I have recently participated in the annual conference of the Academy of Marketing, which this year took place in Southampton. The conference was kick-started by Charles Hofacker, Professor of Marketing at Florida State University.
The keynote speaker noted that, over time, computers have moved closer and closer to the user. For instance, he recalled that, as a student, the computer was this large object located in one of the buildings on the university campus. Later, there were computers in each building, somewhere down the hall. At some point, computers became personal, first moving to your desk, then your lap and, eventually, your hand in the form of smartphones and tablets.
The next stage is that of wearable computers, such as Google’s project glass – contact lenses that allow users to make calls, take pictures or get directions.
And, then, there is technology inside our bodies. We already insert chips into our pets, so it is not complex from a technical perspective. The main barrier is the (negative) perception we have.
How would you feel about having a chip inserted into your arm with your identity and banking details? It is very small – about the size of a grain of rice – and, if you go ahead with the ‘procedure’, you will no longer need to carry your wallet with you. Hence, if you want to purchase something, all you have to do is have your arm ‘scanned’ by a device that ‘reads’ the chip, and the correct amount will be deducted from your bank account.
Probably not. Maybe this scenario makes you feel like your personal space is being invaded. It may remind you of surveillance operations and make you worry about your privacy.
But perceptions can be changed, of course. It all depends on how the situation is framed.
Nobel laureates Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman showed through a series of experiments that our decisions depend more on how the situations are presented than on the facts themselves. For instance, we are more likely to walk 20 minutes to take advantage of an offer of 50% off a £10 product, than to take up an offer of £5 off a £125 one. In both scenarios, the 20 minutes would save us £5 and, so, our decision should be the same in both cases. But it isn’t.
Back to the chip in your arm… A few years ago, a popular nightclub in a busy Spanish beach resort offered this very same proposition to a very limited number of its customers – the offer was available to the best customers, only. Not only was this offer scarce, but it was also a privilege.
Did customers take up this offer?
Negative terms like personal space, surveillance or privacy, gave away to positive ones like convenience, stress free nights, status and reward for loyalty. Still the same technology, but framed in a very tempting way.
What about you?
Do you think that having a chip inserted in your arm will always be one step too far for information technology? Or could you see a scenario where you would want one? For instance, if it allowed you to jump the security check at the airport? Maybe, if it accelerated screening at the hospital, in case of an emergency?