An Interview with Amal Graafstra – Would you Like to Become a Cyborg?

An Interview with Amal Graafstra – Would you Like to Become a Cyborg?

Amal Graafstra is an innovator and inventor. He is known as the first person who decided to use an implant for the sake of convenience; so as not to carry bank cards, keys and gadgets, but to open doors and pay with the hand. Subsequently, Amal Graafstra realized the potential of chipping and founded Dangerous Things in 2013 – a Seattle based cybernetic microchip biohacking implant retailer. He has repeatedly stated that thanks to modern technology, people can now become cyborgs. When negative commentary began to spread among the tech community about the danger of chipping from a cybersecurity point of view, Amal Graafstra opened the VivoKey company.

VivoKey is a secure subdermal identity platform that combines the robust data protection of cryptography with the convenience of biometric systems. Within the framework of this project, Graafstra created the world’s first (and only) cryptographic implant. That is, by agreeing to be chipped, VivoKey members will not fear the possibility of the server to which the chip is connected being hacked, as their digital identity will be secured inside the implant and not through passwords and usernames. After interviewing him, I managed to understand Amal Graafstra’s reasoning behind his innovative projects. However, in the course of a personal conversation, much more amusing things emerged.

What is the reason for human interest in chipping?

Necessity is the mother of invention. The idea that a person can become better, more resilient, more able to work, makes people turn to biohacking.

In 2005, I sat up late at work and, about to go home, tried to open the door, when I suddenly discovered that it had slammed shut. There was an emergency exit in the office, but staff usually do not use it. Plus, it turned out that I had forgotten the keys. After spending the night in the office, I realized that I needed to look for a solution – to make it clear to the door, what exactly I want to go out.

Of course, technologies such as biometrics and scanning of the retina are being introduced now, but in 2005 there were no such innovations in our company. And even now, these things are practically not applicable for the front door – technologies are expensive and in practice are cumbersome. On the other hand, you can use magnets – put them on the doors and go out. But I wanted to create a chip based on RFID technology (radio frequency identification – identification by reading radio signals from transponders).

Then I thought of cats and dogs actively chipping now, so why can’t the same technology be applied to humans?

Amal Graafstra X-Ray (2006-03-30)

How has chipping changed your life?

After chipping, my life became more comfortable. The last time I took my keys out of the house was 16 years ago. Chipping has influenced my life commercially as well. People come to me for advice, they ask me to blog, write a book, I started two companies.

Since 2013, I have been creating, designing, developing and selling chips under the Dangerous Things brand. 

Since 2018, the VivoKey company has existed – we offer solutions in the field of high cryptography and create NFC transponders. NFC is a short-range contactless communication, which makes it possible to exchange data at a distance of up to 10 cm.

Can the chip be hacked?

I often hear predictions: one day the whole world will be chipped, and then hackers will easily hack a person, penetrate his brain, and control his thoughts. This idea is wrong.

With the exception of VivoKey, no system uses the chip as authentication, connects to a server on the Internet or the cloud. At VivoKey, we are aware of the risks posed by cybersecurity, and we update technology regularly. 

On the other hand, some chips are not designed with security in mind. But even in this case, the chip cannot be hacked – it’s like talking about a hacker attack on a QR code. It can be physically altered, but not hacked. Likewise, the functionality of the chip is embedded in the silicon by laser lithography and you cannot influence it.

Rumours of the chips being hacked have surfaced after attacks on low-cost working magnets that allow access to the premises. In this case, a hacker attack is possible: the criminal only needs to read the ID from the other side of the magnet, and then copy it to the active electronics. But, again, here we are talking about cloning a magnet, and not about direct hacking.

Some people even believe that the chip is a large-scale computer system that interacts with the brain. Such rumours are caused by a banal misunderstanding of what a chip is.

Yes, it is possible to hack the system that the chip works with. But those who scan random RFID tags or IDs don’t know anything about you. It’s like finding a bank card on the ground – at most, you can withdraw other people’s money if you pick up a password, but you won’t find out anything about the owner.

TEDx Talk by Amal Graafstra

What was the biggest difficulty your business faced?

Making chips has become one of the hardest tasks of my life.

In the beginning, in order to analyse the chip market, I ordered a lot of transponders with a low frequency of 125 kHz and conducted countless tests. It turned out that they were made from a low-grade material, toxic bioplastic. Then we found two factories with high-quality standards. But these materials also belonged to Turkish manufacturers. They had no real quality assurance. We came to the conclusion that we will produce NFC transponders at 13.56 MHz. This is higher than a conventional implant. We did the assembly ourselves and thus got the opportunity to control the quality.

Another problem at the initial stage was associated with a lack of understanding in what volumes to produce chips. After all, we immediately have to ask the question: are we ready to invest in the creation of a huge number of chips, or the product will not be in demand? But they solved this problem, created a product and tested it many times. For example, a scar recently appeared on my hand – since I tested one of the devices, I inserted it into my hand for a month and then pulled it out. I needed to make sure the chip could be replaced.

Do you often hear criticism? What do your answer to your opponents who do not think chipping is a good idea?

Some people tell me that the chip is a product of the devil, that the government is watching us. They write to me that I am a terrible person, and my inventions are ridiculous. But I have neither the strength nor the time to prove my case. My goal is to improve human capabilities.

I also want to make an invention that will make it easy to “edit” the genetic code, interact with neurons in the brain. Today, all innovations change our lives from the outside. So, you fly in an aeroplane, communicate with people on the other side of the Earth via the Internet and consider yourself to be God, but none of these things are built into you. But a well-designed implantable device that does not require additional control comes close to perfecting the human personality.

I love what my life has become after the introduction of the chip. At the moment, I have seven devices, and I use them for various systems. For me, chipping is tantamount to freedom and the ability to do everyday things effortlessly.

In my opinion, the chip should combine comfort and safety. The chip works not only in the physical but also in the digital space. You can easily switch between services and sites – with minimum frustration and maximum convenience. You have the opportunity to opt-out of multifactor authentication, which now requires you to postpone everything and enter the code on your smartphone. Chipping will eliminate the discomfort associated with authentication because it is not a magnet or a token, but, in fact, a part of you.

Every innovative thing first encounters a barrage of criticism. Chipping rejection is associated with fear, anger, embarrassment and ignorance. People think the chip can be embedded through coronavirus vaccination. Users are afraid that they will be followed. But such thoughts are associated with a reluctance to understand how technology works. Unfortunately, today the general public is more interested in sensations than science. There is a ton of information now, and people are asking to be surprised. But no one wants to delve into and understand scientific concepts for a long time.

False information about the chips comes from Hollywood, where chipping is shown as a remote surveillance device, a device that can be killed. But if people studied mathematics, they would understand the absurdity of such statements.

I don’t blame people for being careful. But it is sad that we do not realize our human potential, because we have chosen the path of fear and ignorance.

For example, since 2005, they have sent me tons of threats, promising to kill me. It started when I created a smart gun project – the weapon only fires in the hands of its owner. But I talked a lot with opponents, explained scientific concepts. When they found out how the device works, many of them admitted that I was right. To evolve, we all need to develop intelligence.

Which other inventions is Amal Graafstra personally interested in?

Science does not stand still, and I read with great interest what other advanced companies are inventing. So, I look forward to news of neural connections that will achieve an identical level of security and functionality. Usually, inventors create products and then equip them with safety tools. But when it comes to implanting implants in the brain, you need to take care of safety right away.

I imagine that after a while we will have an implantable magnet that is embedded in the tissue of the tactile nerves. When a magnet vibrates, you hit a specific magnetic field, your tactile neurons are activated. The brain receives a signal and, for example, we learn something new about a specific location. Or you don’t need an audio device to listen to music, the magnet generates a sensation, and you seem to hear the desired song.

By integrating such processes into the cognitive system, we will expand our own horizons and, in fact, reveal the sixth sense. Or, for example, you read interesting information on Google, but you cannot fully feel it. And through virtual magnets, you build such information into the brain and get new meanings. You will be able to interpret any information in a new way, isn’t it amazing?

Written by Anastasiia Shkuro | Illustrated by Victoria Hoover

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