Hacking Humans: The Cutting Edge of Grinder Biotechnology

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By: Ariana Morello

What is Biohacking?

Biohacking is a form of biological experimentation that combines biology with technology and is performed outside of a typical scientific research environment. Unlike traditional hacking which involves unauthorized, harmful intrusion, biohacking is comprised of a positive, consensual “hack” on the body’s organic systems in order to improve its functions. The goal of biohacking is to maximize human potential, thus, contributing to the transhumanism movement. Biohacking often occurs through self-experimentation.

Grinder biohacking, a form of DIY biology, involves invasive measures to push the body past its natural limits. Members of the grinder biohacking community, referred to as grinders, enhance their bodies through technological improvements and software implantations. These technological improvements can range from the aesthetic, such as LEDs under the skin, to the more functional, like robotic arms. One grinder, a legally recognized cyborg,  has become famous in the community for implanting an antenna in his skull, which converts light waves to sound waves, allowing him to hear color.

While many consider biohacking unusual, it is actually quite common because biohacking takes many forms. Less extreme forms of biohacking include nutrigenomics, which focus on holistic solutions to improve the body through maintaining a healthy diet or exercising. When you go on a diet or take supplements, you are engaging in a form of biohacking. Further, smart drugs, such as Ritalin, are considered biohacking because they improve cognitive ability.

Grinder Biohacking 101

A common practice among grinders is to implant magnets in their fingertips. Small biomagnets can stimulate nerve endings, creating a sixth-sense by allowing those who receive the implant to feel magnetic and electrical fields around them. Alternatively, larger magnets give people the ability to pick up small magnetic objects, such as paperclips and bottle caps. Biomagnets are so common that they can be purchased on biohacking websites and implanted at home. Biohacking company Dangerous Things sells a sensing magnet for just fifty-nine dollars, with the additional option of an implantation kit. Beneath the product description, a warning notes that the biomagnets have not been tested or certified by any regulatory agency. Though the company does their own testing on the products, they advise customers, “use at your own risk.”

Another popular grinder trend is to implant Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) devices sub-dermally in the hand. The microchips can be as small as a grain of rice. Dangerous Things has estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 people have already been chipped. Subdermal microchips have many uses including replacing the need for keys and passwords and enabling vCard storage or bitcoin wallets. With microchip implantation, people literally have access to their data in the palm of their hand.

Outside the body, microchip technology is widely used. RFID tags are frequently utilized by industries such as warehouse or retail stores to assist in supply chain management. RFID technology is also used for identification and tracking purposes – it is in embedded in employee ID badges and passports, and implanted in pets. Similarly, NFC enabled devices are used to store data, exchange information, and even pair technology like Bluetooth headsets or speakers. Apple’s newer iPhones have NFC functionality, allowing people to use their device in order to pay for transactions through Apple Pay.

Benefits of Biohacking

As grinder biohacking grows in popularity, companies are adapting to the new technology.  In a TedTalk, Amal Graafstra, founder of multiple biohacking companies, displayed that with the touch of his microchipped hand he could both unlock a specialized deadbolt and share contact information with a smart phone. The Company Three Square Market has gained publicity for holding a “chip party,” giving consenting employees the ability to access the building, log into computers, and pay for snacks with their implanted microchip device. Abroad, a Swedish rail line has started scanning implanted microchips to more easily collect train fare from passengers.

Biohackers follow the concept of open sourcing, in which they share technology and information with the community. As a result, the technology is constantly improving and adapting for modern use. Future applications of microchipping could include more smart buildings, widespread payment at stores, GPS tracking, and health metadata accessible by hospital personnel in emergencies. Widespread use of RFID for storage of medical data could be especially useful by hospital or medical personnel to quickly and accurately access information about a patient’s medical history.

Microchip implantation can also increase security. For example, VivoKey, an implantable smartcard, eliminates the need to expose a cryptographic key, such as bitcoin, to a device. Not only does this allow users to perform bitcoin transactions with their hand, but it also increases security because it eliminates the vulnerable middleman –  the computer.

Is Grinder Biohacking Legal?

Grinder biohacking is an emerging field which leaves many ethical and legal questions to be answered. As fear over the use of negative impact of microchipping grows, some states have enacted laws preventing mandatory microchipping. For example, California Civil Code makes it illegal to coerce someone to undergo implantation of an identification device, and carries with the violation a civil penalty. The majority of other states, including Washington, have yet to enact any such a law.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a type of RFID implant in patients, allowing physicians to access a unique code that would lead them to patient’s medical records. Similarly, in 2007, the American Medical Association (AMA) also endorsed the use of RFID implants in patients. The AMA additionally established a code of ethics that required doctors disclose medical uncertainties, protect patient privacy, and support research involving RFID in humans. However, since grinder technology does not take place in a traditional research environment and the implants are non-medical, it goes unregulated and does not require any FDA approval. Grinders are free to experiment and implant microchips and magnets as they please – at their own risk of course.

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