X-ray scans of another Dangerous Things test implant. Image: Dangerousthings.com
At Vancouver’s recent From Now conference, biohacker Amal Graafstra gave a talk on the future of self-modification to around 100 fairly straight-laced attendees. As if the future of tech implants wasn't eye-opening enough, Graafstra finished the talk by personally implanting conference organizer Nik Badminton with an electronic tag, to the shock and awe of the whole crowd.
I won’t lie, watching Graafstra, the CEO of DangerousThings.com, implant a tag in Badminton’s left hand was surreal. With his newly implanted programmable RFID tag, Badminton already had possible uses for it mapped out, like storing and sharing "personal health records and exclusive links to an art project."
Even considering that he's a well-tattooed and pierced guy, it was interesting watching Badminton’s initial trepidation giving way to a sense of it being no big deal once the tag was finally implanted—and really, it wasn't that strange of a process. Badminton said his new implant could very well be the key towards “improvement as a human.”
Graafstra thinks humans are living data receptacles and perfect candidates for implanted technology that enhances our perception of reality. He’s also one of the few businessmen leading the commercialization of body-hacking itself.
In the future, implantable devices could be the best way to measure, analyze and transmit our body chemistry data or provide us with physical connections to smartphones and other devices. The technical hurdles, according to Graafstra, are related to power harvesting and power storage of an implanted unit.
“We need to have the ability to store power in a bio-safe medium for at least 30 years without any degradation,” he told me. Graafstra also thinks implantable devices are not only inevitable, but will be a direct result of DIY biohacking research done by technophiles like him, without the approval of groups like the FDA.
We think nothing of implanting animals with RFID tags. New Zealand for instance, has mandated that all dogs have to be microchipped. So why not humans?
When it comes to an approved human medical procedure, or implanting something in an animal, there’s a seemingly collective sense of social acceptance. But when it comes to implantable tech with no clear medical purpose, people get bent out of shape.
Not to mention, discussions of an Orwellian tagging system wherein the government can keep constant track of you is never far away. Those discussions often ignore the potential possibilities of making our lives easier in our World of Things.
“It’s an issue of enhancive versus restorative procedures,” Graafstra said. “It’s a very clear line, and doctors have issues with enhancive for whatever reasons. The general public get’s all weird about this largely because of a lack of understanding about how technology works, and what it’s capable of, and more importantly what it’s not capable of.”
It was while consulting for a group of medical clinics ensuring their IT environments were HIPAA compliant that Graafstra found himself servicing too many buildings, too many doors to unlock, and carrying around a key ring that was too unwieldy. He talked about getting frustrated with the actual door to his basement office, and “wanting it to understand that it’s me, just unlock and be open.”
“I looked at biometrics, iris scanning, fingerprint reading, facial recognition,” Graafstra told me. “At that time and still today it’s more expensive, clunky, difficult to deploy and vulnerable to vandalism compared to RFID.”
He sees RFID as simple, easy, cheap, and “you can build your own solutions with really inexpensive parts.” For Graafstra the next step was getting rid of the RFID card. Figuring that pets were fine with implanted tags, there wasn’t any reason it couldn’t work for him.
Ultimately he implanted a more common and non-proprietary tag, along with the right reader equipment. It was an easy decision for him to make. “It was a fleeting moment,” he said. “It wasn’t even a decision. I didn’t have to think about it, there’s no ethical or medical concerns. It was totally the right answer, and obvious thing to do.”