Hi everyone, Parker here. Today, I’m excited to share a snippet of my conversation with one of the many Matts. His project ‘The Many Matts’ is credited with being the first-ever non-fungible social token, exploring physical-digital scarcity, distribution systems, and the relationship between URL and IRL.
Matt has a chip in his hand that dispenses rare, digital Matt NFTs... but only if you find him IRL. As some of you may know, I’ve been fascinated with biohacking and the concept of transhumanism for a while now. I spent the majority of my academic career studying brain-machine interfaces and what impact their widespread, commercial adoption will have on current definitions of ‘ability’ and ‘disability. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled when I stumbled upon Matt’s project, which marries two of my greatest interests- blockchain and biohacking.
In this interview, we’ll discuss Matt’s decision to implant a chip in his hand, why he connected it to an NFT series, what the actual procedure was like, adoption, regulation, consent, and more.
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Parker: What led up to your decision to implant an NFC chip in your hand and connect it to an NFT? How did you initially get that idea?
Matt: My first introduction to the concept of biohacking, beyond the classic sci-fi, was via my friend Lee in 2018, who has a whole host of body modifications, some aesthetic—like tattoos—and some impressively practical like the magnet implanted in their finger that helps them detect electrical impulses in their work as an electrical engineer. They sent me down the rabbit hole (and WOW what a rabbit hole biohacking is!) and I emerged with a vague idea of putting a chip in my body and connecting it to crypto somehow.
Next up was finding someone to install the chip, which involved browsing a relatively out-of-date community map, calling piercing studios in the Bay Area, and finally stumbling onto a piercing artist with past experience implanting chips. One could theoretically install a chip independently, but I wanted the confidence of a professional and knowing which layers of skin to place the chip in is paramount.
I ended up doing a lot of research to build up confidence—how do I know which type of chip to implant, where should it go, how do I know that it would be compatible with phones, or doorknobs, or whatever I wanted to connect it to? This was super challenging since there are all these standards and acronyms and megahertz and NDEF-compatible MiFare something or others…. It’s a lot to ingest. And while I'm relatively technical, this was out of my area of expertise, and choosing a chip mostly involved a lot of trust in the forums, suppliers, and installers.
For me, the most important feature was that phones could read the chip in my hand. For background, an NFC chip accepts a specific format of data called NDEF, which phones know to read. Placing a phone near the chip will trigger a URL to open on the phone. These URLs can prompt your phone to open a Venmo charge, a contact book entry, a website, that sort of thing. When you tap your phone to the chip in your hand, it pulls up a notification on iOS or just triggers an action on Android. You can confirm you want to launch the URL, and off you go.
The original idea I had was to facilitate crypto payments but later on in 2018, I had the idea of connecting it to minting an NFT but didn’t have the time/motivation to build the tooling necessary.
Two years later, after nobody had come along and built the tooling I needed to distribute NFTs, I finally sat down myself, built the infrastructure, produced a music video to document the project, and announced it to the world.
Parker: I’m dying to know what it was like to get this chip installed.
Matt: It honestly wasn’t even a big deal to the piercing artist that I found, he was incredibly casual about the whole affair. The kit from Dangerous Things comes with everything one needs: he had a gigantic injector needle, an antiseptic wipe, some gloves, a gauze pad, and a normal-ass bandaid.
The procedure was like 10 seconds tops. One drop of blood. Incredibly chill. Gauze, band-aid, and then you're done. After two days the swelling goes down and [the chip/your hand] does indeed scan. It's kind of weird, actually, now that I'm thinking about it. The chip is in you, and within two weeks it becomes a part of your body and you forget about it.
That was easy. Cool. Tip the guy. Then as I'm about to leave, I start to feel a little woozy. I don't feel good. I sat down and I'm kinda about to pass out. To the guy, I'm like, ‘Yo, I’m not feeling good’. And he's like, oh yeah, just eat some M&Ms. I was fine, but what I think was happening was the assertive, psychological reaction to having modified my body in such a way. Like, putting a foreign object into my person was like a bridge that my psyche had to cross. I had this feeling of the aura around me, an aura of purity, being shattered.
Parker: In our first conversation, you mentioned playing with scarcity by bringing NFTs into the digital world through your physical form. Can you elaborate on that?
Matt: This project is a sort of ‘conceptual hijink’—as I've taken to calling my art—where we're playing with this idea of a digitally scarce thing, except you can only get it by being in the same time and space as I am.
And that's just interesting. The other thing it's playing with is like, ‘Hey, how do you distribute a scarce resource?’. The answer that most people arrive at rather quickly is money, by using an auction or charging people. But there are more interesting and weird ways of distributing scarce resources, this being one of them. I realized that if I [made the distribution mechanism of an NFT] my physical person, the rule is you have to meet me in person to get it. And because of that, the number of [NFT Matt stickers] that exist are irreducibly tied to how many people I meet and then who scans my hand to then subsequently connect their wallet and redeem their NFT.
Another thing that's important for me was being part of the [NFT] community as we were sort of figuring out, you know, ‘What is digital scarcity?’, and more foundationally, what are we going to use [NFTs] for?
But on top of that, connecting myself to an NFT is a very obvious way for me to be like, ‘Yeah, I was there’. I'm on the bleeding edge of this movement, and I’m the first to do this thing. I also wanted to poke at people’s perspectives and be like, ‘Yeah, you can inject yourself with this chip and put an NFT on it’—it’s a little provocative.
The response I get a lot from people is, like, ‘What the fuck. I didn't realize this was possible’. But yeah, you can just do this.
One of the biggest unlocks for me—as cliche as it sounds—is when I realized that most barriers are made up by myself or by others.
Parker: How do other people with implantable chips use theirs?
Matt: I’ve seen some people use chips in their hands to trigger actions on their phones. One thing you can do is hook [the chip] up on automators for Android and shortcuts for iOS to trigger some type of action that occurs whenever you tap an NFC tag. In the past, I’ve put an NFC tag next to the scale in my house so that whenever I go to weigh myself, tapping the NFC tag triggers a shortcut that logs my weight in Apple Health.
I've also put tags on my bike, so I can just tap my phone to my bike and it'll open up biking directions to my house. I've seen people put their portfolios, their SoundClouds, or their LinkTrees on their chips. The experience of tapping your phone to someone's implant and getting their business card is a pretty underrated experience in my opinion.
The most practical use-case, though, is to use the chip to swipe into your office, home, or make it the key to your daily vehicle.
Parker: Has the chip impacted your everyday life?
Matt: One of the things that have been fun to learn is that I'm incompatible with a lot of systems.
The vast majority of phones understand my chip, but a lot of RFID systems are weirdly just incompatible, as well as the more enterprise chip systems. For example, the gym that I go to works on NFC chips. And so like low key, I signed up because I knew they were using NFC and I wanted to badge in with my hand and I’ll just be able to get into the gym anytime I want without carrying the tag. Well, it turns out they use some specific standard of NFC that for whatever reason, doesn't recognize my chip. Going through this whole process, it turns out I'm just not compatible there, and I'm still not quite sure why.
It’s pretty weird to be technically incompatible with another system.
Parker: If someone were to scan the chip in your hand without your permission, would that feel like a violation of your body? Is it a violation of consent?
Matt: When we were first talking, this [consent/intrusion with the addition of tech in the body] was like a new concept to me, and it’s absolutely worth diving into. Obviously, the chip is a public space- public in both an information theory cryptography way, but also in that anyone can take their phone, put it next to the chip in my hand, and get the data that's on it.
So I do think that it's kind of weird, like, technically there's nothing wrong with someone scanning my hand like that and getting the data that's on it. But I think a lot of consent is in intention, and [allowing anyone to scan my chip] is not the intention of having it. So to some degree, it would feel non-consensual for someone to tap my chip without my permission, in the same way that it wouldn’t be consensual to read and scan people’s credit cards using a card scanner without their knowledge or permission.
In that same vein (hah), it just occurred to me that the chip is not actually that well-integrated with my body. It’s just kind of sitting there, unable to affect me directly. So from an attack-vector perspective, it’s pretty much just reading the information, and not something more dangerous like being able to affect my heartbeat or some chemical balance. So the chip isn’t really a big deal when you start thinking about things like pacemakers.
Parker: Do you think we can expect biohack implants to become more common? Will there be regulation around this?
Matt: I could absolutely see a future in which some real regulation exists and it probably will be inevitable. Right now we're just super early. The people that would be outraged by biohacking don’t even realize it’s possible.
But yeah, I can see like, ‘Oh, you're not allowed to get a tattoo until you're 18’ kind of vibe or like, ‘Yeah, you have to go to a licensed whatever practitioner to get a biohack implant installed’. I’m not excited about that future at all, but it does seem very realistic that this would become a hot political issue and arrive at some regulation.
Parker: What do you think are the most exciting potential applications for implantable NFC chips, especially regarding the crypto world?
Matt: I think the most exciting thing is that when the chips can do asymmetric encryption, we’ll get really good crypto interfacing. I think that opens up so much, especially if I can keep a hardware wallet in my hand, we can do all kinds of things like payments, attestations, two-factor auth, etc.
Cryptographic proof-of-presence is just a really important primitive for authentication, and plugging that into a future where people are more in control of their digital identities is really key. Having a cryptographic chip on your person is just an important part of securing a world in which everyone knows that their digital identity is just as important and should be just as secure as their analog identity.
Right now, Vivo Key [chip-implant identity verification] is working really hard on this, as well as on credit card payments and more. Right now you can already use a Vivo Key [a physical chip implant] as a two-factor authentication mechanic for things like Google and other enterprise sign-ins. It’s not hard to imagine a future where that functionality is more integrated into a truly self-sovereign digital identity.
Parker: Do you want to get more tech implants in the future?
Yes. Absolutely. I’ve been thinking about other technologies—I want to be compatible with my gym!—and things like magnets, which let you notice magnetism and electrical impulses.
Parker: What's it like being the first person with this kind of technology?
Matt: I'm definitely not remotely close to the first person to biohack themselves or the first person to put a chip inside my body and do cryptography with it. I'm not even close. The only thing that I can claim is being the first person to put an NFT in my body, and creating the first social non-fungible token. But it’s really cool. It's fun being a part of history. This is something that I think about a lot in terms of the impact that something has on a historical narrative. The moments that are highlights- those are the ones that I care about, and feel like I'm a part of it somehow.
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Opinion and analysis. Educational explainers. Interviews with founders and operators working on interesting projects in crypto & DeFi. Presented by Fintech Today.