Body augmentation, modification or alteration are relatively broad, old terms that we use to describe the purposeful changing of a person’s physical appearance. These can include things like body piercings, surgical implants or even the removal of something that we don’t want. The main drive however for augmentation is to rid a person of a physical disability with government and independent companies striving for the first big breakthrough. An example are neural implants that bypass a humans damaged nervous system which then allows for people with inhibited arm movement to move a robotic arm. There is however a line in the sand of ethics that tries to illustrate when augmentation has gone too far.
Biohacking is something that is relatively new in the world and consists of people known as Grinders pushing those boundaries of what the body is capable of. Early investigation and experimentation by Amal Graafstra in 2005 pioneered the way for the grinder community to expand; not only in size but also in procedures. The first ‘biohack’ was performed by Amal on himself using an industrial glass-encased RFID tag that was inserted into his hand because he wanted to be able to unlock his office door without the need for carrying a key. Other hacks currently include magnets into their fingertips that allows people to feel the magnetic fields around them, and NFC cards (similar to RFID tags) that allows people to store WiFi and bluetooth configuration data, links to websites and other important information. This allows people to have more efficient lifestyles to a degree with additional, important information being stored physically on the human body. Let’s surpass this idea of efficiency and move on to the next level.
We could go further into discussing areas of the potential future like brain uploads and more in depth virtual reality experiences that allows people to function in a world that surpasses their own physical bodies but let’s keep this purely physical; customisable bodies. We’re now moving past the simple ‘upgrades’ that can be done to the human body and moving into a realm of enhanced human capabilities which is a process that involves going past a person’s ‘biological baseline’. When designing prosthetics for amputees or people with disabilities, a lot of the time they aim to get the person to a normal standard as determined by society. For some, that is not enough like for Nigel Ackland or the Alternative Limb Project.
Nigel currently has a bionic forearm where his wrist is able to do a complete 360 spin which definitely surpasses the functionality of a ‘normal’ humans wrist. During an interview with New Scientist, Nigel said “when you get treatment, you lose your individuality,” with doctors using a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Ackland continued with “when I rotate my hand 360 degrees, people are blown away. They don’t see the fact that I’ll never play the piano, or be a speed typist, or feel my wife touch my hand.” The unique prosthetic allows him to “stand a little straighter” and “feel like an individual again.” It is this idea which is the drive behind The Alternative Limb Project.
The Alternative Limb Project, founded by Sophie Oliveira Barata, creates visually unique prosthetics for individuals instead of prosthetics that alters the ‘normal’ functionality. Through the project, you can get feathered armour, stereo legs and snake arms. It is this that allows a person to become an individual again with their own customisable body.
With the unique designing of prosthetics and human augmentation, there are fears brewing from the types of things that people are aiming for; warranted fears. One of those fears is that the moving further away from the biological baseline will result in an arms race between people with and people without body augmentations; essentially another ‘basis’ for discrimination between groups of people. There is also the fears of military investment and advancement of exoskeleton projects that have been occurring since around 2010. These include full body (XSO2 by Sarcos/Raytheon), lower body powered (ExoAtlet by ExoAtlet), passive (Marine Mojo by 20KTS+), energy scavenging which uses locomotion to generate energy (PowerWalk by Bionic Power) and stationary exoskeletons (MAXFAS). This isn’t necessarily augmentation but the sole purpose of most exo’s is the enchance to normal capabilities of a soldier.
Whether you are for or against the idea of groups of people taking leaps and bounds over the human biological baseline, there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a wavering in the enthusiasm and curiosity associated with it. Humans are an incredibly unique organism as they are one of the first to alter the environment around them instead of biologically evolving to be able to survive. This, in a way, is coming back to the human body and mechanically evolving it to surpass the restrictions of biology; and with it, an evolving sense of what it means to be human.