Body-hackers (and scientists) use technology to evolve the human body.
Physical appearance has always been important for us humans, and through history there has been quite a variation of methods weāve used to improve or change our appearance. Most common in our days is the use of clothes and cosmetics, but during the last few decades it has become increasingly popular with surgical methods to enhance lips, breasts, hairgrowth etc, or to get a tattoo or a piercing.
Now there are people, so called ābody-hackersā, that seems to be taking this one step further, and not only change how they look, but instead change how they function.
Ā āHow much can I push the human, how much can I consciously evolve the human body, to do more, to do it better, do it faster and stronger ā, Shawn Sarver says in the documentary āBiohackers: A journey into cyborg Americaā before he gets a Neodymium magnet impanted in his finger.Ā But why does he do it?
Ā Picture 1. Paper clip attracted to magnet implant in finger. Source: iamdann.com
After the operation, whenever he enters a magnetic field, the magnet starts reacting to that, and vibrates. The stronger the field, the more it vibrates, and because the magnet is surrounded by nerv cells in the finger, he can āfeelā the magnetism. This āsixth senseā is called magnetoception ā the ability to sense magnetic fields, just like sea turtless and birds!
It was first done in 2005, and since then several people have followed, and perfected the procedure through trials, errors and online discussions. But it is of course still not something I would recommend, mainly because you canāt have it done by a surgeon. Instead you have to consult a specialised body artist, and they are not allowed to use anesthesia, why it is a very painful procedure!
Picture 2. The operation. Source: āBiohackers: A journey into cyborg Americaā
To insert the magnet, you need to open up your finger with a scalpel, and then insert the magnet with a tweezer or a big syringe. With the magnet in position, you need to sew up. After the surgery it will take a few days for the scar tissue to build, and for nerv endings to settle. Then you will feel the sensation of the magnet touching your nerv cells, but it will take a while before your brain understands what it is.
The main risk is infections. As with all surgerys, there are risks with contamination from the air or any objects that are close, and could give infections. And with the use of scalpel, there is always a risk of cutting something wrong. The magnet is a potential risk as well, and has to be coated with a compound that is suitable for the environment inside the finger.
Picture 3. X-ray of the hand with the implant. Source: frigo.ca
It is suggested that the best position of the magnet is on the ring finger of your secondary hand, because if something goes very wrong, you want it to be on your least important finger. Also it shouldnāt be between the bone and the touch surface because if you have to grab something in an emergency situation, that could really hurt, and shatter the magnet.
How will this āsixth senseā change your life?
The risk of demagnetising your credit card or disk drives are minimal, remember you can only lift very light objects, like the paperclip, with it, but I wouldnāt enter an MRI with the implant still in.
You will be able to sense magnetic fields ā the finger will vibrate when close to an electric motor or a microwave oven. You will be able to pick up tiny metal objects, determine if a metal is ferrous. For electronics you could feel which wires are dead and live. And I bet some people do it just for the party trick. But not everyone.
Remember the guy from the video above, Shawn Sarver? He is part of Grindhouse Wetware who are developing a product called āBottlenoseā that you put on the finger with the implant, and stimulates it with additional senses.Ā For example, they are using an IR sensor that detects remote temperatures and emits an induced magnetic field ā that the magnet will react on. The stronger vibration ā the warmer it is. The video on this link shows how a person with blindfold successfully finds a person that is hiding in a room, using this device.
The same, and other similar, activities are actually also done in university environments. Professor Kevin Warwick (video link) of Reading University has studied various examples of sensory substitution. Using ultrasound instead of infrared light, you could feel how far away objects are from the finger, like a radar.
Professor Warwick sees potential applications in both the military and healthcare sector.