Jan Hubík: Why I became one of Czech Republic’s first cyborgs

Jan Hubík, photo: Ian Willoughby

Last month Jan Hubík became one of the first people in the Czech Republic to have a microchip inserted in his body, specifically his left hand. Indeed the 20-something student was the organiser of a group implantation at Paralelní polis, a futuristic Prague institution where all transactions are in the Bitcoin virtual currency. When we spoke at the café at Paralelní polis, I asked Hubík what kind of chip he had in his body.

Jan Hubík,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“It’s the same chip which you can find in plenty of contactless cards which you have in your wallet. It’s an NFC [Near Field Communication] chip and it’s compatible with most of the phones on the market.

“There’s nothing special about it – it’s just the form that it’s in. It’s in a small glass capsule which is meant to be implanted in a human body.”

Why glass?

“Glass is a good material because it doesn’t interact with the body and the body will accept it easily.

“It has its cons. For example, it could break, potentially. But that has never happened to anyone, yet.”

Tell us more about what the chip looks like.

“It looks like a little bit larger grain of rice. But it’s made of glass.”

How did you insert it into yourself?

“It’s supplied by a company from the United States called Dangerous Things and they supply it already preloaded in an injector.

“So you just have to sterilise the skin and then you can just inject it. Then it’s done. It’s really easy.”

You have it on your left hand, between your thumb and your index finger. Why there in particular?

“Because the reading distance of the implant is really small.

“You need to have it in some part of your body which you can move towards the reading device, so a hand is a natural choice.

“It’s in the left hand because that’s the non-dominant hand and that lowers the risk of some physical damage to the implant.

“And it’s between the index finger and thumb because there is lots of tissue there which can protect the chip and there are no really important nerves, blood vessels and so on.

“So it’s basically the only place that makes sense to implant the chip.”

Can you feel it at all times in your hand?

Photo: Ian Willoughby
“No, I don’t really know about it in my day-to-day activities. But you can feel it – if you touch my hand you can feel that it’s there.”

I can see it, under your skin.

“Yes, if I push on it from below [presses from below], I can show it to you like this.”

Is the chip that you have the only kind of chip that people have implanted into them?

“No. There are multiple technologies, basically in the same form, but the chip differs a little bit.

“There are different frequencies and different standards. But all the chips are similar.”

The question all listeners will be asking right now is, Why did you do it?

“Well, I knew about the implants for about five years, but I never saw any real use case for it.

“But as I started going to Paralelní polis, where we accept only Bitcoin, I saw a nice use case for it here.

“We have NFC cards for Bitcoin payment and these make it really to pay with Bitcoin.

“And I thought that if I had an NFC implant in my hand it’s basically the same – I could pay just with my hand, and that’s kind of cool.

“There are multiple more use cases. For example, you can unlock doors or computers. We will see.

“These reasons made me seriously consider it. I decided to try it.”

At present are you using it for anything else except paying by Bitcoin?

“I’m paying by Bitcoin with it and I’m working on electronic lock system here at Paralelní polis, so that I will be able to use it to open doors.

“I’m also working on a device which will unlock my computer using the implant.

“And in the future I want to try to replace some contactless ID cards with the implant. But that’s all in the long term.”

Are there many people in this country who have a chip inserted in their body?

“After the mass implantation event which I held [at the end of January] there are definitely 10 people.

“I know about at least another one, but I imagine there are not many more. So maybe 11, 12 people.”

Around the world, how long have people been using this technology?

“The founder of Dangerous Things implanted the first chip in his body; I think it was more than 10 years ago.

“Since then he started to supply the implants all over the world. And there are already thousands of people with a chip implant.”

Chips are commonly used to tag pets like dogs. Is there a way that you can be monitored because you have this chip in your body?

“The chips that are used in dogs are operating at a different frequency. But still you cannot track the dog based on the implant.

“If you lose your dog, you are not able to find it just because you have the implant. Somebody has to take the dog in and scan its implant – then they can contact you.

Photo: Press Service BitCoin
“It’s the same here. You can really read it only from a few centimeters, at most.

“If you try to scan it with a phone you really have to go at a distance of two millimetres. So it’s not really usable for tracking someone, because you need to be near the person to scan the chip.”

I presume someday this technology will be obsolete. Are you already expecting that eventually you’ll have to have this removed from your hand?

“I won’t have to remove it. But I will probably do it. Because the technology will be obsolete, as you said.

“Even though the chip is virtually unlimited in terms of durability, it still won’t make sense to have it in my hand in the future, so I will have it removed.

“But the procedure of removal is really easy. You just make a small incision in the skin and you just push it out. The wound isn’t any bigger than what I had from the implementation itself.”

I was reading that last year in Sweden some company introduced a system where they fitted their staff with chips and they use basically them as ID. Do you think this is way of the future?

“I wouldn’t say it’s the way of the future. Because the technologies improve all the time, so we will have better means to identify people without any implant – for example, face recognition, retinal scans, fingerprint scans and so on.

“This is more of a social and technology experiment.

“I guess it makes sense in environments where you have to pull out your ID card 100 times per day.

“Then the benefit is really huge for employees. But still it should be voluntary.”

What surprises me about the fact that you have this chip in your body is that you are from the Institute of Cryptoanarchy but you’ve had this chip implanted in yourself. Even though you can’t be monitored using it, surely when most people think about something like this they imagine a kind of Big Brother society – which would seem to be the opposite of what you’re interested in.

“Yes. That’s true, what you are saying. We obviously got some negative feedback from some people around Paralelní polis for what we are doing.

“But as I said, it’s an experiment. We’re doing it voluntarily. We know the risks. And we just want to explore the technology.

“It’s related to cryptoanarchy ideas in the way that we use it for Bitcoin payments.

“We just want to explore whether the benefits are really there and see where it brings us.

“For example, you could store your encryption keys in there.

“It’s just data storage and you could imagine all kinds of use cases for that.

“For example, if you really want to have something on you all the time then I imagine it can become a natural choice to do something like this. We want to see where this will bring us.”