Bio-hacking is a term that refers to the application of IT hacks to biological systems, mostly the human body – but it also includes the entire biosphere. Bio-hacking encompasses a wide spectrum of DIY ideas. It’s defined as a sort of citizen biology, most of the work is done in small, independent labs by people in their spare time, mucking about with things like modifying plant DNA to impact growth or isolating certain genetic material to enhance or improve on it. And that’s the basic idea of the movement, improving on biological entities, sort of like upgrading your computer.
Biohacking is growing all around the world, giving people all the tools they need to start exploring their world in a very biological, and sometimes terrifying way. Critics point out that the word “hack” was an illegal thing. Even though it’s mostly an expression of curiosity, some really weird things have come out of the movement. That’s especially true now that we’re developing ways to biohack not just plants but people.
Table of Contents
1) What Are The Potential Dangers?
When biohackers say that organizations like the FBI are overreacting to the potential dangers, others are trying to show just how under the skin implants can be used for evil instead of good. Officer Seth Wahle picked up a chip that was originally supposed to be used for monitoring cattle. He injected it into his hand, and it’s now undetectable by humans, at least.
Wahle has demonstrated how the chip can be equipped with a Near Field Communications (NFC) antenna that sends a signal out to any nearby Android phone. It prompts the user to open a file, and once they click on the link, they’re giving full control of their phone to a remote computer. The whole thing is in its infancy, but the principle is sound. The amount of programming needed to make the link appear legitimate is certainly not extensive. Currently, the remote computer is disconnected when the phone is turned off, but that’s also an easy enough problem to solve by downloading a program on the hijacked phone that starts when it’s turned on.
Perhaps the terrifying thing is how undetectable it is. Wahle was in the military when he had the chip implanted, and they never knew it was there. He says that he went through military scanners on a daily basis, along with going through airport security and checkpoints. No one ever discovered he was implanted with a device that could give him control of any Android phone.
Done with the help of a security consulting firm, the implants and the programming show just how easy it is to not just implant a device that’s activated simply by coming in contact with its target, but that’s completely undetectable by all our military and airport security systems. Wahle and his colleagues suggest that this is just the beginning of the biohacking threat and point out that it can be done with materials anyone can get their hands on.
2) The Goal: A Posthuman
3) The Political Party
The platform of the party is working toward a government that makes science, technology, and health a priority. Their goals are incredibly lofty, especially given that biohacking is really still in its infancy. They’re already taking the true politician’s standpoint of promising the incredible. They’re hoping to bring the grinders out of basements and body modification shops and encourage technological and scientific advancement to the point where aging and death are obsolete—all within 15–20 years. They’re also for creating guidelines for the ethical use of new technologies, as well as getting away from the death culture and a society that spends billions on medicine that, in the end, might only prolong life a little bit. Zoltan Istvan, the founder of the Transhumanist Party, says they won’t just be promoting science, they’ll be using it. They’re even going as far as to support ideas like mind-reading headsets.
4) Regulating Nootropics
Biohacking bodies don’t always have to mean getting out a scalpel and starting to cut. The “nootropics” movement is one that’s growing quickly, and it’s based around the idea of taking brain-enhancing drugs to make you focus better, think faster, and work more efficiently. Not surprisingly, one of the hubs of nootropics experimentation is in Silicon Valley, and thanks to Reddit, the field of nootropics has turned into a pretty cool crowdsourcing experiment.
The worldwide phenomenon is a big one, especially considering there’s no real, solid definition for what’s going on. There’s “stacking,” which is combining pills and substances for a certain effect. Some people are taking it to extremes, popping pill cocktails of up to 40 different pills a day. The most commonly recommended substances for people to start on? Caffeine and L-theanine found in coffee and tea. Those are on the rather tame end of the scale. At the other end are the habitual users of things like Ritalin, Adderall, and modafinil. More mainstream nootropics advocates say that these are technically not nootropics, but the basics are the same—altering brain chemistry to make you more productive.
So what’s the long-term impact of taking these drugs and drug cocktails? No one’s sure, in spite of the fact that it’s certainly not a new idea. Nootropics got their start in 1964, with a chemical cocktail called “piracetam.” Created by a Romanian chemist and psychologist named Corneliu Giurgea, the drug, and his guidelines set the stage for today’s nootropics. According to Giurgea, the drugs must be able to enhance learning, improve processing, and increase the activity between the brain’s two hemispheres, along with being nonaddictive and nontoxic.
Implanting machines into the human body to access another sense or heighten the ones we’re already aware of isn’t just in the realm of party tricks—some are already looking at biohacking as a way to improve their quality of life.
Rich Lee is 34 years old, and he knows that he’s going blind. He lost most of the sight in his right eye overnight, and he’s looking toward a time, very soon, where he’s going to be legally blind. While he still has his sight, though, he’s training himself to use echolocation.
It’s done with sound-transmitting magnets, which Lee has implanted in his ears. While they’re usually used for things like listening to music so no one else can hear it (or is even aware that you’re doing it), Lee is also training himself to interpret the sounds that he hears. The magnets were implanted by a body modification artist in Las Vegas and act as receivers for sound. Listening to music, for example, means that Lee carries a battery pack and an amplifier that relays sound through a coil. The coil transfers the sound to the magnets, and the magnets vibrate, allowing Lee to hear the music.
Echolocation is a bit more complicated, though, and it’s taking more experimentation with everything involved, from the amplifiers to the battery packs. Eventually, Lee is hoping to add an ultrasonic rangefinder to be able to “see” through his implants.
6) Steve Kurtz
There is a high probability for something that can go wrong when people start tinkering with DNA, the FBI agrees with you.
Steve Kurtz is a professor of art at SUNY Buffalo. In 2004, he and his wife, Hope, were preparing an art exhibit for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Hope Kurtz suddenly passed away due to heart failure, and when her husband called 911, first responders saw the Petri dishes that were being prepared for the exhibit. Even though they were harmless, Kurtz was arrested and held in custody, his wife’s body seized from the coroner for further analysis. Bioterrorism groups descended on his home and office, including representatives from the Department of Defense, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Homeland Security. His home was condemned as a health risk, and it wasn’t until a week later that the Commissioner of Public Health for New York State finished testing the samples and came to the conclusion that there was nothing hazardous about them. It was only then, too, that Kurtz could reclaim his wife’s body. Even Kurtz’s cat was confiscated as a possible carrier of the disease, though he found the cat back in his home after he was release
7) Magnetic touch
Biohacking doesn’t have to alter genetic material. It can combine technology with the biological along the lines of Kevin Warwick’s vision. The people that do it are called “grinders.” One of the examples of this was the insertion of magnets into a person’s fingertips. It’s a rather underground movement, and it’s usually done in places like body modification shops and piercing parlors.
Implanting magnets in someone’s fingertips isn’t just about using them to pick things up. According to those that have it done, the human body gradually adapts to having the magnet in place and starts to read the signals it receives as though it’s just another biological part of the body. While some claim to be able to use the magnets implanted in their bodies like an extra sense, others claim that the feeling fades within a few weeks, and you’re just left with the neat party trick of being able to use the Force on a very small scale.
8) Genetically Modifying Bacteria Into Building Material