How to Think About Human Chip Implants
Most of us have experienced misplacing our car keys, but some people are willing to go to extreme measures to ensure they will never lose them again. Recently, news outlets picked up the story of Brandon Dalaly, a Tesla enthusiast who solved the problem of missing keys by having a programmable chip implanted in his hand.1
For a mere $400, Dalaly was able to have a small chip (called the VivoKey Apex) inserted under the skin of his right hand. The chip uses near-field communication technology to communicate with his car. It’s the same technology that makes Apple Pay and contactless credit card payments possible. Dalaly posted a video on Twitter showing the chip in action.2 By simply placing his hand on the outside of the car, he can lock and unlock the doors, and he can use the chip to interact with the car once inside.
In an interview with Teslarati, Dalaly explained that the VivoKey chip is actually his second implant; he already has another one in his left hand that contains his house key, as well as his medical information, portfolio, Covid vaccination card, and other personal information. To access the information, you simply scan the chip with any cell phone.3
Dalaly is part of a beta testing group of around 100 individuals for VivoKey, the company that created the chip. These chips are not limited to operating Teslas; while the technology is still in development and not yet available to the public, users will eventually be able to download a variety of apps to their chips, such as ones allowing them to make contactless credit card payments.
Why Get Chipped?
When faced with a relatively new technology such as a chip implant, our first reaction might be suspicion. Why would anyone even want a chip implanted in his or her body? Is keeping track of car keys or credit cards really so burdensome? To many, chip implants seem both drastic and unnecessary, making us wonder if there is something more nefarious going on. Dalaly has received numerous harassing comments from religious people accusing him of taking the “mark of the beast” mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation. In response, Dalaly said, “I just don’t want to have to worry about forgetting my car keys. I’m not over here worshiping Satan.”4
While such accusations are extreme (and quite off-putting to unbelievers), it is true that a larger movement encompassing chip implants and other body modifications should be of concern to us—namely, transhumanism, a growing movement that seeks to “expand human capacities.”5 This exceptionally broad objective can cover everything from chip implants to attempts to completely remake human persons into non-biological beings.
Admittedly, remaking humanity is probably not the goal of someone like Dalaly, who describes his chips as “kind of like a fun party trick. When you [scan] one of my chips with your phone, it glows green underneath your skin.”6 Others, however, really do want to push the boundaries of what it means to be human or to change our definition of “human” entirely, and chip implants are one way to get this process started.
There are numerous reasons why Christians should resist the transhumanist quest to reimagine and remake humanity. Transhumanism rejects our nature as finite beings by advocating for expanding human capacities. Ultimately, it pushes against our nature as embodied souls and tries to make humans, not God, the author of our future.
And yet, not everything that expands or changes human capacities comes from transhumanist impulses. So where do chip implants fall? Are they as innocuous as Dalaly seems to think, or are they a first step down a slippery slope of rejecting God and attempting to remake humanity?
Transhuman or Not? Three Criteria to Consider
To answer this question, let us consider chip implants along three lines of criteria—their effect on our human capacities, their effect on one’s bodily integrity, and whether or not they represent a rejection of our nature as creatures distinct from our Creator.
Do chip implants modify human capacities in some way? At least right now, chip implants do not actually give us any new abilities; they just provide a new way of doing something we already do. Without a chip implant, we still use technology to open our vehicle or make a credit card payment. That said, it is not hard to imagine implants being designed with more extreme capabilities in mind, such as improving one’s intelligence, metabolism, or reflexes. In these cases, a chip might promise to enhance our capabilities or even grant us entirely new ones. Thus, while current chips might not cross any lines, future ones will almost certainly try to.
Do chip implants violate our bodily integrity? Again, the answer is complicated. Medical procedures commonly involve insertion of non-biological materials into the body, from a metal pin to help secure a broken bone to a pacemaker that corrects an irregular heartbeat. Having something voluntarily implanted is not in itself a violation of bodily integrity. These are examples of helpful medical therapies, but we accept plenty of non-medical implants as well. If getting an ear or other piercing is not morally wrong, what makes a chip implant different? One could argue that chip implants are not removable, while piercings are. However, this is not really true in either case—certain piercings actually require a part to be embedded underneath the skin, just like a chip. And while it might require a special procedure, chips can be removed from the body. As long as we accept cosmetic piercings, then, chip implants do not seem to be a substantially different matter from the perspective of bodily integrity.
Do chip implants represent a prideful attempt to make us, not God, the creator of humanity? Answering this question requires us to take a critical look at our own motives and desires, and to consider a host of other ethical and theological questions. How will adopting this technology affect my walk with God? Will use of this technology contribute to my sanctification, or might it prove a hindrance? What is pushing me to adopt this technology—am I trying to meet a need or to give myself a power that I should be relying on God for? What kind of natural limits has God created us with, and at what point does striving against them become sinful rebellion against the Creator?
Ultimately, we will have to consider what it means to be an embodied human created in the image of God. These are not questions that have a “one size fits all” response. In fact, it could be that faithful Christians will answer some of them in different ways, and this should not surprise us. In Romans 14, Paul reminds us that Christians will have differing convictions on disputable matters and that it is not our job to judge someone in matters of conscience when Scripture does not provide clear instruction.
There are a number of reasons to be cautious about chip implants, wholly apart from Scripture or moral considerations. These are still experimental technologies, which raises questions about adequate testing and informed consent. There could be as-yet-unknown side effects to having a chip inside the body. The chips also raise questions of data security, as no technology is immune to tampering. What would happen if someone were able to hack into a chip and corrupt your information or even lock you out of your house or car? There are already credit card skimmers that can steal your data while your credit card is still in your pocket; how much more data could be stolen from people walking around with their financial, health, and other personal information in their bodies?
There are also questions of the effect chip implants could have on the wider society. Issues of privacy should be at the forefront. Who will have access to the data on a chip, and how will it be used? Chips could quite easily become a means of social control—it is not hard to imagine governments using them to track and monitor citizens, or even to keep them from going to certain places or entering certain establishments. There is also the risk that, if chips were widely adopted, they could become a near requirement for participation in public life. Healthcare, business transactions, public transport—all of these could potentially be tied to a chip, to the point that someone could not shop or travel without one. Perhaps the concern that chip implants represent the mark of the beast is not completely farfetched after all!
What Should the Christian Do?
With all these considerations in mind, should Christians accept a chip implant? In their current state, I think the moral questions around chip implants fall under disputable areas of Christian conscience. However, as Christians, we must determine not only if something is morally permissible, but also if it is wise. Getting a chip implant, especially one with such limited applications as the VivoKey, may not be sinful in and of itself. But given that this technology will almost certainly be developed in directions that will include attempts to expand human capacities or to violate bodily integrity (or both), and given the many societal risks attendant upon its adoption, getting one is almost certainly not wise.
Just because something is morally permissible does not mean it is a good idea. I believe that for those who accept chip implants, the temptation to push the boundaries of our createdness will only become stronger. Living faithfully as Christians requires us to interact in our world with biblical wisdom and discernment. Sometimes it also requires us to say no to things that could lead us and others down a destructive path.
1. Jordan Hart, “Tesla driver found the perfect place to keep his car key—implanted in his hand,” Insider (Aug. 20, 2022): businessinsider.com/tesla-owner-implants-chip-hand-unlock-vehicle-2022-8.
2. Brandon Dalaly, “Finally decided to take my phone key issues into my own hands... literally. Tesla key chip implant,” Twitter(Aug. 16, 2022): https://twitter.com/BrandonDalaly/status/1559652687578382336.
3. Johnna Crider, “Tesla owner implants a chip to unlock his car and more,” Teslarati (Aug. 18, 2022): teslarati.com/tesla-owner-implants-a-chip-to-unlock-his-car-and-more.
5. Transhumanism is a broad term, and there are numerous different varieties. For a popular version, see the Humanity+ website (formerly the World Transhumanist Association): humanityplus.org/about.
6. Crider, ibid. note 3
is the Event & Executive Services Manager at The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. He holds a BA in psychology from Nyack College and MAs in church history and theological studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #63, Winter 2022 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo63/humanity-20