Become a superhero by hacking yourself

Published on January 14, 2016

It’s increasingly common to find technology helping people cope with their disabilities or limitations through external mechanical devices. It’s now also relatively common for able-bodied hackers to want to augment their capabilities by placing technology under their skin. Although the principles have been discussed since the 1920s, recent technological developments seem to be the start of our road to becoming cyborgs.

Initially, I was extremely intrigued but equally interested. What can be done at this very moment to improve people’s bodies? Could you have super powers?

After looking past the initial search results for biohacking (which brought up irrelevant tips and techniques to improve life/work balance, respiration, good karma, etc.), I found a rather interesting subculture; people surgically implanting devices under their own skin to expand what they could do.

These so-called “biohackers” or “grinders” area collective of enthusiasts who try to enhance the human condition through widely available tech and a fair bit of experimenting. Philosophical and moral aspects aside, biohacking enhancements are understandably experimental and no formal regulation exists at this time.

Out of the modifications I was able to find (as the biohacking online ecosystem is rather fragmented), RFID implants were the most common: tiny chips encased in glass with specific IDs (think microchipping your pet). These implants are usually placed in people’s hands, between the thumb and the forefinger and can then be programmed to open doors or log into computers.

Others have gained another sense by implanting magnets on their fingertips. They might now feel like a draft version of Marvel’s Magneto, being able to sense magnetic fields and attract small metallic objects.

Whilst the interventions above might seem a little underwhelming at first, putting such items in your body requires solid courage and can be quite dangerous (the aptly named provides kits for both modifications). Additionally, people are also working on more ambitious projects.

Grindhouse Wetware, are working on a subdermal biomedical device named Circadia that reads body signals and shows messages through the skin. A leaner version of the Circadia, the North Star, was also created and made available to enthusiasts who wanted to light up their tattoos.

An even more ambitious project from the same company, the Thinking Cap, aims to stimulate neurons to engage specific brain states.

Here at Beyond, although innovation is encouraged across the company, we’re not (yet) going to such extremes. However, we enjoy hacking with Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, tiny screens, sensors and a huge appetite to create things! Every Thursday over lunch a group of developers and designers get together for a hacking session where we discuss and build projects. It would be quite exciting to venture into the biohacking world in the future, but for now, we think it’s probably best to work with a subject that hopefully won’t scream. Watch this space for updates on our self-sustaining “bonsai-hacking” project.

Apart from the obvious risks associated with infections when using implants, it is easy to imagine a future in which specific professions will require certain body hacks. This will not only disrupt the current model of recruiting professionals, based on merit and suitability, but it will also provide a level of adaptation to activities that are unheard of (think security guard with integral night vision).

As it stands, biohacking implants provide a glimpse into what could be something quite fantastic; a future in which you are no longer limited to the senses you were born with.

So after this brief exercise, can you become a superhero yet? It appears that you can, although of a very limited persuasion. I don’t know about you but I’m going to wait a few more years until I can attract whole cars and see through walls.