Want to become a cyborg? Do it yourself!
Futurists predict that one day we will all have organic and electronic components. But some people don’t want to wait years, if not decades, for that time to come.
Biohackers use do-it-yourself methods to “hack” the human body in order to overcome natural limitations. A relatively recent trend, biohacking can involve the use of cognitive enhancement drugs and radical diets. Or, at the more extreme end of the spectrum, the practice encompasses body modifications such as transdermal implants and electronic tattoos.
Often identifying with the trans-humanist movement, these “Grinders” seek to become something more than human by implanting technologies meant to enhance their mental and physical capacities. Grinders are determined people. Since doctors won’t perform the implants, Grinders typically rely on body artists to do the honours—without the use of anaesthetic.
The most popular modifications include small magnets, usually in the fingertips, and microchips that can open electronic doors or even unlock your smartphone. But biohackers have also used homemade eye drops to grant limited night vision and implanted micro-computers that transmit biometric data.
As the biohacking movement gains momentum, there are increasing efforts to improve things below as well as above the belt.
Some of these rely on manipulating the body’s natural biological ecosystem, rather than adding implants. For example, crowdfunded startup Sweet Peach Probiotics aspires to maximize beneficial vaginal microbes using probiotic supplements.
It was initially reported that the company wanted to make vaginas smell like ripe fruit, thanks to misrepresentation by biotech entrepreneurs Austen Heinz and Gilad Gome. The idea that two males wanted to “improve” women’s vaginas incensed critics. But in fact, the company’s female founder, Audrey Hutchinson, created the company to prevent UTI and yeast infections rather than odor.
Other biohackers are adherents of the Quantified Self movement, believing in self-improvement through the use of wearable computers that collect biometric data. The information gathered can range from caloric intake, fitness, and weight, tracked by applications such as Apple Watch or MyFitnessPal, to mood and cognitive performance, by way of relatively inexpensive EEG (electroencephalography) readers. Of course, there are also devices to track sexual data. Billed as the world’s first smart condom, the i.Con is a ring that promises to track speed, thrust velocity, and frequency of sexual activities, among other statistics.
Using quantification, some biohackers claim to have “hacked” orgasms. Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4-Hour Body, has allegedly created a technique that allows women to orgasm for 15 minutes. He relied on trial and error, logging what worked and what didn’t, and on interviews with experts such as Nicole Daedone, who used quantification herself to develop teaching methods for what she calls Orgasmic Meditation.
While these both focus on the female orgasm, Dave Asprey, the inventor of the dubious Bulletproof Coffee Diet, has also experimented with male orgasms, putting himself on a strict orgasm diet involving no more than one orgasm every eight days. After tracking his moods, he discovered he was happier, had more energy, and had improved his relationship with his wife.
Pleasure and intimacy
But biohacking sex and relationships can also entail much more invasive modification. In 1998, Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics professor sometimes called the world’s “first cyborg”, had an electrode array implanted in right arm that could control a robot prosthetic and manipulate keyboard inputs.
Later, a simpler array was implanted in his wife’s arm, allowing electronic communication between their nervous systems. The information passed from implant to implant via the Internet. During the experiment, the couple could feel electrical signals from each others’ movements. This created a unique and intimate connection, which the researchers describe as the first step toward “thought communication”.
Then there’s biohacker Rich Lee and the Lovetron9000, a device which he claims can turn a man into a human vibrator. Lee, who suffers eyesight problems, has magnets embedded in his ears, which function as internal headphones for music and give him a sixth sense, allowing him to “hear” magnetic fields, wi-fi, and even heat.
He wants to augment himself further by implanting a motorized device above his pubic bone, which he hopes will cause his penis to vibrate in a way pleasurable for sexual partners. The development of the Lovetron9000 is more than a pipe dream. Lee has built a prototype and partnered with Ascendance Biomedical to manufacture and commercialize it.
Lee has other ideas too, some which he hopes to develop, others which remain purely speculative. For example, electromagnets implantable in the labia that vibrate the clitoris. And spinal implants that provide sexual stimulation as positive reinforcement for good behavior. Why not?
Where to next?
Biohacking remains a fringe culture, but the idea of modifying our bodies using new technologies is increasingly mainstream.
Motorola Mobility has created electronic tattoos and pills containing microchips that can identify users and remove the need for smartphone authentication. They are also being developed to monitor health. And tech mogul Elon Musk just launched a startup focused on building “neural laces” that augment human intelligence and memory.
In the future, will we all be augmented in some fashion? Will we all, to some extent, become cyborgs? Post-humans might end up being a lot like smartphones, with built-in wifi, communication applications, and even internal cameras.
Biohackers are new blazing trails, in and outside the bedroom, that might one day become highways—and in so doing transforming our future.
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