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You can almost see the ads now: Imagine a bright future with a chip in your arm!

Went to the supermarket, but left the wallet at home? No problem! Flex your bicep and the smiling cashier passes a scanner over your arm. Voilaidentification chip recognized! Problem solved. Your credit is good with us!

Passed out during a sunrise jaunt on the top of Haleakala Mountain in Maui? Fret not! The hospital down below is on the case. Arm please. Scanner! The readout on the computer is fine. Just a little altitude sickness.

Key to the safety deposit box weighing you down? Chuck it! Next time youre in the bank, give the teller a friendly waveand watch the doors open to greet you!

After decades as the stuff of sci-fi novels and anime movies, the age of chipped humans is finally a reality. Last month, following two years of review, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an implantable chip for medical applications. Each Verichip is the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique, 16-digit radio frequency ID. Linked to a database, that ID tag can call up a variety of informationfrom medical records to financial information.

Not surprisingly, the technology is causing its share of controversy. Civil liberties groups are calling this the end of privacy. Religious groups are calling it the number of the beast. Down on the shores of Delray Beach, FL, Applied Digitalthe company behind the Verichipcalls it a goldmine.

Like a lot of new technologies, the Verichip happened rather by accident. Fifteen years ago, a company called Digital Angel developed implantable identification chips for the purpose of tracking companion pets and cattle. But the idea was nothing to moo at. Last year, 800,000 animal chips were sold in the United States for $55 to $70 apiece30 percent more than in 2002.

If the chips could identify animals, why not a human being? This thought occurred to Richard Seelig, a surgeon in New Jersey, shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Seelig watched with horror as New York City firemen scrawled their social security numbers in black ink on the forearmsjust in case they were to be burned beyond recognition in the inferno. Familiar with Digital Angels work, Seelig voluntarily implanted himself with a radio frequency identification chip. And the race to bring it to the rest of the world was on.

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