What will biohacking mean for the future?
Sci-fi films tend to be futuristic fantasies where the line between man and machine are blurred; technology is like a Band-Aid that can be applied to any problem to fix it. Spout some vaguely realistic-sounding tech speak and all problems—medical or otherwise—are solved.
Biohacking is a particular go-to, where man and machine are blended into one super human.
Biohacking is starting to make a sci-fi future look more and more like an actual possibility as a growing community does its best to kick-start a DIY evolution. Biohackers want to hack bodies and minds, to use scientific and technological advances to make us more than just blobs of flesh with normal human limitations.
There are some ethical questions but it must be remembered that biohacking is generally carried out by volunteers or people who experiment on themselves. Some biohackers or “grinders” have been known to carry out invasive surgical procedures in their kitchen or makeshift labs in their hunt for progress.
Seeing someone insert a computer into their arm would once have been headline news but the spread of biohacking means that it’s no longer such a big deal. An underground movement at the moment, biohacking could easily be absorbed into the mainstream within 50 years.
As these hackers test out new ideas, the mainstream is also picking up on some of the ones they explored in the past. In an age where everyone has a computer with them at all times, the notion of having one inside you isn’t quite as scary as it once was.
So what can we expect from a future where biohackers continue to stretch human limitations and how will this impact our daily lives?
Technology getting under your skin
Future technology could certainly give people a chip on their shoulder—or in their shoulder, as the case may be. People are already having chips implanted in their bodies to give them an ability to interact directly with technology.
A tiny RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip can easily be implanted under a person’s skin and makes them a walking piece of biotech. These chips are slightly bigger than a grain of rice so it’s a relatively simple procedure that can be carried out in seconds.
One company called Epicenter in Sweden has already experimented with chipping employees in an effort to understand this technology. The chip works in the same way as a key card and can be used to access restricted areas or to authorise workers to use other technology like photocopiers.
There’s something a little bit unnerving about the thought of being implanted with microchips but the technology doesn’t have to be viewed as an Orwellian nightmare that’s going to enslave us.
RFID chips could be used to ensure that you’re the only one who can access your phone, home or your car. It could replace PIN codes and offer an alternative to biometrics like fingerprints or retina scanning.
The technology also has tracking applications and could be used to track missing people or anyone on any kind of watch list e.g. people newly-released from jail.
Using tech to gain superpowers
Our greater understanding of science and nature means that we are ideally placed to try and extend our basic intellectual and biological limits. Imagine having superhuman abilities or gifts like one of the X-Men?
A recent example of using biotech to enhance our senses is the night vision eye drops developed by the Science for the Masses researchers to allow a test subject to see in the dark. They made up a special eye drop mixture, that included a chemical found in deep sea fish, and used it on their brave team mate, Gabriel Licinia.
Source: Science for the Masses
It may have turned his eyes black but it did allow him to identify people moving in a forest at night time from a distance of 50 metres. He was also able to identify smaller shapes that were 10 metres away; the effects lasted for a few hours.
The test was proof that science can enhance our basic human abilities and senses—though we absolutely do not recommend using yourself as a test subject if you ever develop an experimental eye drop.
Cyborgs are the stuff of science fiction but there are already real-life versions walking in our midst.
Jesse Sullivan became a famous pioneer in the field in 2001, when he was given a bionic arm after he lost both his arms. The bionic arm replaced his left arm and connected to his nervous system so he could control it with his mind. It also allowed him to vary the pressure of his grip and to sense heat.
Myoelectric arms detect electrical signals generated by muscles and uses them to let amputees control their new arms. Bionic limbs have advanced greatly since the turn of the century.
Nigel Ackland’s carbon fibre bionic arm has drawn comparisons with the technology used in the Terminator films. He was one of seven people to get a cutting edge arm, which allows much greater sensitivity and control than earlier models.
Scientists are even developing a sensitive artificial skin to make prosthetics feel even more lifelike. Researchers have already made a material that can sense pressure, moisture and heat. They hope to use it as a skin to cover artificial limbs in a move which really does seem like something out of Terminator.
The bridge between man and machine isn’t quite so vast anymore. Kevin Warwick is Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at Coventry University who has been dubbed the “world’s first cyborg” after testing cybernetics on himself for almost 20 years.
His latest venture was to have an implant surgically connected to the median nerve fibres in his arm, allowing him to remotely control technology using arm movements. Professor Warwick also implanted a similar device in his wife’s arm that linked their nervous systems and allowed him to experience what she was feeling.
It demonstrates how quickly the gap between sci-fi and reality is shrinking as we pass milestone after milestone in the field of cybernetics. Of course, there are also cautionary tales.
Dutchman Sander Pleij suffered from chronic cluster headaches so he volunteered to have a neurostimulator implanted in his back. The metal device allowed him to use a remote control to send electrical currents through wires to his brain.
It stopped the headaches but there were severe psychological side effects for Pleij. He eventually had the device removed after suffering panic attacks and anxiety about having a computer inside of him.
Drugs to expand our minds
Most people would recoil at the thought of a computer being rigged up to their brain but would you take a pill if you thought it would make you smarter?
It’s no surprise that demanding workloads and hectic schedules are causing people to look for a magic pill to help them get ahead. Drugs that make you instantly smarter have been explored in recent films like Lucy and Limitless but it’s safe to assume that smart drugs won’t give us god-like powers anytime soon.
Smart drugs, or nootropics, is an emerging market and one that has already captured the imagination of biohackers and average people alike. It even has its own subreddit, which is a sure sign that people are talking about it.
Nootropics are drugs made from artificial or natural ingredients that users claim can make you smarter, enhance your memory or make you more efficient. Piracetam is the daddy of nootropics. It was first synthesised in 1964 and was believed to boost mental functioning in healthy individuals.
With an obvious commercial demand and biohackers always looking for software upgrades, performance-enhancing drugs look certain to be an area that will be explored both officially and unofficially in the future.
Getting smarter faster
Biohackers are helping to test our limits and are constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to trying to upgrade us as humans. As our society becomes more advanced and more accessible, it’ll be interesting to see just what they can achieve with the ever-evolving forms of technology.
They’ve made huge leaps in recent years with some pretty bulky pieces of software and hardware. We are developing new tech at a frightening rate so the potential for change is incredible.
The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” is a theory that was developed by Buckminster Fuller to measure how long it took mankind’s knowledge to double. Until 1900, Fuller estimated that it took 100 years. At the end of World War II, it had dropped to 25 years.
This dropped more recently to just 13 months but, according to researcher Russell Schilling, this could soon be reduced to as little as 12 hours thanks to the likes of the Internet of Things.
With knowledge growing all the time and people willing to continue testing the boundaries as they try to accelerate our evolution, there really is no telling what we could be capable of in the future.
Biohackers have shown a fearless approach to what they do so who knows where these technological pioneers will lead us. They may be working in makeshift labs or kitchens for now but it’s worth remembering that some of our biggest tech companies were once started in garages.
Wherever the tech of the future goes, you’ll need antivirus software
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