As if conspiracy theorists didn’t have enough to worry about, Northwestern University engineers have just developed a flying microchip.
As reported in the Sep. 23 issue of Nature, the airborne microchip is carried from place to place by the wind, behaving very much like a maple tree leaf as it gradually makes its way to the ground.
Roughly the size of a grain of sand, the “electronic microflier” is not powered by an internal engine. (My microengineering savvy tells me a microchip engine would require a very sophisticated mechanic—at least on par with a Saab or Mercedes.) To develop the microflier, engineers studied the behavior of wind-dispersed seeds from trees and designed a device that would drop slowly enough that it could be used to monitor air pollution and any airborne disease on the way down. Which would be just great.
Or would it? Like most scientific breakthroughs, the flying microchip starts out sounding like a fantastic idea. For instance, unlike drones—which some jerk always has doing surveillance above your kid’s birthday party, scaring the hell out of everyone—the devices would be silent and invisible.
“Even the non-paranoid among us may view flying, data-gathering microchips with trepidation. ”
But therein lies the problem. If you read the literature carefully, you discover that the flying microchips can also be equipped with tiny, tiny sensors and antennae facilitating wireless communication, and even embedded memory allowing the microdevices to store information. That’s where things get iffy.
First off, conspiracy theorists are already convinced that microchips are planted in Covid-19 vaccines or their credit cards or the lemon meringue. They are going to be certain that flying microchips are being used by the government to spy on them. They will accuse the government of using flying microchips to carpet-bomb their backyards or waft down into their chimneys to see who they are associating with, whether they are paying their taxes, and if they have any current plans to seize Fort Sumter. And let’s face it: Why wouldn’t the FBI, the IRS and the Treasury Department use a tool as useful as this to track down tax cheats and gangsters? How could they resist?
Even the non-paranoid among us may view flying, data-gathering microchips with trepidation. It’s bad enough that our computers and phones track us everywhere. They know where we go, what we purchase, even what we are thinking of purchasing. They know how fast we are driving, which stocks we are shorting, which co-workers we despise.