Eat a bowl of chips - for Big Brother

A research group have developed an edible RFID chip. It's possible that this could lead to the perfect way to track ethically produced food or count calories, or find out what every single person in a diner is eating so you can shame them for it.

A Bluetooth connection, a mobile phone or PC, and the Nutrismart system, and you can track every piece of food you eat. Tiny radio-frequency identification chips have been put in almost everything. Dogs and children have them implanted in their skin. Even the plants in my local arboretum have chips embedded in them. Those, of course, are relatively high-tech and meant to be saved. The latest chip to hit the market is meant to be thrown away. Or, more specifically, excreted. An edible radio-frequency chip has been developed. It is meant to be put in food and commune with various signaling devices in increasingly disturbing ways.

Eat a bowl of chips - for Big Brother

The chip could carry all kinds of information. Readers could be embedded in plates, and have calorie counters which could let people know exactly how much every meal was going to cost them, exercise-wise. Diabetics could monitor their sugar intake the same way. For those who don't care how much they've had to eat, but care a great deal about where it comes from, different companies can implant chips in their products to let customers know for sure they came from local sources or were organically farmed. People could calculate their potential food miles by using a reader in a supermarket. Everything will be measurable - if we want it to be.

Some say that the price of these chips will make them impractical. That's doubtful. Techies, dieters, and those who are concerned with buying ethically raised food don't generally scrimp on food, and would shell out a few dollars to be sure of their own calculations. The bigger barrier is privacy. Those who go off their diets might be okay knowing about it, but wouldn't want everyone in the office to know as well. Lovers of organic food might not appreciate anyone on the bus being able to monitor their spending habits. And people are already objecting to programs in which grocery stores keep tabs on spending habits through 'saver cards.'

More pressingly, there are health concerns. People might be healthy with a government-issued chip shoved up their nose during what they were told was routine dental surgery (Did I let that slip?), or the occasional tag used for legitimate medical purposes, but they are most definitely not designed to go around with a gut full of RFID tags. Constant ingestion of ID tags might be hazardous, cause stomach upset, or just be mentally unsettling. It seems a lot to risk for a quick calorie count.

Plus, they'd be hard to hide in a pudding.

Via New Scientist.

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