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Updated September 27, 2017
Biohacking is an umbrella term for engineering biology to improve and enhance the human body. One subset of biohackers are "grinders", a growing collective whose expertise lies in functional body modification (usually with electronic hardware) that extends human capabilities.
Episode 43 features Tim Cannon, a human host of multiple implants including RFID's (radio-frequency identification devices) and magnets. His interest in being open to the idea of human enhancement stems from adolescence, when playing role-playing video games (where you are free to build up your character to your own liking and continually level up to become more powerful) made him wonder "Why can't we do this to ourselves?"
Some years later, and Tim is in the midst of a movement that pushes citizen science forward. He is in the process of creating an implant (named Northstar 2) that has a variety of functions such as a built-in glucose monitor and gesture recognition. It's exciting to see his efforts coalesce with ours; we're all focused on bringing the promise of personalized health to the world through open education and science-based experimentation.
Geoffrey Woo and Tim discuss his experiences with implants and the challenges and risks attached to being a grinder, the differences between the medical field and biohacking, and a host of community questions! Listeners asked Tim what he believes the most popular consumer augmentations will be in the near future, why he chose to invest in implants than wearables, and what measures are taken to ensure safety when implanting a device with a battery into a fellow grinder.
Geoff: Welcome to this week's episode of the H.V.M.N. Enhancement Podcast, formerly known as the Thinking Podcast. This is your host, Geoff Woo. I'm really excited to have Tim Cannon with us today. If you might not know who he is, he's the co-founder of Grindhouse Wetware, one of the leading groups developing technologies around implants and, you know, cybernetics that can be embedded into humans. Welcome to the program.
Tim: Oh. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I've actually kind of followed this a little bit, but not as much as I'd like.
Geoff: As we were discussing a little bit before going live here, the umbrella term of biohacking covers so many different groups, and communities, and efforts. I would say that, you know, we use the term biohacking in our community around optimizing one's performance, you know, optimize one's biometrics. I would say a very big branch of biohacking is what are called grinders, I guess going to the name of your company, folks that are building devices that are directly implanted into the human body. I would say a third group, if you will, are people that are genetically engineering with CRISPR technologies, you know, organisms. I think everyone is sort of in the same suitcase term, barring one of the terms that you were mentioning, around using engineering techniques on biology, which I think is the underlying thread amongst all these different effort here. I'm curious, your perspective on when people talk about biohacking to you. Is that a similar response, or how do you think about the different efforts here?
Tim: I think that biohacking in general is ... I think that what it mostly has in common is the same thing that it has in common with all forms of hacking. Right? I've said this a lot, is that hacking is coming to understand a system, so that you can then use it in a way, other than that which it was designed or anticipated to be used. When you look at hacking from that perspective, then it becomes pretty clear that you can hack anything. When you talk about biohacking, it's simply coming to understand the body and biology in general, so that you can use it in ways that are other than it's anticipated to be use. I think that there's other kind of a common thread of kind of being frugal and wanting it to be something that comes to the masses and that engages people in a sort of citizen science, as well I think that there tend to be a lot of those. There's very few people that I know that call themselves biohackers that are like, "Don't try this at home." Most of them are like, "Try this at home, and tell us your results, because we're never going to get funding to do this reason." You know what I mean? For whatever reason. If you can find an ampakine that makes you gave better long term memory, you better also find a way to relate it to Parkinson's Disease, or you're just not allowed to do whatever you want to do. You know?
Geoff: Right, but I think the tide is turning. I mean, I think the way I think about it is looking at this community as the modern version of the Home Brew Computing Club. Right? In the 70s and 80s you had people tinkering on silicon, tinkering on computers, people on the hardware side, people on the software side, people putting everything together. I think no one really knew what an Atari that made beeping noises could do, but that was that same creative hacker spirit that took a beeping terminal into now computing runs the entire world. I have the same hope, and I think a lot of us in this community have the same hope around biohacking, really changing what humanity looks like in the coming years. I think especially the work that you're doing, literally implanting hardware into the body, is at the cutting edge of that. How'd you get into the grinder world? I know you're a software developer by training, and so am I. I studied computer science at Stanford. I'm curious to hear your trajectory, going from a normal human to now a cyborg. How has that journey come to place?
Tim: Well, you know, I've always been pretty nerdy, and I played table top role playing games as a kid, of course. Right? Like many other nerds. One of the ones I played was called Shadow Run. Shadow Run is cyber punk focused one. I remember at the back of the rule book there was this list of cyberware is what they called it, and you could just get things installed, and there were little rules around it, and you could enhance yourself in all these different ways. It was like a little menu. It allowed you to be so unique, but so customized to what your character found interesting or desirable. I just thought, "Man, to be able to do that sort of thing would be amazing, to be able to just kind of say I don't like this limitation." I think because I started getting into it so young, it made me just naturally kind of look at the human being not as at the pinnacle of evolution, but really more something that is just as handicapped as any other animal in the animal kingdom and kind of bound to its own devices. As I got kind of older, I started ... after getting into software and in starting to do a lot of that, some software podcasts led me to Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, which then led me to these two Aussie gentlemen that did a podcast called HI 45. Now, one of them is a politician in Australia, working for the Science party and proponent of implantable chips and stuff. They showed me that there was this girl, Lepht Anonym, in Scotland, who put a magnet in her finger, and she could feel electromagnetic fields. Basically, as soon as I heard that, it was kind of like it's on. We can add something. We can add something real and tangible to the sensory experience at an intuitive level. It's on. The revolution has started, and nobody called me. At that point, I had heard about that in April, and by May I had a magnet in my finger. I went and I called my friend. Like two days later, I called my friend who owns a tattoo shop. I said, "Is there anybody in Pittsburgh that does implantation level stuff?" She gave me the name of a guy. We came up with a technique. He had never heard of anything like this before. I filmed that and put it out on YouTube. Then a bunch of biohackers kind of got me in and said, "Hey. There'd a whole scene of us, and we're really just kind of looking for something to do, but we don't really know how to do that stuff." Because of my experience in software, and particularly new products development and also in process, right, so this is where it gets a little boring. I'm a big process nerd as well, so Agile methodologies and Scrum methodologies. I just said, "Why don't we treat this like a project? Instead of a hippy drum circle or a hack-a-thon, let's treat it like a project, and let's come to a common goal." That's where we started. We just collected up a bunch of people who were willing to work and started moving down the field, one little piece at a time. Iterative development, that's what wins the day. That's how the revolution that you alluded to earlier won the day. It was just a lots of hours and lots of pissed off spouses, because their significant others would spend so much time in the garage on something they don't understand and this sort of thing. That's what revolutionized the world we live in.
Geoff: Right. That's awesome. What are the current projects ...? Do you have anything in you right now? Show off your specs.
Tim: I have a lot of magnets. Right now I have a magnet right here that was used for ... I had the North Star her, North Star Version One. That's been removed to make room for the second version, which is coming shortly-ish, but we're kind of spread a little thin right now.
Geoff: That capability gave you ... This was the blood biometrics. Right? This was like blood glucose?
Tim: That's what we're working on next, so that is actually kind of in the works and coming. This one was basically ... Well, the North Star One, it was just simply a light that was a circuit to kind of prove a point and say, "Hey. We can, on a hacker budget, for ridiculously cheap, we can build something that is safe and tested. We can take it the whole way through a real testing process." We got an independent lab to test it, that sort of thing. It was about kind of proving where the grinder scene was and what kind of level of complexity was possible. As an engineer, I'm sure you know, minimum viable-
Geoff: Viable product. Yeah.
Tim: Right? Then you move on to the more complicated stuff, because if it's broken once it's complicated, there's a million wires that you've got to trace down. If it's broken here, where you're just proving your concept, there's so few wires that you can trace down the problems real quick, and that's exactly what happened. The very first version of the North Star was implanted here, and within seven hours of implantation ... Seven of us got them. We were on opposite sides of the world. I was in Germany, and then there was a group of three of us in Germany and three of us in Pittsburgh. We all got North Stars implanted, and within seven hours they started failing. One by one we'd get pings. What's happening? What's happening? We don't know. It turned out ...
Geoff: This was like an implant that glowed and had lights? Okay.
Tim: You basically would run a magnet over it, and it had a small magnetism sensor that ran at extremely low power. If it detected a strong magnetic force, it would just light up for 10 seconds and then go back into deep sleep modes and a huge power saving mode. I mean, we immediately ran into the lab. We worked furiously for like 120 hours straight, like sleeping in shifts, trying to figure out what the hell happened.
Geoff: This is already implanted under your skin, and it's like crap. This thing is like bugging out.
Tim: Yeah. Right. Yeah. It's like, "Oh. Well, that didn't work." Once that happened, we got back to the lab. We figured out what was the problem and immediately kind of started up again. But the North Star Two is going to have gesture recognition, and it'll be beginning to start using our machine learning and AI back ends for pattern recognition. Basically, it's wirelessly rechargeable, and it has Bluetooth low energy, and then you tap it, and it begins to glow. As the glow dims out, you have that much time to do a gesture in mid-air. Then you can train the gestures to then kick off behaviors. You can pick for going like this and like this, and then an Uber comes and takes you home. Right?
Tim: Or you go like this and then this, and it arms the security system at your house. Basically, the-
Geoff: So, adding some real functionality. If North Star One was just like a prove a concept, MVP, a to, if you will, like, "Hey. I have a cool, little sensor that lights up," this actually gives you some real capabilities, sixth sense type stuff.
Tim: Absolutely. Absolutely. In addition, there would be a bunch of weird modalities that it could like intercommunicate with the phone and things like that. That's at its end. We're still in the testing phase of that, so at any given time you have to be in various phases of various projects. Right now, that's entering its testing phase and that sort of thing.
Geoff: Very cool. We got to see that live when you guys are ready to show it off. Yeah. I think it's interesting. I guess I've been sort of a-
Tim: I also have RFIDs, by the way. Yeah. I also have some RFIDs. This one, if you scan it, it'll take you to my Wikipedia page. Why stop at convenience? I can automate my arrogance. It's awesome. This one will open the door at my local hacker space. Hackersburgh, which is the best hacker space in the entire world, and, yeah, it'll open the door there. They wired me in to the badge system.
Tim: I always forget my badges. I was like, "Just, can you do my hand, please?"
Geoff: Stick it in me. Yeah. No. I was just about to just say that I've been a quasi-cyborg, in the same that I've used, you know, implants or sort of pseudo-implants that go on top of your skin, but there is a probe that tracks blood glucose, so I have that in my system two weeks at a time to have a continuous glucose tracking system on my body. I think that's like a very I guess temporary version of something that I know you're working on, in terms of implantable continuous glucose monitor that tracks a bunch of different biometrics. It's actually for folks looking to obviously track blood sugar for diabetes or other metabolic syndromes or people looking to be more optimal or more productive during a work day. Obviously, blood sugar or even a measure like blood ketones are super interesting measures. I'm curious. How do you look at or what is sort of the thinking around implants or technologies that let you understand your own system better, like a blood glucose or a blood ketones, and functionality that extends human experiences? We had Neil Harbisson, the guy with the antenna, on a couple weeks ago. I think it's in general we're just adding functionality to humanity. It sounds like Neil is focused on adding new senses, where I guess my interest is more of understanding my own performance and knowing how to tweak that. It sounds like you're doing, you know, a bit of both. I'm curious.
Tim: Absolutely. I'm absolutely doing both. Right? It's not just about understanding the things that you know how to look for either. Right? When I started messing around with neural networks, and artificial intelligence, and machine learning frameworks, one of the things that was the most interesting to me was not the things that you could do from what's called supervised learning, and I don't know how familiar you are with the space, but supervised-
Geoff: Yeah. A human needs a tag and to say, "Hey. This is a cat. This is not a cat."
Tim: Right. Exactly.
Geoff: Yeah. For the folks out there.
Tim: Supervised learning algorithms, where you're basically telling it the right answer and you're teaching it, but then there's the kind of thing that all other brains can do pretty much everywhere in the animal kingdom, which is to kind of slowly become aware of patterns. Right? And that sort of thing. Even if you don't exactly understand all of the factors of that, you can begin to start to look at things on how closely they cluster on various dimensions of analysis. It's kind of interesting. To me what's going to be really interesting is as we get people that are taking these devices and they're starting to measure more and more deeply ... So, we came up with a technique for low resolution photospectroscopy, to do really low resolution chemical analysis of the blood and tissues, and it's super energy cheap and this sort of thing. Once you start to get this huge base of people and this huge data set, you can begin to traverse it for things that you didn't know were there. That's the stuff that I'm really, really interested in are the things that I don't know are affecting me, but definitely are.
Geoff: Right. This is like the population level metabolomics or precursors to cancer. Right? If you have so much data that is ambiently picked up and you just start seeing outcomes, can a machine learning outcome be like, "Hey. You're starting to show patterns in your biometrics that are precursors to disease or precursors of being a productive, more healthful person."? Right? It can go both ways.
Tim: I mean, even weird, interesting kinds of things like outbreaks of things that don't have prevalent symptoms, but are propagating through populations. Right? Because there are definitely pathogens and things that can have low symptoms and stuff like that that can propagate. I mean, just interesting stuff like that, or how people's food sourcing is affecting them in ways that they couldn't possibly know about and that sort of thing, so not just intentionally optimizing yourself, but automating optimization to some degree, and finding those things, and even finding the consequences of solving these problems. Right? Which then becomes even more interesting. What you do when you learn to mitigate all stress and you can basically route people away from their stressors and still keep society productive, is that good for the robustness of that particular species or not? You know? Because there's an importance in ... In terms of biological life, there's an importance in being robust and that sort of thing, so sometimes optimized really means local minima. Right? What are you optimized for, because the crocodile is optimized for survival, brother. Right? You know what I mean? We're not even close to as optimized for living as a crocodile is, because we've got like, what, 150,000 years under our belt. They're got like millions of years. You know what I mean? THey'll eat a chicken a month and just be cool and live through multiple climate change patterns. You know?
Geoff: Yeah. No. I think it's interesting. Technology and sort of a lack of a natural selection, where we have so much baseline medicine and technology to keep, you know, not necessarily optimized for survival of the humans alive and procreating. Everything is being passed on, which, you know, is great, because more and more people have a life that they can live and enjoy, but in terms of a species level optimization, I think that's a very interesting question that opens up a big can of worms with eugenics versus all of that. Obviously, that's going to be a lot more of a touchy subject, but I think it's a question that's worth asking, like how do we want to be evolving and pushing our limits as a species? If we're not thinking about it thoughtfully, then the default is you're propagating every single gene and characteristic, whether good or bad.
Tim: Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. Eugenics is kind of obviously a dirty word, because of the way in which it was implemented, but I think the overarching inspiration for eugenics has its heart in the right place in every way, which is to say that we can look at ourselves as a species, and we're one of the first species to truly be able to do this, is to look at ourselves as a species and recognize our fundamental weaknesses. Instead of believing that we can just think our way out of these problems and we'll fix it, we can actually start looking at it in an objective way and take an evidence based approach on what is actually capable of fixing it. I've been giving a speech across a couple of different conferences recently, and it's called The Moral Imperative of Biohacking. It basically posits that human beings are an invasive species. Now, right now in Pennsylvania we have this thing called the emerald ash borer beetle. It is just eviscerating forests and this sort of thing. Now, if you were to ask the emerald ash borer beetle like, you know, "You're eating yourself out of house and home. Do you not understand that?", from its perspective it would be like, "What are you talking about, man? I've got no known predators in this area, and there's food everywhere, and we're everywhere."
Geoff: I'm just trying to live. Yeah.
Tim: Right. Yeah. "Clearly we're winning, because look how many of us there are, and we're all eating." They don't understand, and it's all top hats and monocles. Right? You know what I mean? And brandy. Then the next thing they know, the forest collapses, and they starve to death. Right? Does that sound like anybody else to you?
Geoff: All of us.
Tim: All of us. That tends to be the kind of thing where I say, "Okay. We have a moral imperative to look at ourselves and understand that maybe there are things as work, natural patterns at work, that are above individuals and can't really be thought about in that way." The classic example is libido. Right? You know, right now, our libido is set to ice age. You know, we're trying to outbreed glaciers that don't exist and an infant mortality rate of 25%. If you took away both of those things, you'd probably expect to see like 8 billion people out of nowhere. Right? Within the space of a tiny geological frame. That has nothing to do with individuals, because every individual feels like they're making a choice and that that's something that they want to do, but clearly if they were capable of thinking at it rationally and looking at what kind of damage that's doing, you know what I mean, they would be like, "Oh. No. I don't want to do this anymore at all. This is crazy. We got to stop doing this." You know? There's parts of us that are still very much an animal, and I think that that's the noble pursuit of biohacking is the ability to ...
Geoff: Think out of our own context for a second. Right? Be a meta-being and then be like, "Okay. Let's look at ourselves as a species and see how we're impacting the environment." Absolutely. Not to get a personal thing around like,"Hey. I want to be dialing myself up and down or what not," and just like what are the objective facts of how our species is impacting our environment, which I think is a thoughtful way to approach things. Again, I think maybe perhaps from the engineering mindset, where it's like of course there's passion, but if you just step back dispassionately, how do you just analyze the situation? You start realizing that some things just aren't sustainable if it's just given the current path.
Tim: Yeah. Exactly. Once you start looking at it in that way, then you can come up with rational solutions that acknowledge people's need for freedom, and liberty, and that sort of thing, and you can even acknowledge, in an evolutionary context, why those things are valuable, why those things are still valuable to honor and understand, and so you factor those into your solution. Right? For example, with libido ... Now, when I say this, I think people think that I'm talking about implementing it tomorrow involuntarily, but it's a hypothetical scenario. You can think about basically making a reversible procedure for preventing people from being able to impregnate one another. You think tubes tied or vasectomy kind of thing, and it's reversible, and it's implemented at birth, and you actually have to disable that feature to have a kid. Right? How vastly would that change the population overnight, while not taking away any of the freedom that people really want to have? You know, I mean, obviously if implemented correctly, and you've always got to worry about ...
Geoff: Politics. Who gets to choose? Who gets to get turned back on? All that stuff. No. I'm curious. The pushback from mainstream will be, "Why are you playing God?" I'm curious what you're response to that is.
Tim: Well, usually when people ask me that I say, "What do you mean playing?"
Geoff: That's ... yeah.
Tim: I think that that's such a ... I mean, when it's posed seriously, I do find it to be kind of an obnoxious question, because it's like when have we not been doing that?
Geoff: Yeah. We've been manipulating ourselves and our environment since the beginning of our species. Right? We have tools. We have fire. We've been building cities.
Tim: Yeah. You can find resistance to it at every level of innovation throughout history. My friend showed me a journal article from the 1600s, just decrying the field of optics and how it was just terrible, because it was going to give people glasses, and they weren't going to have to just accept the way that they were and the way God wanted them with their shitty eyesight. That's such a crazy way to look at innovation in my opinion, is to say, "Oh. Well, you're playing God." It's like, "No. I'm playing human. I'm playing somebody who doesn't like discomfort and will use my brain to try to stop discomfort." I mean, find me something that isn't trying to stop discomfort.
Geoff: I think it's actually one of the most human characteristics. Right? We, above other animals, are one of the few species that can manipulate, that can plan, that can work over generations to manipulate ourselves and our environment. Yeah. It's probably one of the most fundamental things about being a human is to prove oneself, improve one's surrounding. I agree with you, but I think the danger is that I think it'll be inevitable that people will be biohacking, people will be implementing it. Now, it's like how do we do it responsibly and safely, in a way that's equitable to people, that doesn't increase wealth income or accessibility. I think it's not an if. It's a how.
Tim: You want to be moving towards a more egalitarian society and not less. I certainly don't want to participate in anything that would ... For example, when we very first started and started messing around with some of the things that we were messing around with, which was TDCS and then magnet implants and sensory substitution ...
Geoff: TDCS, for folks that don't know, is basically electrical stimulation of the brain. It has some early, preliminary data suggesting that it could be a way to enhance cognitive performance.
Tim: Yeah. Which we mostly found to be anecdotal. We did our own independent studies, and we had built some stuff that did what's called sham stimulation. We did some early experiments with that, and we actually found very little correlation. In fact, if anything, we actually found a-
Geoff: Negative effect.
Tim: Yeah. In our studies. However, that was the fun of kind of doing it, but when we were doing it, also DARPA and the Air Force are also researching that same technology, and so somebody that was affiliated with Grindhouse got approached by somebody who was affiliated with DARPA to kind of liase something. We were like, "No. We're not interested in doing anything with weaponry, or the military, or any of that stuff." I'm a veteran. Another one of the co-founders of Grindhouse is a veteran. We're both patriots, and we did our service, but we don't want to be in that space with this stuff. I think that there is a huge ethical gray zone right now. Unfortunately, philosophers and academics are only now starting to be willing to have the conversations. When we were first started doing this, it was, "No. Just don't do it, because we don't know. Just stop." I'm an engineer. I have to. Do you not understand how this works? If I find a puzzle, I have to put it together." Right? I doesn't work that way. I think that philosophers are just now starting to get to a place where we can start to define some of these spaces. I'm even trying as hard as I can to drive some of that as well with some of the speeches and talks that I'm giving and just to say we really need to define this space, and we really need to talk it over. The answer can't just be, "We don't know, so stop it." Right? Pandora's out of the box.
Geoff: I agree. It's inevitable that this is going to happen. I think it's incumbent on us, people that are in the community, as well as folks that are out there listening, regulators too, everyone. We should have that conversation now. I think it looks like it's early, but this is happening. It's going to happen, and we should start thinking about the frameworks now. I mean, I think if you look at the FDA, for example, how they legislate drugs or medical devices, these are devices that take people from inefficient states, sick states, to normal states, but we're talking about here is you're adding new functionality. You're enhancing aspects of humanity, so that is no longer under the purview of a medical device or a therapeutic, but it shouldn't be legislated necessarily as a consumer device, like an iPhone, either. It seems like that doesn't quite fit any of those categories. As you're saying, it's a gray area of limbo.
Tim: Yeah. I'm not as much of an anarchist as some of my colleagues in biohacking. I'd be willing to accept reasonable legislation and reasonable restrictions that were, you know, scaled to the level of participation that the person's willing to engage in.
Geoff: Also, voluntary self-responsibility. If you want to take something risky, you understand it, you should be able to do it. That's a very American thing to me. Right? We have freedom to manage our own well being.
Tim: Absolutely. I think that there's a lot of that. The thing is I think it's important that this gets differentiated from medicine. Medicine, it needs to have that rigor. It's not just annoying. You need to have that rigor, because you're dealing with sick people who are desperate. Right? You can't just experiment on them, and you can't just try stuff, and you can't expect sick people to be able to assess their level of risk as rationally as somebody who isn't. If you have cancer and somebody's like, "There's a 10% chance this pill will cure you and a 50% chance it'll kill you painfully," they're like, "Give me the pill." Right? Or at least some percentage of them will. You can't assume that that means that they're completely ... You can't prey on sick people. However, the cool thing about the opportunity with biohacking and enhancement technology is that you have this whole host of people who are willing to volunteer to engage in a risky behavior, who are, for all intents and purposes, healthy, so they're a nice control, at which point you can get this humongous verdant field of data, which can then be used responsibility to help medicine without ever having preyed on sick people. Right? It only seeks to benefit them, in my opinion, to create these reasonable frameworks, but so far, that has not been forthcoming.
Geoff: I think politicians are still buried in the stone ages in terms of a lot of regulation. They still don't really know what digital health ... What are genes? Right? I think your average congressman and senator is just like, you know, for better or for worse, just not up to speed on the cutting edge. Well, probably for worse. Let's put it bluntly. But I'm hopeful. As our community of people get more and more interested, as it becomes more and more mainstream, that conversation will happen. Hopefully there's folks like yourself there to help guide the conversation along. I've looked at the legislative path of things like organic food. It's a very common use term now, but it didn't exist in I believe 1980s. It was literally a group of farmers in California had a notion of having higher levels of farming standards, and that community brought that to the government, to the California State government first and then to the federal government. Now it's a mandated federal program under USDA to have some sort of organic certification. I can imagine in the coming years there'll be similar sort of enhancement sort of framework that guides a lot of this research ad community activity, and hopefully in a way that actually makes sense, that's not just like, "This sounds kind of scary and weird. Don't do it." That would just push everything gray market and black market, because it will still happen. You're not stopping human progress.
Tim: No. No. Absolutely not. It would be foolish of society to push it to the underground, because then you basically have kind of two types of people that are going to gain those benefits. Right? Immensely wealthy people, who are above the law and people who disregard the law will be the only people who are allowed to be enhanced with abilities above other humans. I cannot think of a larger nightmare scenario than all the law abiding citizens basically losing any equality that they have in comparison to those two. That sounds like a nightmare to me. I think there's a need for it to be its own academic discipline and start to go a different way than medicine. Right now, the only academic frameworks are like philosophy and medicine. I think that it should be its own kind of discipline with overlap obviously.
Geoff: Yeah. It seems like that is sort of the momentum and direction. I want to get into audience questions, so that's something new that we're doing. We're posting on our different forums and channels, Facebook primarily, so check us out at HVNM, the human page, for questions. We've got a ton of questions for you, Tim. Let's just dive into it. A fun one from Joshua Corvenus, "What do you think the most popular consumer augmentations will be?" It sounds like you've played with a number of different features. What are the most requested features that people want you to build?
Tim: I think in the beginning of this the biggest features that are going to be requested are going to be something like a small, extremely low profile health sensor, just something that can basically take your standard medical diagnostics, the five measurements that the nurse takes anytime that you go into any sort of a hospital or doctor's office, at a high resolution, and obviously the accompanying software packages, and reporting systems, and suggestive curated stuff that comes along with that. I think that that's going to be the thing that really breaks this into the mainstream. I think once that happens, it'll take the cap off of the concept of enhancing yourself. Once that happens, I think we'll start to see more items in that way, particularly with brain computer interface. People will want to be able to have a higher level of seamless integration with their technology. They'll start to see the real benefits of kind of beginning to seamlessly integrate with technology in a way that is intuitive, and natural, and fundamental. Yeah. I think that'll be the direction that it goes. I think at first we need the health stuff. Not to mention, I mean, just in places with socialized medicine, something like that put into like 30% of your population would save untold amount of money.
Geoff: Yeah. I think so.
Tim: I mean, it would just be absurd. Counting it would make it seem like imaginary numbers.
Geoff: Josh actually has a good follow up question here that I'm going to ask. What do you personally plan on getting next in terms of an implant? I mean, it sounds like you have a couple projects in works. I assume those are on the top of the list, but ...
Tim: The project trajectory that we've always kind of had is a very simple kind of thing to close the cybernetic group and to say ... Basically, the North Star Two would be active control of digital systems. I could do a gesture. I can make it do things. I can maybe even map a steering wheel to the accelerometer and guide drones and whatever. That's active control of digital systems. That'll be the very next thing I get. Then there's passive control of digital systems, which is the biological sensor that we're developing. That's where if your house is too warm and you've got your temperature coming through, you can cool your house down.
Geoff: Automatically, passively.
Tim: Exactly. If you're on your way home and you're super stressed. The final piece, which is we're in the very preliminary phases of this, is talking back directly to the nervous system from a digital system. Right? We're starting our first system foray into the nervous system and beginning to select some of the hardware there and design the experiments.
Geoff: I have a ton of questions from David Ishy, who you actually know, but I want to ask a few of them here. I think one of the basic ones, "Why implantables instead of wearables? I have an Apple Watch, and it seems to be increasingly more advanced rumors around an optical glucometer that will detect my blood sugar through a laser on the watch. What advantages? Why open up my body and stick something in if I can just wear external stuff?"
Tim: I think that ... I also actually, I use Fit Bit. It's got a heart rate monitor. I see space for both of them, but I can say that having something integrated into your body, as opposed to something that you attach to your body, is fundamentally different in the way that you perceive it psychologically. I can say that with absolute certainty, having experimented in this space more than most people would even be comfortable with. I think that there is something fundamental about, for us and what we're interested in exploring, is not necessarily just the data, but how integrating with your technology on a fundamental level to where it's part of you is how that affects the human psyche and what that's like. I think that that's where we're really kind of interested in playing is finding what do these things do to you when they become part of you? For example, one of the better examples is let's say you have this thing on your wrist and somebody says, "Hey. It turns out that that's using a part that's not allowed to be used, and it's got some material in it that we don't like, and so we're going to disable is, we're going to disable this thing on your wrist remotely. Right? Well, on some level that's terrible, but what they did was they disabled an object that you can remove from your body on you. Now, let's say I have this RFID tag and somebody comes up and sets the lock bits on it, so I can never use it again. On a fundamental level they have violated me, not something on me, not something I own, but me. Right? I think that's the fundamental difference is that once something is integrated into you at that level of integration, it changes the way in which you view it, and it becomes part of you. It's an ability that you have. For us also, getting closer to the source and not having to deal with loss and all sorts of other kind of thing as well kind of factor into it.
Geoff: That rings true to me. It's like it's early, in terms of implantables, but you're just having a lot more degrees of freedom once you start implanting directly into your system. Yeah. Maybe early it's kind of toy-like. Everything starts sort of toy-like as you evolve, and grow it, and increase the functionality.
Tim: All this stuff with glucose and trying to figure out how to do layers through six layers of skin.
Geoff: It's hard. I've looked into it. It's very, very hard. Yeah.
Tim: I mean, when we have the technology to do it safely and comfortably, the question I have to the wearable people is why do you scare? Just pick the things that's the best and the easiest.
Geoff: Yeah. Christina Bodnat has a couple good questions. "How do you think about the long terms risks of some of the things you're doing? What ways might excessive implantation actually backfire?"
Tim: Yeah. There's definitely ways in which ... I can't say for sure, but one of people we had with Grindhouse for a while, he was trained as an EMT, but he had expressed concerns around cutting into yourself this often could create more frequent ...
Tim: ...and scarring. You might end up like throwing thrombi and things like that, so you an end up having problems circulation problems. When I did the really, really big one in 2013 ... If you haven't seen a picture of that, that's a horror show. That's grinder as it gets.
Geoff: Can you explain it? It was like a big chunk that was ...
Tim: Yeah. It was on my arm here. Basically, I don't want to say it was the size of an iPhone, but it was large, extremely large. It took my temperature, kicked it out over Bluetooth once every five seconds. We wrote some software to lug it into a thermostat and stuff like that. When I did that, I found that I had circulatory problems for the first like 45 days. Additionally, whenever I get something implanted that I designed, there's actually ... The more you know about this stuff, the more you know about what can go wrong. I've experienced psychological trauma in terms of panic attacks and kind of really ... It's scary. I'm sure the guys in the spaceships, you know what I mean, they're like, "Yeah. This is great. Larry's a scientist, he designed this rocket ship, and everything's great." Then you start thinking about every time you saw Gary drunk with a lampshade on his head at the Christmas party, and you're like, "Oh my god. I'm going to die. I'm going to die guys. They're all my asshole buddies. What did we do?I think that there's some of that as well. I can't picture much beyond then, but that's just because it's so new and there's so much about it that I think a lot of people, people who are in the know, are not as in the know as they think they are. When I was in Canada and I was explaining I was going to put the North Start Two in me, a very prominent doctor, who worked for the government she said, "You can't put an implant there." I said, "Why not?" She said, "You'll ruin your hand. It'll reject, and you'll ruin the hand, and it'll compress the blood vessels, and everything will be screwed, and your hand will fall off, and it'll be terrible," and all this stuff. I then basically got home and sent her hundreds of pictures of people will regular silicon implants in, to the point where she was like, "Oh. Weird. Okay. Well, maybe." I think that there's so much we don't know about what the body can truly tolerate, because we've looked at it in a context of medicine, where it's like, "If you're here with me right now, yore sick. Let's not complicate anything by stretching the skin in the shape of a star, whereas you don't really have a lot of medical practitioners investigating health people that have done, except for maybe plastic surgeons. That's a pretty rigorousness too.
Geoff: Yeah. You also know people can do some crazy work with plastic surgery. It's definitely ... I mean, the human body is resilient to a lot of stress in a lot ways, but I think that is refreshing to just ... Also, refreshing to hear that, like, "Hey. You're not some psychopath that I can't relate." Right. Okay. It's kind of scary. You're taking some risks. It's not necessarily-
Tim: Right. If it's not scary, then you don't understand it. I mean, that's thing. What we're doing here very much has risks involved, and we mitigate as many of those as possible. Like I said, we do third party, independent lab testing, all kind of other stuff, but at the end of the day, you design this with your dickhead buddies in a moment.you know what I mean? You got to be a different level of confidence that's probably half stupidity. You know?
Geoff: Yeah. I think basically every creation of humanity is someone's dickhead friend who like made some crazy idea. That's just human nature. David Ishy sort of has a follow up with sort of the risk side I think is interesting. "Battery leakage, what happens? Have you experienced that? Is that something that you guard against?"
Tim: Yeah. I mean, that's obviously one of the top priorities is making sure that any of the materials that are in these things are isolated and that they can ... If they do fail, that they fall safe, and that sort of thing. We've never had a battery leak. We did have one that became disabled and in an unsafe way. That was really scary, but it was done in such a way that there was a redundancy that one allowed it to be mitigated, but it was pretty scary. With battery leaks, nowadays we're actually capable enough engineers that we can build things that are low power enough that the batteries that we're using and the amount of material in them is below the LD 50 of exposure to the substance. We're getting to a place where it's definitely not a problem in terms of lethal, but also it would hurt. It would do damage, but in this case there's actually, because of the small amount, it cants actually muster enough force to get through the things that were encapsulating in, so we have found a way to kind of mitigate that all away, to the point where it will fail safe. But it was-
Geoff: Even catastrophic failure, wherever everything goes into your system. It's under the LD 50. Okay.
Tim: That was one of our top priorities, especially after the minor scare that we had. I had a biologist working for me at the time, because I don't like any of the blood and guts. I never look. I always look away. I'm not a fan. People think I like pain. I don't like pain. I'm just really curious. I'm more curious about what the outcome's going to be than I am afraid of pain.
Geoff: You sacrifice your body for your curiosity. Okay.
Tim: She was taking pictures, because she's fascinated about that stuff. As they removed it, you could see that the battery was slightly puffed up broken. She literally like passed out right there in the room. When she came around, she was like, "It wasn't because it was gross. It was because I realized that I helped put something in you that could have potentially killed you, and you're my friend, and you have kids. You know what I mean? It just overwhelmed me." You know, that's part if it.
Geoff: Dave has another question. "Have you ever had damaged implants, anything high power radio? Can people try to screw up your implants by zapping it or something? Do people try to do that?"
Tim: Nobody's tried. My friend, Mike, had a RFID chip. He had kind of dared his buddy to try to sneak one by him and get the lock picked. If you can get the lock picker, you've got them. You know what I mean. If you can get them. You know what I mean? If you can get them, good for you. Give it a try. I mean, I think the potential is going to become greater very shortly, as we're taking forays into standardized protocols and particularly communication protocols, Bluetooth low energy and Blue tooth in general. You can find exploit how's tos on the internet. When I was at DEF CON somebody attacked my Fit Bit, while I was just talking to somebody. I was like, What's going on. I think as we start heading that way, into these standardized protocols, you'll find that that's going to become a risk. Fortunately, I grew up being very close to the hacker culture, and security hacker, and kind of black hat kind of hacker culture, and so I'm relatively aware of how little I know, which means that you need to get a bunch of back hat guys and tell them to tare this shit apart, so that I can fix it.
Geoff: Yeah It seems like there'll be an industry, just like theirs security, computer experts, so it would be cybernetic security experts. That seems to be a reasonable evolution of this industry or of this space. Cool. I's been an awesome conversation. I want to wrap this up here. How can people find you? How can people follow you? We should definitely get together again and do another episode when we have updates or new implants to show off. How do people keep in touch.
Tim: Right now the best way is, the same with you gus, Facebook. Grindhouse has a Facebook page. We have a Twitter. My Twitter handle is TimTheCyborg. I post and keep my social media relatively up to date. We are going to be taking ... I'm starting a project full time in Australia with another grinder from Australia named Meow Meow.
Geoff: Actually changed his name to Meow Meow, or is that just some code name?
Tim: Yeah. No. He did. He change his name to Meow Meow. He's really cool. He's a biologist, a really smart guy. He implanted the opal card into his hand. It's his bus pass. He can basically ride public transportation and that sort of thing.
Geoff: The bus drivers are like, "What the hell are you doing?"
Tim: Yeah. It's pretty interesting. We're starting a project in Australia and seeing how that goes.
Geoff: What part? We have some Australian listeners? What part?
Tim: We'll be down in Sydney. Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it, getting kind of ramped up there and starting to build stuff and that sort of thing. It'll be really nice to be working in the cybernetics space and being paid, instead of it costing me money. That will be a novel experience for me.
Geoff: Awesome. My producer Zhill reached out. Let's keep in touch. I think this is a small community, but it's a fast growing community. I think just the press, the reporters that have been asking about the space and just the growth of our audience. I think this is the future, so I'd love to keep in touch and get updates when you're down in Sydney and building the nest great implant.
Tim: Yeah. Absolutely. I'd love to.
Geoff: All right. Cheers, Tim. We'll talk soon. Cool. That was a fun conversation with Tim, likable, authentic, realistic guy. I think when you here of people implanting crazy shit into their bodies in the media, you're like, "Who are these people? Why are they implanting weird shit into their bodies?" I think after talking with Tim, talking to folks like Neil Harbisson, other grinders out there, I think you can see that these are interesting people that are curious. They're really pushing what's known. I could see, exactly like the home brew computing club guys or the early explorers, like Columbus or Cortex, maybe not in sort of the evil way they conquered other groups of people, but really pushing out the edged of humanity. I'm excited to be a part of this community, excited to talk to folks like Tim. As always, if you have questions or suggestions for guests to talk to, please let Zhill, the producer, or I know you can find us on Facebook. That's a great channel to reach us: H.V.M.N., the four letter domain, which is really, really clutch. The questions are awesome. We'll be definitely doing that every single time now, so probably a day or a few hours before each love taping we'll send out a thread with who the guest is going to be, a little bit about their background, and an opportunity to give me your questions. I thought that that was really helpful to tailor the conversation to what you guys are interested in. As always, please subscribe, iTunes, YouTube, Soundcloud, and Google. Cheers. See you next time.
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