'Work of the devil' or human augmentation? Meet biohackers who microchip themselves (VIDEOS)
Biohackers, who are also known as ‘grinders’ and ‘practical transhumanists,’ modify their body by adding technology. The modifications range from the ingenious to the ridiculous, with grinders finding ways to give their body the power to detect movement behind them and even the ability to hear colors.
It’s estimated that there are around 10,000 grinders around the world, most are hobbyists who do it in their spare time.
Tyler has travelled to London to get his chip, which is an NFC tag, installed by Amal Graafstra, one of the pioneers of the biohacking movement. Amal is the CEO of ‘Dangerous Things,’ an online store that offers “custom gadgetry for the discerning biohacker”.
The chip will allow Tyler to control his phone and other NFC devices with a swipe of his hand. It can be programed to unlock chipped doors and some biohackers have even added their passport to the tiny computer.
The chip will sit in a tiny glass capsule buried just below the fleshy surface of the skin on his left hand. As he waits to be implanted, the 20-year-old muses on the possible dangers of having the device inserted into his body.
“I guess when it’s in there… If something hit it hard enough it could possibly break… But I’ve never heard, or read anything like that,” he says, reassuring himself.
Amal, who has carried out around 4,500 implants, has five different implants himself. He says biohackers see the technology as an opportunity to augment themselves in a way that's more function than form. “People have been augmenting their image and appearance for millennia but now we have the opportunity to actually change our capabilities as human beings,” he explains.
The implants can be used to replace many everyday items including door locks and keys for cars. They last a lifetime, require no maintenance, are MRI compliant and don’t cause issues at airport security.
‘Delusional behavior’ – the opponents
Biohacking isn’t without its detractors. Many say there are privacy concerns and that the practice is dangerous. Indeed some of its practitioners have taken their experimentation to extreme lengths.
Last November biotech company Ascendance Biomedical, whose CEO was the late, controversial biohacker Aaron Traywick, generated headlines after 28-year-old Tristan Roberts injected himself with an Ascendance “research compound” that is supposed to cure HIV. Roberts livestreamed the injection on Facebook.
The experiment raised more than a few eyebrows from doctors and scientists. A particularly damning verdict came from Scott Burris, an expert on HIV public health policy. “This is delusional behavior,” he said. "It's not plausible to me that this guy is even on planet Earth.”
However Traywick is even considered fringe in the biohacking community. The more general phenomenon has caused much hand-wringing amongst bioethicists and there have been numerous calls for regulation in several states.
There are also religious objections to the practice, with some fundamental Christians arguing biohacking is the work of the devil, foretold in the Book of Revelations in a passage about the “mark of the beast.”
What the future holds… potentially
Despite the detractors Amal believes human augmentation through minimal procedures will become increasingly popular. “You know we're a tool-using species and as our tools get smaller and more capable and more advanced they're just going to be inside of us that's the ways that it’s going to go.”
“Biohacking is interesting because it's exploring, from a citizen science perspective, what possible things that large companies aren't interested in doing because it seems too risky. So biohacking is really democratising this type of technology. And hopefully in the future it will move from a hack to just plain normal or commonplace.”
At his London office he outlines the, seemingly, limitless possibilities biohacking potentially holds, envisaging a future where people can connect their brains to a computer and get a full cognitive upgrade.
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By Céimin Burke
Video by Sergio Angulo