludo Meow-Meow, pointing to a spot on his hand where a chip containing a rechargeable rail token was implanted. He said he just swipes his hand, rather than a ticket, over a rail sensor.
Implantable chips will soon carry out the functions of credit cards and keys, he said.
“It can emulate every card in your wallet, so you can chuck your wallet away,” he said.
Some consumers fear that an implanted microchip will allow greater government surveillance, and only advances that “are spectacular can overcome that queasiness,” he said.
“If Johnny Depp puts one of these in his hand, they’ll be everywhere,” he added.
The public is certainly not there yet. A 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center found that seven in 10 Americans were “somewhat” or “very” worried about implanting a computer chip in the brain to improve concentration and the processing of information. The more religious the respondent, the less likely they were to favor such an implant, it found.
Cannon said the melding of technology and physiology can improve human experience.
“We need to stop pretending that we are perfect and the pinnacle of evolution,” he said.
Implanting a chip can cause discomfort.
“There will be some blood, some pain,” said Doug Copeland, who works with one of the handful of companies that offer implants, Dangerous Things, based in Seattle, as he implanted a chip in a client’s hand.
“A lot of people frown on this kind of thing but it’s really not anything much different than getting a body piercing or a tattoo,” said a California man, giving his name only as Keith.
Others asked if the implanted chips could allow government surveillance (they contain no GPS, so no), or cause problems if a patient undergoes an MRI test in a hospital (maybe not advisable).
Copeland said he’d been through airport checkpoints numerous times and never been flagged: “Unless you show it to them, they don’t know it’s there. And if you show it to them, they say, ‘What the hell?’”
Some high-profile proponents of implants include Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla cars and SpaceX, who said last year that humans must reach greater symbiosis with computers in order to stay relevant in a world of artificial intelligence.
But the trend toward implants carries risks, warned Walter Glannon, a Yale-trained bioethicist who teaches at the University of Calgary, Canada. Studies have not yet determined “whether implants are safe,” he said. Even if safe, a social minefield may lay ahead.
“They would raise ethical questions about fairness and unequal access to devices that could give some people a competitive advantage over others. Unlike the drugs used for cognitive enhancement, implants would not be so accessible over the internet and would not be cheap. Many people would not be able to afford them,” Glannon said.
“This could be an unfair advantage.”
The threat that microchips could be hacked, possibly monkeying with people’s cognition or perception, is also a latent threat, he added.
For now, though, experimenters like McEvoy see no harm in what they do. The shielded tiny tube with a phosphorescent layer that he had implanted on the back of his hand is just for fun. It works like the dial of a watch that glows in the dark.
“There is no battery or switch so it is continuously bright. It's possible to see in a dark room and I have shown it to people while at bonfire parties,” McEvoy said.
Manufacturers say implantable chips with greater memory and more “out of the box” functionality – such as starting a car, or measuring body functions such as blood sugar and oxygen levels – may be in the offing soon.
Eventually, said Meow-Meow, an implant could save lives.
“It can call an ambulance for you before you have a heart attack,” he said.
Hmm, prolly inevitable....however..saying they're .'encrypted & secure'?...until they aren't ...could give 'body hackers' new meaning, as they chop off your hand to get your money chip... as for giving some people an 'unfair advantage'...who the H ever thought life is fair.. Trying to make life 'fair' for everyone....is a fool's errand.....call me a cynic. Never was, & likely, never will be.
RFID, NFC and QR code Technologies | Stock Discussion ForumsShare
The day that I started this board 14 years ago I posted five articles about privacy concerns, and those addressed the use of external chips. I have also posted a number of articles over the years about fundamentalists who felt that a chip implant was akin to the "Mark of the Devil." We have come a long way.
It won't be long before we are implanting chips on people with references to their medical history. Having cared for parents who were unable to effectively articulate their medical histories (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's), I would have been receptive to the idea of tagging.
RFID, NFC and QR code Technologies | Stock Discussion ForumsShare
System could save retailers billions lost through faulty inventory records
ScienceDaily Date:August 25, 2017
Source:Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:Researchers have developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags' locations. The system could be used in large warehouses to prevent inventory mismatches and locate individual items.
Radio frequency ID tags were supposed to revolutionize supply chain management. The dirt-cheap, battery-free tags, which receive power wirelessly from scanners and then broadcast identifying numbers, enable warehouse managers to log inventory much more efficiently than they could by reading box numbers and recording them manually.
But the scale of modern retail operations makes even radio frequency ID (RFID) scanning inefficient. Walmart, for instance, reported that in 2013 it lost $3 billion in revenue because of mismatches between its inventory records and its stock. Even with RFID technology, it can take a single large retail store three months to perform a complete inventory review, which means that mismatches often go undiscovered until exposed by a customer request.
MIT researchers have now developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags' locations with an average error of about 19 centimeters. The researchers envision that the system could be used in large warehouses for both continuous monitoring, to prevent inventory mismatches, and location of individual items, so that employees can rapidly and reliably meet customer requests.
The central challenge in designing the system was that, with the current state of autonomous navigation, the only drones safe enough to fly within close range of humans are small, lightweight drones with plastic rotors, which wouldn't cause injuries in the event of a collision. But those drones are too small to carry RFID readers with a range of more than a few centimeters.
The researchers met this challenge by using the drones to relay signals emitted by a standard RFID reader. This not only solves the safety problem but also means that drones could be deployed in conjunction with existing RFID inventory systems, without the need for new tags, readers, or reader software.
"Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S. Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies among its warehouses," says Fadel Adib, the Sony Corporation Career Development Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, whose group at the MIT Media Lab developed the new system. "In 2016, the U.S. National Retail Federation reported that shrinkage -- loss of items in retail stores -- averaged around $45.2 billion annually. By enabling drones to find and localize items and equipment, this research will provide a fundamental technological advancement for solving these problems."
The MIT researchers describe their system, dubbed RFly, in a paper they presented this week at the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications. Adib is the senior author on the paper, and he's joined by Yunfei Ma, a postdoc in the Media Lab, and Nicholas Selby, an MIT graduate student in mechanical engineering.
Relaying RFID signals and using them to determine tags' locations poses some thorny signal-processing problems. One is that, because the RFID tag is powered wirelessly by the reader, the reader and the tag transmit simultaneously at the same frequency. A relay system adds another pair of simultaneous transmissions: two between the relay and the tag and two between the relay and the reader. That's four simultaneous transmissions at the same frequency, all interfering with each other.
This problem is compounded by the requirement that the system determine the location of the RFID tag. The location-detection -- or "localization" -- system uses a variation on a device called an antenna array. If several antennas are clustered together, a signal broadcast toward them at an angle will reach each antenna at a slightly different time. That means that the signals detected by the antennas will be slightly out of phase: The troughs and crests of their electromagnetic waves won't coincide perfectly. From those phase differences, software can deduce the angle of transmission and thus the location of the transmitter.
The drone is too small to carry an array of antennas, but it is continuously moving, so readings it takes at different times are also taken at different locations, simulating the multiple antenna elements of an array.
Ordinarily, to combat interference, the drone would digitally decode the transmission it receives from the tag and re-encode it for transmission to the reader. But in this case, the delays imposed by the decoding-encoding process would change the signals' relative phases, making it impossible to accurately gauge location.
All radio systems encode information by modulating a base transmission frequency, usually by shifting it slightly up and down. But because an RFID tag has no independent power source, its modulations are detectably smaller than those of the reader. So the MIT researchers devised an analog filter that would subtract the base transmission frequency from the signals that reach the reader and then separate the low-frequency and high-frequency components. The low-frequency component -- the signal from the tag -- is then added back onto the base frequency.
Frame of reference
At this point, however, another problem still remains. Because the drone is moving, the phase shift of the signals that reach the reader result from not only the drone's position relative to the RFID tag but also its position relative to the reader. On the basis of the received signal alone, the reader has no way to tell how much each of those two factors contributed to the total phase shift.
So the MIT researchers also equip each of their drones with its own RFID tag. A drone alternates between relaying the reader's signal to a tagged item and simply letting its own tag reflect the signal back, so that the reader can estimate the drone's contribution to the total phase shift and remove it.
In experiments in the Media Lab that involved tagged objects, many of which were intentionally hidden to approximate the condition of merchandise heaped in piles on warehouse shelves, the system was able to localize the tags with 19-centimeter accuracy while extending the range of the reader tenfold in all directions, or one hundredfold cumulatively. The researchers are currently conducting a second set of experiments in the warehouse of a major Massachusetts retailer.
Remember QR codes? Those blocky, black-and-white graphics that take you to a URL when scanned with your phone were everywhere from about 2011 to 2013. Brands splashed them across posters, put them in shop windows and integrated them into creative advertising.
But despite the ostensible usefulness of QR codes in linking the offline and online worlds, QR codes have since mostly died out, due to a combination of poor implementation, subpar technology, and a lack of native support for QR codes in smartphones.
In the meantime, QR codes have taken off in China in a way they never achieved in the west, where they’re used for everything from payments to exchanging personal details, proving that it’s possible to make a success of QR codes when they’re approached with a truly mobile-first mindset.
Since the demise of QR codes, we’ve managed to get by with things like shortened URLs, but nothing has quite lived up to the early promise of QR codes. However, a few resilient brands have proven that QR codes still have a role to play in mobile marketing – and with Google and Apple both having recently introduced native support for QR codes, signs are indicating that the time might be ripe for a QR code comeback.
Why did QR codes die out?
The principle behind QR codes is pretty solid: they’re effectively a gateway to the online world that you can open with your phone. A quick scan of the pattern and you’ll be taken straight to a webpage, with no fiddling around on a tiny phone keyboard trying to type in a URL.
Except that in practice, QR codes didn’t quite work like that. First of all, the early QR codes were extremely finicky about being scanned; you had to hold your phone perfectly still for quite some time in order for them to register, or the scan would fail. If you were moving, or the QR code was fuzzy or only visible for a short period of time, it just wouldn’t work.
Which made it a shame that a lot of brands and advertisers decided to place their QR codes in places that it was difficult to scan: alongside a moving walkway, for example, or on a distant billboard or train platform, or even underground, where there was no point trying to open a webpage even if the scan worked.
Image via WTFQRcodes ______________________________________
And that was assuming you got to the point of being able to scan a code: at the time of the QR code hype, no smartphones had native support for scanning QR codes, meaning that you needed to download a separate app just to be able to scan them – massively increasing the friction around something that was supposed to make the act of launching a mobile webpage quick and easy.
The lack of technological finesse behind QR codes, combined with the lack of native support, poor planning, and the fact that many QR codes also didn’t lead to a webpage that was properly optimized for mobile meant that the demise of QR codes was swift and inevitable.
Many industry commentators will insist that QR codes are dead for good, and that there could never be a convincing enough case to justify using QR codes over something like a short URL or Near-Field Communication. But we only have to look at China to see what can truly be achieved with QR codes given the right support.
Case study: QR codes in China
QR codes in China have effectively managed to succeed in every way that they fell down in the west. QR codes in China are convenient, quick and painless to use, lead to experiences and services that are designed specifically for mobile, and most importantly, they have native support via one of China’s most ubiquitous apps: WeChat.
WeChat is one of China’s most popular messaging apps, with more than 900 million monthly active users mostly concentrated inside the country. So when an app that’s installed on virtually every smartphone in China has in-built support for QR codes, you’ve effectively got native support for QR.
Add to that the fact that WeChat is much more than just a messaging app – it has in-built functionality for making payments, transferring money, hailing a cab, hiring a bike, and donating to charity to name just a few – and you start to see how WeChat became a game-changer for the uptake of QR in China. Scan a QR code with WeChat, and you can do almost anything.
Ecommerce, or more specifically payments, is one of the most natural uses for QR codes, and thanks to the integration of WeChat Pay (sometimes called WeChat Wallet), the payment functionality of WeChat, QR codes can be used in China to pay for almost anything. According to the Wall Street Journal, many Chinese users simply leave their wallets at home and use their mobile phones to make payments.
“More than 95% of China’s 731 million online population access the internet via their smartphones,” writes the Journal, “and half made offline, in-store mobile payments in 2016, according to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Center.”
Alipay Wallet, the mobile app from China’s most widely-used mobile payments provider, also supports QR codes, giving Chinese consumers another ubiquitous option for payments if for some reason they don’t want to use WeChat.
In a 2015 article for ClickZ on why QR codes have taken off in China, Sophie Loras detailed how WeChat’s messaging functionality has become a forum for brands to market to consumers.
“Brands [in China] are using QR codes to drive online to offline (O2O) sales, especially in retail. It’s not uncommon in China to see a poster at the entrance to a shop or near the cash register asking consumers to “add” them on WeChat.
“WeChat’s user appeal lies in its intimate and closed environment. For example, unless the user has agreed to follow a brand’s official subscriber account, the brand cannot send personalized and targeted content to them.
“Brands are also limited to sending just four direct messages a month to each follower. But it outlines why brands are so eager to increase their followers on WeChat through a QR code – better, and more direct, consumer engagement.”
Chinese brands have also used QR codes for everything from creating interactive marketing campaigns to helping to authenticate genuine products. In short, once you have the underlying support for QR codes, all sorts of things are possible.
But the QR code revolution in China came about through a specific combination of factors, most of which aren’t present in the west. So how could QR codes stage a comeback in other parts of the world?
Why the time could be right for a QR code comeback
One of the biggest things that separates China – and much of East Asia – from countries like the USA, the UK and Australia is a truly mobile-first mentality. Whereas western countries moved gradually from PCs to laptops and finally to smartphones and tablets, China went straight to mobile, and thus they approach the internet with a mobile-first – if not mobile-only – mindset. While we in the west have evolved much more slowly towards mobile, things have reached the point where brands need to crack a mobile-first approach to marketing or risk falling by the wayside.
QR codes could be the key to achieving this, and the environment for widespread QR code adoption is much more friendly now in 2017 than it was back in 2011. Let’s review the factors that led to the failure of QR codes four or five years ago, and examine how things are or could be different now.
Poor implementation and planning
A lot of the early problems with QR code marketing campaigns came from poorly-thought-out code placement, but this is one of the easiest mistakes to learn from.
If and when QR codes start to become more popular, brands need to learn from what didn’t work last time, and make sure the locations of their codes are conducive to quick and easy scanning. Of course, this would be aided considerably by:
Poor technical implementation
The early QR codes were extremely slow and finicky to scan, and required users to line up their smartphones exactly and hold them completely still in order for the scan to work. But technology has come a long way since then, and we could undoubtedly improve on our ability to scan QR codes in order to reduce a lot of the friction around using them.
In China, writes The Register, “in most cases a QR code will scan before you can blink, even when it’s poorly aligned, or moving, or on a fuzzy TV screen. And of course they’ve done the maths to make this work well – when you rely on QR codes this much, it makes sense to make them as painless as possible.”
It would take a bit of initial investment and commitment to developing the tech to make QR codes really great, but the case of China shows how worthwhile it can be.
Lack of mobile optimization
The mobile web has also come a long way since 2011, and brands are now much more mobile-focused in their mindset, and thus better placed to create truly mobile-optimized campaigns and experiences.
Lack of native support
This is the big one that will ultimately make or break a QR code revival. All of the other factors will come as long as there is an incentive to make QR codes work, but for this, you need some kind of native support for QR codes.
A couple of brands are already making a success of QR codes by integrating them with their existing mobile app. McDonald’s, for example, allows British consumers to order using its mobile app in select restaurants. After choosing their meal, customers ‘check in’ to the restaurant of their choice by scanning a QR code, which then confirms their order to the restaurant, who will start to prepare it.
US retail giant Walmart has also been a keen adopter of QR codes. It first introduced QR codes to its paper receipts which customers could scan using the mobile app, uploading them as a digital receipt from which they could then create a shopping list.
In 2016, it then launched Walmart Pay, a new feature of its app which allowed customers to use their smartphones to pay for in-store purchases by scanning a QR code at checkout. In a blog post entitled ‘ Open, Scan, Done: The Case for Walmart Pay’, Walmart wrote,
“We live in a digital world. We receive alerts about news breaking around the world in real time, rather than waiting for the Sunday morning newspaper. We can control temperature in our homes, lock doors and set alarms from our smartphones. So it’s time for the retail industry to step up – to allow customers to shop in new ways.”
Walmart certainly has the kind of clout that could get millions of shoppers used to using QR codes to pay for their purchases, but its app is still standalone, and doesn’t integrate with other apps or brands in a way that could allow QR codes to be used for payments outside of Walmart. So how are QR codes going to break out of these single-brand silos to become more widespread?
WhatsApp could be one way. With 1.2 billion monthly users across the globe, WhatsApp has a reach that is comparable to that of WeChat (if not as geographically concentrated), and it is working on implementing some of the features that make WeChat such an omnipresent part of daily life in China.
For example, it is reportedly due to roll out a payment functionality – and it already has QR code scanning built-in thanks to WhatsApp Web. If WhatsApp (or more accurately Facebook, its parent company) chooses to go down that route, it could become the west’s answer to WeChat, and set itself apart from messaging competitors like Signal and Telegram by becoming the one to drive mainstream usage of QR codes.
Two other big developments might tip the scale towards a true comeback of QR codes. Google Chrome has how introduced native support for QR codes into its iOS app, meaning that iPhone users who browse with Google Chrome now have the ability to scan QR codes built in and ready to go.
Apple has also decided to introduce a QR code reader to its camera app in iOS 11, giving iPhone and iPad users on iOS 11 the ability to scan QR codes using their phone’s camera.
There’s been no word from either of the tech giants over why they decided to introduce this functionality now, but maybe they know something we don’t. Either way, the potential is there for marketers to unlock, and if this native functionality extends to Android, there will be an even bigger cohort of ‘QR code-ready’ mobile users for brands to target using QR codes.
While a QR code comeback isn’t going to happen overnight, we no longer have most of the problems that caused QR codes to die out several years ago. Technology and infrastructure-wise, we’re in a much better position to make QR codes work properly as a link between the online and offline worlds, something that brands have been trying to crack for years and years.
You might ask why we can’t just use Near-Field Communication for mobile payments, or AR apps to create interactive mobile marketing experiences in the offline world – why bother with the outdated technology of QR codes when we have other options?
My question is, why not have all three? NFC and AR can exist alongside QR codes, and anything that gets consumers used to interfacing with the offline world using their smartphones benefits the uptake of all of these.
If we’re truly becoming a mobile society, why should we limit ourselves to just one or two methods of linking the online and offline worlds via our smartphones? If anything, it makes sense to have as much choice as possible.
Rebecca Sentance is the Deputy Editor of ClickZ and Search Engine Watch.
SI systems consist typically of a population of simple agents or boids interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The inspiration often comes from nature, especially biological systems. The agents follow very simple rules, and although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behavior, unknown to the individual agents. Examples in natural systems of SI include ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and microbial intelligence.
The application of swarm principles to robots is called swarm robotics, while 'swarm intelligence' refers to the more general set of algorithms. 'Swarm prediction' has been used in the context of forecasting problems.
A little more than a year ago, Amazon announced a new grocery store concept that promised customers a human-less shopping experience. Customers would simply walk in, grab the items they need, and leave without waiting in a line or going through a checkout—letting sensors, computer vision, and machine learning quietly do all the work to capture, calculate, and charge you for your purchases.
But Amazon’s rival JD.com, the second biggest online retailer in China after Alibaba, has already beaten it to the punch. JD announced that, in partnership with Hong Kong real estate developer China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd, it plans to open hundreds of unmanned convenience stores with technology reportedly more advanced than Amazon’s. Its trial shops have already been tested by the 10,000 employees at its Beijing headquarters.
JD’s shops will use RFIDs and cameras with facial recognition and image recognition technology on the store ceilings to track each customer’s movement and product selection. As the store learns from a customer’s preferences over time, it will also begin to show personalized advertisements. The same tracking technology will also help store owners restock inventory more efficiently.
In addition to its fully integrated store concept, JD tested a second shop model that uses low-cost piecemeal technology solutions, such as smart shelving tools, that will allow existing stores to upgrade and increase the efficiency of their operations.
The company said that all of its technology will eventually be licensed to third-party retailers.
“These two smart-store solutions will completely change what it means to go to take a trip to the store,” said JD vice president Song Ma. “From helping small stores’ owners streamline their supply chains and increase stocking efficiency, to speeding up check out, this is a massive jump beyond anything in use today.”
Whereas Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods has given the American tech giant a brick-and-mortar presence to potentially roll out its Amazon Go vision, JD will leverage COLI’s real estate resources across China to rapidly expand. The China Daily reports JD and COLI’s partnership will extend into the development of other smart city solutions, including a last-mile delivery service using driverless vehicles that follow pre-programmed routes and have secure lockers onboard.