Forget the Flu; Mark Gasson Fights Infection From Computer Virus

A stock photo of an X-Ray of a human hand with an RFID Microchip implanted between the thumb and forefinger. Digitally edited/retouched image. Photographed using the Canon EOS 5DSR at 50mp.

As the age of technology wears on, more and more people have been considering implanting themselves and their pets with chips that store information and communicate various details to other receptive technology. But skeptics wonder if it’s naive of people to consider such trends as simple and safe. What happens, for instance, when your information is hacked, when there’s a glitch in the technology, or when there chip catches a computer virus?

In 2009, Dr. Mark Gasson tested these reservations were tested at the University of Reading, by having an RFID chip implanted into his hand. Then, quite intentionally, he infected himself with a computer virus.

RFID Insertion

RFID stands for radio frequency identification and work like barcodes within a type of tracking system, transmitting information to a reader through radio waves. Although their original use was for merchandise, people have begun inserting them into their pets and even themselves.

If this sounds a little like the premise of a dystopian sci-fi where the protagonist is running from an authoritarian force that can track him anywhere, you’re not far off. The chips have already been used to locate missing people — for better or worse. On the plus side, Alzheimer’s patients who’ve wandered far from home can be found and returned, and victims of kidnapping incidents are more likely to be rescued.

However, the problem with this marriage between living forms and technology — what one might refer to as transhumanism — surfaces when, say, stalkers or criminals have the technology to find you, wherever you are. Their victims become easy to locate and target.

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A.I. and the Future of Humanity

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sociology professor Noelle Chesley is among the critics of the RFID chip. She has expressed concern that chips may become mandatory for everyone at some point in the future. Along with vaccinations and other medical procedures, perhaps the day will soon come when infants routinely receive an rfid chip before leaving the hospital. 

The problem with technology is complex these days. It seems that for every innovation, there is a dark side that exploits and misuses it. Cyber hackers have advanced as fast as technology, and most of the time, it’s nothing personal to them — they don’t necessarily want to harm you physically; they just want control over your information. And it’s not only hackers with this mentality; we are already seeing it with corporate giants and social media sites that dredge untold volumes of information from online databases, using it to market us to the extremes.

Such Orweillian ideas are already at our doorstep. While they do not sit well with some people, others, including Dr. Mark Gasson, willingly test the limits of RFID technology.

Dr. Mark Gasson’s RFID Experiment

One of the concerns with any computerized pieces of technology is the dreaded virus. We have already experienced massive viral attacks through the internet and seen how they easily disrupt our workflow, destroy our data, and cost us dearly in time, effort, and money.

According to an article by CSOonline.com, “a virus is deployed by attackers to damage or take control of a computer. Its name comes from the method by which it infects its targets. A biological virus like HIV or the flu cannot reproduce on its own; it needs to hijack a cell to do that work for it, wreaking havoc on the infected organism in the process. Similarly, a computer virus isn’t itself a standalone program. It’s a code snippet that inserts itself into some other application. When that application runs, it executes the virus code, with results that range from the irritating to the disastrous.” 

Webroot, a company that harnesses the cloud and machine learning to predict and protect against cyberattacks, explained, “Designed to replicate relentlessly, computer viruses infect your programs and files, alter the way your computer operates or stop it from working altogether. While tens of thousands of computer viruses still roam the internet, they have diversified their methods and are now joined by a number of malware variants like worms, Trojans, and ransomware.”

Wondering what would happen if one of these RFID chips became infected by a virus, Dr. Mark Gasson, a cybernetics expert, decided to experiment on himself. The tag he used was similar to that which a person might implant into a pet; it was meant to help him walk through security doors and unlock his mobile phone.

When Gasson infected his chip, he first noted that when the computers in his lab read the code containing the virus, the virus spread to their databases and began to replicate. Afterward, when any of his colleagues attempted to enter the lab through their chips, the virus would be passed onto them as well. 

The experiment proved a powerful point — that one person with an infected chip could take down an entire system. And when that chip becomes a part of someone by means of insertion into the body, and when society becomes dependent on such technology, great challenges lie ahead for all of us.

Major corporations that invest millions of dollars into cyber security still have their systems hacked regularly. Imagine what this would mean for a nation of chipped people if they were hacked by political adversaries — or worse, by a hostile enemy or corporate giant?

What does the human computer virus mean for the future?

Even though cyber security risks have not been settled, technological visionaries are dreaming up uses for chip technology being manifested by teams of experts — ideas that would literally affect people’s brain function — effectively making them cyborgs.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is an example of one of the first brain-altering technologies of its kind, meant to be implanted into a human. Inventors and users of the technology hope to implant human brains with “threads” that can be used to alleviate such problems as brain disorders or to help a paralyzed person regain mobility. But imagine the repercussions if those chips were hacked. 

We are in an era where the consequences of introducing even the best technologies pose a serious risk to the individual, societies, nations, and even the entire world. Critics of technology such as RFID chip argue that we have to carefully consider the cost of convenience, especially when it is being offered by third parties who have tapped into our private lives and, literally, our bodies.

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The Singularity
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Earth's Magnetic Field is Shifting and Geologists Don't Know Why

Something strange is happening with the Earth’s magnetic field and scientists are unsure why, according to a recent paper published in the journal Nature. A consortium of geologists in charge of the World Magnetic Model is having trouble keeping track of the planet’s magnetic north pole as it rapidly shifts from Canada to Northern Siberia.

Scientists updated Earth’s magnetic model in 2015, which is used for some pretty important things, including shipping navigation and GPS on smartphones. Their model was intended to last for at least five years, but due to the recent unexpected swing, it became outdated at some point in early 2018 and is now in need of adjustment.

“The error is increasing all the time,” said Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Scientists say this shift is being driven by liquid iron sloshing around in the planet’s core, a natural process, but one that can vary as the flow changes. Over the past 20 million years, Earth’s magnetic field has consistently experienced a complete pole reversal – usually every 200-300,000 years.

At the moment, we’re long overdue for one of these events, with the last reversal having occurred 781,000 years ago. No one is quite sure what the consequences will be on modern infrastructure when and if that reversal happens. Many take ease in the fact that pole reversals have occurred hundreds of times in the planet’s history without catastrophe, but again, the effect on modern technology remains unknown.

Some scientists have pointed to this shift as a potential culprit in a slew of recent dolphin and whale beachings as well as other unexpected animal die-offs. It’s believed the planet’s natural magnetic field is necessary to some of these animals’ navigation when traveling and communicating over great distances underwater. One NASA scientist is currently looking into this potential connection.

In 2016, a larger-than-usual magnetic pulse shot up from South America, which scientists believe played a role in furthering the recent shift. However, they’re still unsure whether it will continue on this course, or even what will happen at all.

Could we be on the precipice of a massive geomagnetic reversal, or is this just due to slightly-more-anomalous-than-usual activity in the Earth’s core? And what’s even more pressing – what kind of effects is this having on us?

 

For more on our brain’s relationship with Earth’s magnetic field, check out this Gaia Original short:

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