As we have seen with the rise of the Maker Movement, people are hacking in the physical as well as the virtual world. But why stop at hacking objects? There are people out there who are hacking their own bodies. Body hacking, also known as grinding, is part of the transhumanist movement trying to improve our bodies by adding new technologies to them, internally and externally.
For example, grinders are inserting magnets into their bodies in order to pick up electromagnetic fields. One such magnet toting, body hacker is Tim Cannon, who, along with a few other grinders, set up Grindhouse Wetware, a company which seeks to explore and advance the practice of body hacking. The grinder community is still fairly small, with about 250 people currently practicing, though the numbers are rising as interest spreads across the globe.
Cannon is currently working on a design called 'Thinking Cap' which intends to stimulate certain parts of the brain in order to improve particular functions such as concentration and memory. Humans Invent spoke to Cannon about body hacking, what he hopes to achieve and whether the practice is safe. Seriously, do not try this at home!
I suppose body hacking is essentially using the philosophy of hacking on biological material as a basic definition. Hacking in general is understanding how something works so that you can reassemble it into a useful purpose for yourself. Hardware hacking, security hacking, whatever hacking you are doing, you are typically trying to find a way to use the material that is there. But more particularly, what we attempt to do is practical transhumanism -- to enhance the human experience.
Anything that uses a transformer and a direct current tend to give off these electromagnetic fields and they are all around us but we don't know it. So what happens is, whenever you get another magnet in the presence of one of these oscillating fields it in turn then oscillates the magnet. When these are placed in an area of your body that has a high nerve concentration you get a very finely tuned and granular view of what the field is like and as you get closer to the source the power of it increases. I first experienced it heavily in the presence of a microwave. If you took a coffee stirring straw and blew as hard as you could through the straw directly onto a little piece of your finger, that’s how it felt.
Me and a couple of my buddies and some people I had met on the internet decided that we didn’t feel the transhumanist and the grinder movement were doing enough so we decided to take the reins. We thought, 'let's pick this up and run with it, we've got three project ideas, they are all very plausible, let's see if we can accomplish these and then from there spark a larger movement.'
We attempt to assess and mitigate risk and allow people to determine their own level of risk that they want to engage in. I feel the same way about most issues. I would like to see the raw data, assess the risk for myself and then assume what risk I feel is worthwhile in comparison to my curiosity. When it came to the magnets, I looked at the risk and looked at the reward and I said, 'my curiosity is piqued but there is a small amount of risk involved with this. What can I do to mitigate it?' I did a bunch of research and went to a professional to have it implanted.
We are working on a new release of one of our earliest units called Bottlenose which is an echo location unit, it gives you a sonar sense. If you have a finger magnet, it reacts with it to translate distance information. With this device you can navigate around with your eyes closed.
We are also working on a device called Thinking Cap, which runs direct current through various parts of your brain in order to achieve certain brain states. For example, if you anodally stimulate your motor cortex it will feel like your head is tipping to the side. A lot of this, of course, is novelty, but there have been some practical applications of this technology. For example, if you stimulate your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex it can enhance concentration, increased working memory and increased long term memory -- so that is another thing that we've made portable and cheap and easy to make and released the schematics and code for that.
One of the reasons we did this project was that we wanted to show grinding isn't all about implantation; you don't always have to assume the pain to have the fun. We tried to deliver something that everybody could play with without having to go to a piercer or be worried about scalpels.
I think it will meet with the same kind of tensions that anyone experiences with integrating a new flavour into society so to speak or a new way of thinking but I don't think it will become a norm at first because I think there will be an element of people ranging from religious to the politically dedicated or what have you, that say, 'you are really messing with the natural balance of things, we don’t think you should do this anymore, it’s not right for people to be this powerful.' Anytime a more powerful minority is engaged by a less powerful majority you get into issues that are problematic.
Humans Invent is an online space dedicated to celebrating innovation, craftsmanship and design fueled by our most natural instinct – the pursuit of invention to help solve a human need. You can read their original article here.