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Jeffrey, Leslie and Derek

Jeffrey, Leslie and their boy Derek will be America's first cyborg family. Are you ready to"Get Chipped"?

With his school uniform and his plump, pinchable cheeks, Derek Jacobs of Boca Raton, Fla. , looks like an ordinary youngster. But looks can deceive. When he was 12, Microsoft certified Derek as a qualified systems engineer, one of the youngest ever. At 13 he was running his own computer-consulting company. Now he's 14, and what's Derek doing for an encore?He 's becoming a cyborg--part man-child, part machine.

Derek, his mom Leslie and his dad Jeffrey are the first volunteer test subjects for a new, implantable computer device called VeriChip.

In some respects Derek is a regular eighth-grader. He's quiet and polite. He plays the drums. He used to be on the swim team before he quit to make time for his computer business. He remembers vividly when he first saw VeriChip on the Today show. "I thought it was great technology, "he says. "I wanted to be a part of it. "His mom Leslie Jacobs remembers, "He kept bugging me to call the company until I finally broke down.
"Leslie set up a lunch with Keith Bolton, vice pres-ident of Applied Digital Solutions, the company behind VeriChip. Since the first wave of VeriChip publicity, he has heard from roughly 2,500 would-be cyborgs. But the Jacobs family is particularly well suited to test VeriChip for use in medicine. If a patient with VeriChip were injured, the theory goes, a harried ER doc could quickly access the victim's medi cal back-ground by scanning the chip with a device that looks like a Palm handheld computer.

In the case of the Jacobses, that could be a lifesaver. Derek has allergies to common antibiotics,and Jeffrey is weakened from years of treatment for Hodgkin's disease. "The advantage of the chip is that the information is available at the time of need,"Jeffrey explains. "It would speak for me, when I can't. "

Applied Digital Solutions--which is trademarking the phrase"Get Chipped!"--has big plans for its little device. In the next few years, it wants to add sensors that will read your vital signs -- pulse, temperature, blood sugar and so on -- and a satellite receiver that can track where you are. The company makes a pager-like gadget called Digital Angel that does both those things, and its engineers are doing their darnedest to cram Digital Angel's functions into a package small enough to implant. Once they do, VeriChip will be very powerful indeed.

Security is part of the VeriChip business plan. The company has already signed a deal with the California department of corrections to track the movements of parolees using Digital Angel. Seelig believes VeriChip could function as a theft-proof, counterfeit-proof ID, like having a driver's license embedded under your skin. He suggests that airline crews could wear one to ensure that terrorists don't infiltrate the cockpit in disguise. The FDA is expected to approve the Jacobses'implants within two months, and there are other ways to speed up the evolution. Two weeks ago, Applied Digital Solutions signed a deal to distribute VeriChips in Brazil, where kidnapping has become epidemic, especially among the rich and powerful. Government officials hope that VeriChips implanted in people considered at high risk could be used to track victims via satellite.

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