Body augmentations have long been a piece of science and cyber-punk fiction, but thanks to some rather daring experimenters, they might soon become a reality.
More commonly known as 'bio-hacking', non-organic augmentations are pieces of technology which are inserted into the human body with the proposed aim of improving it beyond its natural ability. For the most part, official developments in this area have most been for medical reasons and concern artificial limbs and organ monitoring equipment. However, some grassroots developers are exploring a more consumer based approach to augmentations, and they often use their own bodies as an experimental rig.
Take for example a group known as Grindhouse Wetware. This collection of biohackers are exploring ways in which modern consumer technology can be used to push the human body into the next stage of evolution. For example, Tim Cannon, one of the groups founder, inserted a rather large computer chip, called a Cicada under the skin on his forearm. Once there, it can send information to his tablet device and update him on his body temperature and other internal biometrics.
Check out a video showing off the device below:
Cannon hopes that eventually the next versions of Cicada will also be able to warn him about when he is becoming ill or sick. For example, Ryan O'Shea, head of external operations at Grindhouse told Mic:
Right now, much of medicine is reactive. Once you have a heart attack, you are treated for your bad heart. Once you have a disease, doctors try to address it. The fact is many of these problems can be predicated and treated long before it is too late.
However, this technology isn't just for purely medical reasons. O'Shea also recognizes a lucrative consumer element to cyborg technology. He envisions a situation in which a user would receive "an alert from your phone saying, 'You've burned a lot of calories today and are running a deficit. I suggest you eat before your 4 p.m. meeting, preferably something with a lot of protein.'"
Twenty year old Ben Engel from Utah took things even further by creating a bone-conduction Bluetooth headset and inserting it under the skin on his head. He can then press buttons on the device using a magnet implanted into his finger.
Although the system only currently allows him to make hands-free phone calls - something an ordinary Bluetooth headset does well enough for most people, Engel also has some grandiose objectives regarding the tech. By connecting it to the internet and compressing its data into audio waves, Engel hopes to make his brain learn via sensory substitution. Ultimately, Engel's hopes this will push his brain far beyond what it is normally capable of. He told Mic:
I will know if people on Twitter are happy or sad. I will be able to tell large political events before they even happen, just based on how millions of people are acting that given second of the day.
Another biohacker, Rich Lee, has also developed a piece of bio-tech which could have wide-reaching repercussions for those with vision-impairments. In 2007, as the result of the ocular equivalent of a stroke, Lee awoke with blurred vision which continued to deteriorate until he became legally blind.
To combat this, Lee connected some headphones to a ultrasonic rangefinder which he wears beneath his shirt. The headphones, which are actually implanted in his ears, then hum if an object is close or far away, essentially giving him a form of echolocation. He told Mic:
I did a cool experiment with it and a contact mic[rophone] that allowed me to hear joggers approaching from a long distance away. Nothing could sneak up on me.
This This All a Good Idea?
There are of course, those who are ardently against this technology. Groups such as Stop The Cyborgs, who emerged to counter Google Glass, claim such technology can often be used to watch people, especially if it is developed by major corporations. Remember O'Shea's suggestion that this tech could tell you when you're hungry? Well, how about if McDonalds pay your tech developer to send your phone an advert every time you're implants register you're hungry? Already social media is coming under scrutiny for how it uses it's users information, and this human augmentation could take it even further.
Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff of The Nanoethics Group at California Polytechnic State University also published a paper titled Against Unrestricted Human Enhancement in which they warn about the potential outcome of pursuing this type of technology. They introduce their paper by stating:
Our ability to use science to enhance our bodies and minds – as opposed to its application for therapeutic purposes – is one of the most personal and therefore passionate issues in an era where emerging technologies seduce us with new and fantastic possibilities for our future. But in the process, we are forced to rethink what it means to be human or, essentially, our own identity. For some, technology holds the promise of making us superhuman; for others, it offers a darker path toward becoming Frankenstein’s monster.
Square Enix's Deus Ex: Human Revolutions dealt with many of the ethical issues of transhumanism:
For example, as illustrated in the video game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the arrival of this technology could lead to a two-tier society which divides those with technological advancements from those without. The paper states:
Before we too quickly dismiss the idea of “human dignity” as romanticized and outdated, we need to give it full consideration and ask whether that concept would suffer if human enhancement were unrestricted. Is there an obligation to enhance our children, or will parents feel pressure to do so? Might there be an “Enhancement Divide,” similar to the Digital Divide, which significantly disadvantages those without? If some people can interact with the world in ways that are unimaginable to others (such as echolocation or seeing in infrared), will that create a further “Communication Divide” such that people no longer share the same basic experiences in order to communicate with each other?
Regardless, it seems the march of biohacking and body augmentation is unstoppable. While some of these developments outlined above seem relatively redundant (after all, the most advanced computer in the world - the human brain - already tells me when I'm hungry or cold without much of a problem) it would be remiss to claim there was no utility in this technology. I guess we'll just have to wait to see what the future holds.
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