Human beings are slowly entering the realm of either integrating their physical manifestations with technology or editing them all together at a fundamental level. The technique is called biohacking, and daredevil science aficionados are putting their bodies on the line to conduct experiments without the consensus of a larger scientific body. According to these so-called biohackers, they aim to make their bodies and brains function better by “hacking” their biology. If deemed successful, they can pave the path for the next-generation transhumans. Failure might result in death, but that doesn’t slow down these people from inspiring the next generation biohackers to pick up the baton.
Taking inspiration from the fact that some animals have an inherent sense of direction, Liviu Babitz has implanted himself with an electronic gadget that vibrates every time he faces north. The implant, called “North Sense”, is located on his chest. It includes a compass chip, Bluetooth connection and is attached to the skin with two titanium bars like a piercing. It has been designed by his own company, Cyborgnest, in a larger attempt to create new human senses. “You walk on the street staring at your phone. You want to get somewhere but you have no idea what’s happened in the world around you because all you did was stare at the screen on the way,” Babitz says. “Imagine if you didn’t need it, you could navigate the world exactly like a bird and you would know exactly where you were all the time – blind people could navigate as well.” While one may argue that constantly been reminded when one faces north might get irritating after a while, Babitz sees this as the first step in an entirely in-built navigation system and hopes to end what he calls “generation screen”.
Rich Lee, a 40-year-old cabinet-maker from Utah, is a biohacker specializing in extreme body modifications. He has magnets and two near-field communication (NFC) chips on his fingers, which could be programmed to link to websites or perform a multitude of tasks, like opening car doors. Pets often have chips implanted on them to measure their temperature. Rich has implanted a Biotherm chip in his forearm that can constantly monitor body temperature and also has headphone implants right in his ears that can play music or translate unknown language into English. While these technologies are being developed and tested by larger organizations, Rich believes that humans have to use themselves as Guinea pigs in order to expedite their usage.
Rich has also attempted CRISPR – a technique used by scientists to target and edit genes. As scientists are still working out the limits and dangers, it is considered to be the most extreme and controversial kind of biohacking. “We’ve got all this genetic engineering knowledge and what I’m backing is the concept of being able to change your genes or get genetic modification like you would get a tattoo,” Rich says. “I want to see a biologically fluid society where people can just augment these things.” He admits that he could kill himself if he gets it wrong.