Fans of cyborg subculture have sprung up as far apart as China, Malaysia and the UK, says Jowan Österlund, a muscular Swedish piercer with a small triangular beard. "I have basically always been really into the cyberpunk science-fiction exploring, so when we first got our hands on a biocompatible glass chip [ie a passive material that doesn't interact with the body to cause infection] that you could implant, it took us a week to wait for it before we put it in and had it actually working," he says. "Since then we've been developing and developing and developing. In the last six months we've done maybe 200 implants on people." Österlund and his colleague Hannes Sjöblad (a co-founder the Stockholm-based group BioNyfiken) travel the world promoting implant devices, although interest is highest, he says, in Europe right now.Implanting an RFID chip is relatively simple: a tiny glass object about the size of a grain of rice is injected into the soft part of the hand between the thumb and forefinger—it's as easy as drawing blood. The magnet implant process that Michael undertook at the cyborg fair is more invasive and not entirely painless. Later in the day, one enthusiast almost fainted and had to lie on the floor, feet up in the air, after his procedure.
Cyborgian implantation activities take place outside the clinic or hospital, as a sort of parallel to standardised medical experimentation
Sjöblad speaks with schoolboy excitement, sporting a suit and tie like the other European participants at the Dusseldorf event (the US cyborgs favoured black T-shirts and jeans). He studied natural sciences and business, and worked as a management consultant and in the finance industry before becoming what he describes as a "full-time biohacker." He feels cyborgism has received unfair press. For decades, science-fiction movies have played out narratives about out-of-control robots that try to destroy humans, he says."Unfortunately, Hollywood has told all these stories about The Matrix and Minority Report. So people have these visions that this is evil. But in the real world, it's not." Cannon calls for greater scientific literacy to facilitate a better dialogue. "Where I come from, people are still questioning climate change," he says. "People are still questioning whether Jesus is going to come and save us from the sun. It's a big problem, because if you do not have a scientifically literate public, you cannot have a true conversation about how to progress forward in the world."+++You might say: so what? An iPhone can do the same as an implant chip. With a smartwatch, for instance, you can answer your phone remotely, and—perhaps the crucial thing—you can take it off if you no longer feel like wearing it.
If everyone had RFID chips in their hands, it would allow the toilet to recognise them each time they pressed the flush button and keep more accurate records
Less expensive medical technologies are enabling advances similar to those that occurred in the computer revolution in the 1970s, Sjöblad says. He places implanted technologies on the same trajectory as mobile phones. During the 1980s they existed but were huge and clunky, used only by business people or those doing work in remote places. "If you asked someone in 1985, 'Do you need a mobile phone?', they would say, 'No, I have a phone at home, and there are phone booths everywhere.' But over time, as technology became cheaper and more useful, it was something for everyone."Still, I hesitate. At the cyborg fair I had plenty of opportunities to get an RFID chip implanted in my hand. But although I believe it would be relatively painless, I was not once tempted. I'm not fully convinced of the device's usefulness in my day-to-day life. Advances in cyborg technology are driven by members of the community itself, many of whom, as programmers, enjoy customising their devices. For non-techies like me, the risks, small though they may be, don't (yet) seem to validate the rewards.Editor: Mun-Keat Looi
These implants represent "a fetishisation around embedding technology that has a kind of Star Trek quality to it and doesn't really exceed the utility of a prosthetic."
Fact-checker: Francine Almash
Copyeditor: Rob Reddick
Illustrations: Matt Murphy
Art director: Peta BellThis story was originally published at Mosaic under a CC by 4.0 license.