Tracking Us

In an old science fiction story, a group of scientists builds the most sophisticated computer imaginable. Once finished, the first question they ask it is, "Does God exist?"

The computer answered: "He does now."

There are always Frankenstein problems with technology. And, as technology accelerates, we are starting to see the consequences.

One such technology that is pushing the envelope is RFID (radio frequency identification). This week, I wrote about the mundane uses of the technology for inventory management, driven by a mandate from Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) .

RFID can also be used for accurate identification, location tracking, and condition monitoring for humans. Obviously, this gives privacy advocates a major headache.

One of the companies in this newfangled field is Applied Digital (Nasdaq: ADSX  ) , which is the majority owner of Digital Angel (AMEX: DOC  ) and InfoTech USA.

Some of the recent uses for Applied Digital's technology include tracking animals to help deal with Mad Cow Disease and other problems. Basically, an RFID chip is implanted in the animal and then the chip is wirelessly connected to a central database.

Interestingly enough, Applied Digital partnered with Schering-Plough (NYSE: SGP  ) to donate Pocket Reader RFID scanners to help with lost or injured pets from the Florida hurricanes. About 6,000 pets per month are recovered using Applied Digital's RFID technologies.

The natural extension is to implant RFID chips into humans. Scary? Perhaps. But it could save lives. For example, your entire medical record could be linked via an RFID chip. This could be a huge help, as nearly 100,000 people die each year because of routine medical errors.

To this end, yesterday Applied Digital got some great news. The company's human implantable chip, VeriChip, was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for medical uses in the U.S. The VeriChip is roughly the size of a grain of rice, and implantation requires only a brief outpatient procedure. On the news, the stock surged 68% to $3.57.

Human chip implants have been common fodder for science fiction writers, as seen in the 1990 movie Total Recall, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, to use a catchy phrase from that film, let's hope we don't get "schizoid embolism" from this whiz-bang RFID stuff.

Fool contributor Tom Taulli does not own the shares mentioned in this article.


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