Is that time for cyborgs?
Lepht Anonym wants everyone to know the door to transcending normal human capabilities is no farther away than your own kitchen. It’s just going to hurt like a sonofabitch.
Anonym is a biohacker, a woman who has spent the last several years learning how to extend her own senses by putting tiny magnets and other electronic devices under her own skin, allowing her to feel electromagnetic fields, or — if her latest project works — even magnetic north.
Since doctors won’t help her, she does it in her own apartment, sterilizing her equipment (needles, scalpels, vegetable peelers) with vodka. Good anesthetic is largely impossible to buy, so she screams a little, and sometimes passes out. But it’s worth it, for what’s on the other side.
“Bodily health takes a big fuck-off second seat to curiosity,” she says. “Though it hasn’t really changed my life, it’s just made me more curious.”
This is DIY transhumanism, the fringe of a movement that itself lies well outside the mainstream of philosophy, ethics, technology and science.
BrainGate technology is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The science of interfacing human brains and other biological neurons with computers has been developing for well over a decade and now, the progress is amazing. While the human mind is an amazing organ, that surpasses any computer ever made. Many fantasize about improving on natural skills and abilities using technology in the form of some sort of brain implant. That dream is about to become a reality. In some ways, it already has according to the BrainGate website.
“BrainGate Company’s current and planned intellectual property (the technology) is based on technology that can sense, transmit, analyze and apply the language of neurons. BrainGate consists of a sensor that is implanted on the motor cortex of the brain and a device that analyzes brain signals.”
Cyborg and biohacking research history started in 1998 with Dr. Kevin Warwick and what he called Project Cyborg according to Digital Trends. Warwick began by implanting a simple radio-frequency identification chip or RFID in his own shoulder. He planned to use this chip to adjust lighting in his office and opening doors locked to others. The experiment was successful, and so Warwick went a bit further, experimenting on himself yet again. In 2002, Warwick had a surgeon implant a BrainGate technology device.
An early BrainGate technology device, a forerunner of the technology available today, attached directly to Dr. Kevin Warwick’s arm allowing him to control a robotic hand remotely. When this was successful, Warwick had a device implanted in his wife’s arm designed to make him feel a sensation whenever she touched something. This resulted in a sort of technologically enhanced empathy or telepathy with his wife so that when she touched an object, Warwick felt the sensation in his own hand.
As a self-proclaimed cyborg, Dr. Kevin Warwick was encouraged to do a series of speaking engagements where he developed a certain demographic of followers who called themselves transhumanist enthusiasts. These transhumanists were willing to engage in self-styled, do-it-yourself biohacking. They either made the incisions themselves or employ body modification artists because most doctors refused to assist these projects.
Lepht Anonym could be considered a pet project budget, and comparing to BrainGate technology she was a pioneer in biohacking. She believes she may have even coined that phrase. She too had her followers, who read her blog online, with increasing fascination. Lepht buys off the rack so to speak, using everyday household items and readily available technology and equipment to do her own homemade implants.
“It started when I was about 18. I was seeing expensive adverts for life-extension companies, and I would see expensive procedures that you could get only if you had a spare hundred quid. It seemed that it was all very much directed to people who had money. I wanted to do some experiments to find a way of getting the same technology out into the hands of people who didn’t have that kind of money.”
Following Anonym’s lead Tim Cannon and Shawn Sarver founded Grindhouse Wetware, determined to make human enhancement an affordable reality. Their current goal has been named Circadia. It will be an implanted device that would monitor blood oxygen, blood glucose, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate. While most scientists do not approve of ordinary people, without funding and lacking certain areas of medical expertise, attempting high tech biohacking Dr. Kevin Warwick is cautiously optimistic and even encouraging.
“I think it’s important that the artists are doing what they’re doing, because there aren’t really a whole band of scientists investigating this at the moment.”
BrainGate technology, however, is still the cutting edge of cyborg-style technology. Though currently the new innovation is being designed to help people who are paralyzed or have other nerve related mobility issues, the Braingate website admits it could be used for other applications in the future.
“Our mission is to improve on the quality of life for all disabled humans. We additionally seek to increase the usage of BrainGate related technology in both medical and non-medical applications and facilitate innovation in invasive and non-invasive brain research.”
BrainGate technology’s most recent innovation involves inserting a BrainGate sensor into the brain according to Technology Review. The hardware portion involves a small array of needle-like silicon electrodes. The sensors attach to a wireless processor designed by a company called Blackrock Microsystems.which is attached to the outside of the skull. The processor then transmits wireless signals to motorized wheelchairs, light switches, TV remote controls and a host of other gadgets designed to aid patients who are immobile according to Technology review. The processor costs about $18,000 and transmits a signal roughly as fast as an internet connection.
Human Enhancements are Lepht Anonym’s greatest concern. Or rather her greatest concern is that economic inequality would lead to a whole other level of elitism, in which economic advantage would give even more important advantages to the elite. If only the wealthy could enhance their brain activity or physical performance using expensive implants, they would become unstoppable in their superiority over the masses.
While Braingate technology is wonderful in its capacity to aid people with brain and nerve injuries and illnesses, that same technology, applied only to any one segment of the population would be tremendously unfair. That is why Lepht Anonym is searching so frantically to level that playing field. She freely admits performing surgery on herself using kitchen implements such as a potato peeler. Her work gives all new meaning to the words affordable health care. Still, even Dr. Kevin Warwick and his most avid student Ian Harrison, admit she has a valid point. Ian Harrison told Digital Trends he is in complete agreement with Anonym.
“Yes. The haves and the have-nots. That to me is a huge fear, with all of these technologies. As soon as it starts to get commercialized, you start getting this divide between people that can afford these implants and the people that can’t.”
BrainGate technology could one day give some people an enhanced human experience, that might include remote control of devices, downloads of information into a human brain or even some advantages that would mimic telekinesis or other fantastic abilities, but should these kinds of advantages only be sold to the highest bidder?
Will this technology enhance human beings with cyborg-like abilities, and will the distribution of these abilities be fair?