Is this the future? – Part 1: Biohacking

 

Do we live in the scientific future?

What do you imagine when you think of the future? Do you see cars soaring above a neon jungle, cities as high as you can see housing everything from farms to hospitals, a futuristic power source has done away with the carbon based fuels, and hackers are the biggest threat to humanity. Well this future you imagine, it’s happening right now. We live in a world of immersive technology, virtual reality is reality and the themes of classic science fiction are here for good.

This is the first in a series of posts investigating whether we are living in the future and which technologies have allowed us to live out our utopian (or dystopian) dreams.

 


Cybernetic enhancements – Biohacking

 

“A cyborg or cybernetic organism is traditionally a morphing of organic, often human, parts with mechanotronic components that enhance the abilities of the owner”

 

A common theme throughout science fiction depictions of the future is the meshing of man and machine, whether this is by creating huge exoskeletons assimilating human movements in construction or the ability to purchase upgradable parts as additions to, or replacement for, human features. The cyborg is present throughout many predictions of our human future but are they living among us already?

Prosthetics have been used to replace body parts lost to trauma, genetics, or disease for thousands of years. Traditionally prosthetics have been solid and motionless, often visibly dissimilar to human body parts, until now. The prosthetics developed today are in a class above even the best athletes bodies, from legs that require less energy to sprint and arms capable of gripping with greater strength than humanly possible. With recent technological leaps made in the production of bionic body parts we are now living in an age where human upgrades have become a reality. Not only have the mechanical attributes seen improvement but also in the feedback systems used to make them feel more like a part of the wearer’s body. From gaining the ability to feel objects through the use of a implants in the brain to sense touch in a prosthetic hand to the sensation of temperature in prosthetic skin these robotic counterparts to their organic originals have become incredibly similar if not better. Even just the ability to control a limb with our mind is reason enough to believe that we are truly living in the future, telekinetic powers aside this ability has greatly improved the quality of life for many amputees and those suffering from phocomelia.

We have all wanted to run faster than anyone else or lift weights thought impossible of us before, but how about a vision upgrade? Over two million in the UK alone suffer from sight loss however treatment for conditions leading to blindness have often been difficult. That was until now, the NHS has recently begun performing operations to overcome this with the introduction of a bionic eye. An implant is placed at the back of the eye that receives signals from a camera mounted to a pair of glasses, the information is then sent through the optic nerve to the brain where an image is formed. It is not too much to assume that these cameras could be used to send information from spectra outside that of visual light-giving potential infra-red, ultra-violet, and potentially x-ray vision. Additionally, as the technology is picked up and more interest is gained we may do away with glasses for good, adding these functions to the implant itself.

The aforementioned developments have come from a medical background and have provided incredible treatment for huge numbers of people by improving the ability to go about everyday life unrestricted. But what about adaptations to the human body that don’t stem from medicine, but rather, curiosity.

A new subculture is evolving of biohackers, grinders, and transhumanists; people are going out of their way to undergo surgery, often without anaesthetic, to modify their bodies with technology. By implanting devices such as radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or small neodymium magnets into their bodies these biohackers can now unlock doors, start cars, and sense electromagnetic sources with just a wave of their hand. RFID chips utilise near-field communication (NFC), found in key fobs, often used to enter buildings, and mobile phones, used to make contactless Apple or Android payments. These tiny devices can store small amounts of information that can be retrieved using an appropriate receiver placed within a short distance of the implant. Other than using RFID chips to open doors these chips could act as identification to replace physical ID such as passports or replacing bank cards and contactless payments with just a touch of your hand. Furthermore, magnetic implants offer a benefit in the workplace as electricians could identify which cables are live, increasing the safety of their job.

Alongside these small implants come all manner of wonderful ideas, LEDs to visualise through skin with the potential to give you live data on internal parameters such as your heart rate and blood pressure, the time and date, and even display text messages directly in your skin. If light up skin isn’t your thing how about wireless internal earphones, implanting magnets just outside the tragus and using a magnetic necklace allows the user to wirelessly transmit directly into their ears. Couple this with directional microphones and you can hear conversations from great distance or even hear someone sneaking up from behind you. Not enough for you? How about a compass that gives you a physical pull towards north or south implanted in your leg, never to be lost again; a Geiger counter in your foot, detecting the radiation around you as you walk. The list of potential modifications and the number of participants is growing year on year as more people introduce more technology into their bodies. Whether to increase performance, gain new sensations, or learn more about how man and machine can become one the world of cyborgs is upon us. How long will it take for the market to pick up on this venture and reap the rewards of the upgradeable human experience.

 

Featured image used under Creative Commons Licence
Image taken by Quinn Norton on Flickr

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