Some Thoughts About DIY Transhumanism

Picture: Joanna Cocarrelli (CC)

(c)2013 by alizardx

This article is mainly intended to discuss ideas regarding DIY human augmentation (extending human senses, access to information, access to tools, ultimately increasing effective human intelligence, therapeutic devices) beyond the high-risk fashion accessory level, ideas about possible experiments in this area within the scope of available electronic technology for people already thinking about these concepts, and ways to make such experimentation safer for people who want to do this in the real world.

My perspective on this at this point is as an outsider contemplating future hands-on involvement, so what I know is based on online research. I’d like to hear from people who are doing this.

Advocacy is not enough to bring the promises of Transhumanism to fruition. Spinning visions of a future that can not naturally evolve from the techno-capitalist system as we know it today is not enough to persuade people that change is unnecessary because technocapitalism will bring the Miracles of The Future automatically to your doorstep with the invisible fine print saying “if you’re one of the super-rich who can afford it” That’s why they currently fund it.

Programs that include concrete goals and real-world social and political actions and the people willing to carry them out are required to make “better living through bio-enhancement” available in a real future world to the masses. A Transhumanism without real-world action to make it real is a fantasy live-action role-playing game. That’s why Russian Transhumanists are starting a political party. In a parliamentary system as exists in RU, a small party can influence much bigger ones as part of political coalitions. In the US, one would create an advocacy group aka “special interest group” aka “pressure group” for this kind of goal.

Here’s an article from Fast Company about do-it-yourself biohacking, but note that the writer seems to conflate DIY enthusiasts with venture capitalists. Would-be Transhumanists shouldn’t assume that they’ll benefit from the work of the latter. Why share their research when they can sell it to the highest bidder? Accessing the work of academics poses similar problems.  Acquiring papers through major academic publishers is expensive and trying to get them for free through one’s connections or from the original author is in my experience, a crapshoot.

Sometimes, a DIYer is going to have to reinvent the wheel. The good news is that sometimes, one can reinvent a better wheel, and the most important thing about a technology if one wants to do this is knowing that it’s possible.

TECHNOLOGY

One big problem area for electronic implants is power. Being cut open for battery changes doesn’t impress me as fun. Permanent through-skin electrode implants seem problematic. Imagine having a lithium-ion cell break open inside. Or explode.

Batteries might be replaceable by the combination of inductive charging (as in those new charging pads for cell phones) and ultracaps -the CNT ultracaps in lab stage should never wear out. It may be possible to create CNT ultracap electrical storage that can fail safely in a human body even if the encapsulation fails. These are areas where DIY research should be possible.

Chemistry resolves toxic concerns about carbon nanotubes. Safety fears about carbon nanotubes, due to their structural similarity to asbestos, have been alleviated following research showing that reducing their length removes their toxic properties.

What could one do with an implanted Raspberry PI? One reason I’ve been thinking about this is that enough power to make truly useful implanted devices would make things a lot more interesting. That’s another reason I’ve been looking at inductive charging + ultracaps. Possibilities regarding indirect I/O coupling to the nervous system via prosthetic have occured to me: It might be possible to couple to it non-intrusively, but my thinking about this isn’t eady for prime time, look up the Neurophone patents if you wonder where I’m coming from.

I also suspect that if the consumer-grade EEG headsets from Emotiv, etc. were hardware hacked for higher analog bandwidth, we might learn some interesting things. What’s out there beyond the P300 wave? My thinking about this not ready for prime time yet, either.

DIY bioprint is interesting, here’s a how-to for converting an ink-jet into a low-res Arduino-controlled bioprinter but more people in the DIY scene should be looking into using pen plotters. (I’d try eBay – make sure they’re HPGL controlled) The convoluted paths and filters necessary in an ink jet don’t exist there, one could print cells and scaffolding materials (multipen plotter) and other things at the same time, and determine what goes where in CAD or graphics software. Precise control of “ink” locations, but size of pen opening tube can fit the particle size of what is printing. Not a new idea, but most of the references I saw in a quick search were academic research. Adding a “z” axis should be possible, too.

Linux HPGL drivers exist for them, for other OSs, there’s Google.

Interesting work in progress on neural implants: Brain-machine Interface: A Multi-disciplinary Approach Shows Progress – Dana Foundation” Note that the goal of the research is control of biomechanical limbs, but imagine the ability to push virtual buttons that exist only in your mind to control internal and external devices.

What are “best practices” in DIY bioimplant design?

Wonder if RoHS including lead-free solder is being used in DIY electronic implant hardware. If you don’t know what RoHS is you should not be designing implantable electronic devices. Murphy’s Law applies to DIY tech even more than it does to the commercial variety. Encapsulations will break if they get into enough people.

RoHS means “Restriction of Hazardous Substances” used in electronics. This is intended for protecting the environment when electronic devices hit landfills, but IMO, should apply within human environments, too.

Downside – dictates use of lead-free solders that are harder to work with. Bad news about RoHS – solders harder to work with and IIRC, more brittle.

I suspect magnet implants will be found to be a bad idea. If a user winds up in an ER unconscious after an accident so severe that she’s popped into a MRI machine after her bleeding is stabilized, what happens when the super-intense magnetic fields meet the implant magnet and it goes somewhere else at high speed? Nothing good. Perhaps another severe injury, the hospital suing the patient afterwards for damaging the MRI, possibly both. And it’s only a matter of time before this happens to somebody.

Then, there are issues with respect to magnet coatings or even the magnet breaking loose inside the body. Or the use case where magnet meet credit/debit card mag stripe. Non-issue on a smart card, but check your wallet before assuming they’re universal. Be glad floppy disks are obsolete. Is anybody collecting instances of problems with implants (including magnetic) to find out what problems users are having? Serious trouble with these implants with the legacy media giving stories on this a high profile could result in bad law/regulations targeted at stopping this entire line of DIY “citizen-science” research.

One can probably get the same EM (electromagnetic) directional effect via a ring using Hall effect sensors and vibration output on the inside of the ring for direction. A ring can be taken off.

POLITICAL AGENDA

DIY transhumanism beyond the high-risk fashion accessory or prosthetic level requires an organizational and legal framework for cooperation between users/ potential users, real doctors, actual biomedical engineers, less traditional software and hardware hackers (like me), wetware biohackers and medical research hospitals for use of facilities. The law and regulatory changes won’t get there without a political agenda and political organization as a “special interest group” to get it. Thinking about an organization to make cooperation easy between interested parties can happen right now.

What kinds of law and regulations do we need?

Why not a universal legally recognized “Biohacked” symbol so that people with experimental implant technology can wear USB thumb drives around their necks with full documentation on what they are, what they do, and what they are made of, with ER personnel trained to look for them under circumstances when device failure is the problem, or the device implants in normal operation might affect other conditions that people are seeking medical treatment for?

An easy way to get non-FDA approved experimental implants involving new law and regulation at the Federal level so doctors who want to work with patients to do implants, engineers who want to come up with cool surface mount implantables assuming informed consent/liability waivers can do so without worry about getting sued or prosecuted, and a voluntary guinea pig can go to the ER without fear of getting anyone into trouble or a massive medical bill If Something Goes Really Wrong.

How about courses in biohack technology from the POV of a medical practitioner? (written by DIY types first, later, serious medical course materials for continuing educational credit and for medical university courses) Good if you’ve got the implant and you’re in the ER, and a good way to prepare doctors to get involved with the creation end of the technology.

An argument can be made for getting at least emergency treatment for people who wind up with DIY biotech medical problems covered under Obamacare NOW and requiring their coverage under employer-paid insurance. People who do this are taking risks on behalf of all the rest of us, the good ideas that come out of this are ultimately going to wind up corporately produced, “off-the-shelf”, FDA approved, and available through routine medical care.

FROM USEFUL TECH TO MASS ACCESS

Delivery of implant tech to the masses has to happen through Big Health / Big Pharma. Building an alternative network that can deliver in volume nationwide is a non-starter. Operating rooms capable of delivering neurosurgical services means big capital investments, they are found in hospitals, not clinics.

Open Source means that incumbent corporations could simply read posted information on devices and build their own versions with nothing to stop them, and no way for developers to prevent them from profiting from their own free R&D unless the corporations hire them. What if the corporations get it wrong? Would the original hackers get sued, too?

Open Source “copyleft” and GNU license models don’t work well for hardware, copyright (software) is fundamentally different from patent law, biggest difference is in copyright, you own your own words, copyright basically recognizes this, even registration is optional

Patents require dealing with the US Patent and Trademark Office and spending several thousand dollars each. Few people can afford to spend several thousand dollars to make intellectual property freely available to the public. So what’s most likely to happen is that we’ll see developers who get somewhere filing for patents and using the intellectual property as a basis for fundraising to create new med tech companies and/or sell their patents to incumbent medical electronics companies selling their products to Big Health.

After FDA approval, then they become Expensive Medical Things You Can Buy, next problem how to require that they be covered by medical insurance to make them truly accessible to the masses.

And that takes us back into politics.

 

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32 Responses to Some Thoughts About DIY Transhumanism

  1. echar February 5, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    Is radiation an issue with implants or wearable augmentations?

    What about the chance of malicious hacking by outside parties?

    What about the psychology involved?

    Will there be phantom limbs that can hurt?

    • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      AFAIK, nobody is contemplating fission-power packs for powering anything within the human body.

      Hacking? Depends on what’s implanted. If no inputs from outside the human nervous system, it’s “air-gapped” and therefore not an issue. If it’s connected to the Net, same security issues as any other Internet-connected computer including your smartphone and any node on the “Internet of Things.

      As for the psychology involved, best look at the people who are most interested. Don’t know of any studies in the area yet.

      Phantom limbs? Interesting question.

      • echar February 5, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

        I should have been more clear about the radiation. What about radio frequencies?

        By hacking I mean, what about people using radio frequencies, microwaves, or EMPs to interrupt internal devices? Sure there is shielding, but does it shield everything?

        To be clear about the psychology. Even though the body may accept the materials, may the mind reject the use? Perhaps using these devices could subconsciously insert a sense of inadequacies with the body. Perhaps the diversion of the neural pathways may deviate from areas that are more useful, such as a transhumanist chip augmented cebrebrotonic. If for some reason the devices are rendered unusable by weaknesses, this could cause issues and maybe mentally/physically incapacitate the user?

        The phantom limb is a reaction to the mention of the imagined switches.

        From where I stand on this at this time. It all seems cool, but it’s not something I would consider unless for health reasons. For example, more of the extras you get on a vehicle create the opportunity for more to fail, and ultimately cost money (e.g. manual windows vs. electric windows).

        Will people be opening themselves up to risks to gain an unimagined edge?

        • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

          You just made a good case for fiber-optic internal interconnects for implants requiring broad bandwidths and significant wire lengths inside the human body…and for good RF bypassing (capacitor + ferrite bead) for power leads.

          Adopting new technologies generally have risk factors, they need to be foreseen as far as is possible and dealt with upfront.

        • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

          You just made a good case for fiber-optic internal interconnects for implants requiring broad bandwidths and significant wire lengths inside the human body…and for good RF bypassing (capacitor + ferrite bead) for power leads.

          Adopting new technologies generally have risk factors, they need to be foreseen as far as is possible and dealt with upfront.

          • echar February 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

            I just had a vision of external light ports to power devices.

          • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

            Significant losses through the skin, deep infrared, maybe.

          • echar February 5, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

            I think harnessing piezoelectric sources in the body may be very useful, perhaps utilizing muscles or anywhere that there is pressure. What about nano turbines?

          • Calypso_1 February 6, 2013 at 12:30 am #

            ‘Wet’ piezoelectric is difficult to measure, much more so to harness.

          • echar February 6, 2013 at 11:46 am #

            “This is the first time we have been able to say that applying a particular amount of pressure will create specific values of voltage or current,” said Dr Madhu Bhaskaran, a member of the research team from RMIT’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who developed the new method with Sharath Sriram (RMIT), Arnan Mitchell (RMIT) and Simon Ruffell (from the Australian National University).

            http://theconversation.edu.au/could-blood-pressure-power-pacemakers-in-future-1919

          • Calypso_1 February 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

            Truly fascinating, there is a great deal of research in such areas as these and I have no doubt that the barriers to achievement will be surmounted.

            I don’t know if you had access to the full research publication or just the article & abstract but note that this was solely an achievement of technology scale & material engineering not of adaptation to & application within the biological environment – Certainly a necessary first step.
            When I characterized ‘wet’ piezoelectric it was to specifically refer to those forces as they exist within the body’s own physiology. (And there is headway being made in this area as well)

            You might find this article interesting:
            http://www.ecoseed.org/technology/13003-berkeley-lab-taps-piezoelectric-properties-of-biological-material

          • echar February 6, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

            I did not have access to the full research, just a hunch and an appreciation for adaptation. Thanks for the article.

          • Chaorder Gradient February 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

            I like the resistance exoskeleton design. if they can make it less obtrusive i’d find it useful

        • Zenc February 5, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

          In reference to your question #2- Attack vectors into mainstream medical implants have already been discovered.

          http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9232477/Pacemaker_hack_can_deliver_deadly_830_volt_jolt

          http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-29/mcafee-hacker-says-medtronic-insulin-pumps-vulnerable-to-attack.html

          In my opinion, DIY Implants would likely be more secure from unauthorized access than mainstream medical implants for reasons relating to “obscurity” and the increased security consciousness that someone capable producing a DIY implant would likely possess as a function of their “Maker” personality.

          It is more frequently the “Plug and Play” user, who is unable to understand or uninterested in the details, which suffers from exploits.

          But not always.

          • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

            Thanks for posting those links, heard about those exploits and should have mentioned them. Good point about obscurity, but “security through obscurity” doesn’t work well.

            As for the “Maker” personality, just remember that the “Internet of Things” community is just starting to catch a clue about security, and I’m warning them about it when I get the chance. I also suspect that the major manufacturers getting into the business won’t take it seriously until they lose a few product liability lawsuits.

          • Zenc February 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

            I agree that the idea of relying on “Security through Obscurity” is a bad idea. But… as a practical matter, governments and other criminals who target computer systems tend to pursue the best returns for their effort.

            As an example, for years Apple computers seemed to be immune to the type of vulnerabilities which plagued IBM PC Clones/Microsoft systems. The Apple community liked to play this off as a facet of superior design, but the reality was that Apple presented too small of a market share to be worthwhile.

            Eventually, that changed.

            As long as we’re talking about computer enabled DIY Transhumanism, I suspect that there will be enough variety and differing implementations that it won’t be worth developing exploits for most of them. Sort of a “long tail” situation. (Undoubtedly though, some will be cracked.)

            That will definitely change once a particular system stops being a DIY and achieves some degree of commercial development and ubiquity. Those systems will subject to intense and sustained attack.

            Hopefully the SCADA debacle will serve as a clear warning, but I’m not hopeful in that regard. As you suggest, lawyers will have to blot away a lot of tears with bundles of Benjamins before security is taken seriously.

            On a somewhat related note, here’s the url for a Trendnet camera in Snezhinsk, Russia. There’s a surprising number of hotties going to that store.

            http://46.45.15.53/anony/mjpg.cgi

  2. Jason Wilczak February 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Surprised there aren’t more comments here… but anyway, it seems like the real first step is making some sort of structured political group. A PAC, would be one or even as far as a party. The Transhumanism scene, although popular and somewhat vocal seems to be still isolated and “strange” to people. I think a structure party, as in Russia’s case, would certainly bring light to this and an air of seriousness.

  3. Jason Wilczak February 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Surprised there aren’t more comments here… but anyway, it seems like the real first step is making some sort of structured political group. A PAC, would be one or even as far as a party. The Transhumanism scene, although popular and somewhat vocal seems to be still isolated and “strange” to people. I think a structure party, as in Russia’s case, would certainly bring light to this and an air of seriousness.

    • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      The US isn’t a multi-party democracy, political party approach merely guarantees transhumanism can be safely ignored. Pressure/advocacy group the way to go. Raise the bucks to hire at least a part-time Beltway lobbyist. Get people onto talking heads shows.

      Key to making any of this work is creating a realistic and workable (or even plausible) program… we need a reality-based Transhumanism.

      I’m not the only one thinking about a reality-based Transhumanism, Rachel Haywire wants to see the movement go in more believable direction, she’s trying “reform from within” by running for H+ Board of Directors. I’m dubious that fixing it from within is possible, but joined H+ to vote for her to help her try. Anyone who wants to join H+ to help Rachel try reforming the movement should click here.

    • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      The US isn’t a multi-party democracy, political party approach merely guarantees transhumanism can be safely ignored. Pressure/advocacy group the way to go. Raise the bucks to hire at least a part-time Beltway lobbyist. Get people onto talking heads shows.

      Key to making any of this work is creating a realistic and workable (or even plausible) program… we need a reality-based Transhumanism.

      I’m not the only one thinking about a reality-based Transhumanism, Rachel Haywire wants to see the movement go in more believable direction, she’s trying “reform from within” by running for H+ Board of Directors. I’m dubious that fixing it from within is possible, but joined H+ to vote for her to help her try. Anyone who wants to join H+ to help Rachel try reforming the movement should click here.

  4. Ted Heistman February 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Thought provoking article.
    For me, I just think there is something bad about being maimed that is really visceral. Its disturbing. It makes people feel bad. That comes from empathy. People see a person with a missing limb or eye, or disfigurement and they put themselves in that person’t shoes and think “I would hate to have that happen to me.”

    That seems to be the underlying thing. So then cool technology comes in with prosthetics. So often its impressive. The more technophilic a person is, the more impressive it probably is. But what would get people to prefer robotics to their natural body? That seems like a big leap. Even people whose lives have been spared by pace makers, feel its invasive. So I am skeptical that people will ever deliberately replace their perfectly good body parts with machine parts. For small numbers of people its a fetish, like extreme body modification, but I don’t see most people volunteering for it. And even the body modification crowd has ambivalent feelings. You know like serious regrets.

    • Andrew February 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

      There’s an implicit dualism inherent in it as well; that the mind is not only separate from the body, but doesn’t even need the brain. People forget that neurons exist throughout the body.

    • Andrew February 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

      There’s an implicit dualism inherent in it as well; that the mind is not only separate from the body, but doesn’t even need the brain. People forget that neurons exist throughout the body.

    • alizardx February 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      I think it’s going to be a fringe interest until the advantages of being enhanced are so compelling that people feel they can’t compete with the enhanced without it. Then, many people are going to demand the chance to be enhanced.

      The other scenario is … being uploaded into a robot is likely to be a distinct improvement on being permanently dead.

  5. BuzzCoastin February 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    funny how TransHuman technology
    is always considered to be implanted technology
    and hardly ever is extended technology considered transhumanizing
    and all the enhancements of extended technology are considered normal
    once they have been adopted by cyborgs

    humans have been cyborgs since the wheel & agriculture
    the fact that most aren’t aware this
    is what startling to me

  6. Chaorder Gradient February 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    I always had the idea that this sort of hacking won’t be applicable for at least a generation or two(or 3).
    As echar was saying, the mind rejecting things could be a problem. I assume though that if they could be designed safe enough, the first real effective use of this will work best with children with enough wildness and plasticity to figure out how to use it, and from direct experience, what is most effective (much like the internet’s real force is being shaped not be the original designers but the ones that grew up with it). Of course the ethical issues of implementing something like this would be.. complicated.

  7. Chaorder Gradient February 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    I always had the idea that this sort of hacking won’t be applicable for at least a generation or two(or 3).
    As echar was saying, the mind rejecting things could be a problem. I assume though that if they could be designed safe enough, the first real effective use of this will work best with children with enough wildness and plasticity to figure out how to use it, and from direct experience, what is most effective (much like the internet’s real force is being shaped not be the original designers but the ones that grew up with it). Of course the ethical issues of implementing something like this would be.. complicated.

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