Grinders, Cyborgs & Transhumanists
Grindfest, a biannual celebration of transcending the human form through means that range from the merely clever and painful all the way up to the clever, painful, and breathtakingly dangerous took place last month in the mountains of Tehachapi. There, a couple dozen adventurous souls from as far away as Australia and Germany came together to conduct experiments, perform minor experimental surgery, and drink. “Grindfest,” according to noted cyborg Rich Lee, “is the kind of event where you can really put things in perspective.”
The Grinder movement, most well known for spreading the concept of implanted magnets in order to gain a 6th sense around electromagnetic fields, is an interesting one and deserves a little introduction. Essentially, the Grinders are a facet of the transhumanist movement, but one that does not rely on information technology or science fiction scenarios for fulfilment. Rich Lee says “transhumanism is a verb” and Grinders believe in doing what you can, today, to create possibilities for tomorrow. And if they happen to end up looking like The Borg -a combination surgical suite and engineering bench with a human limb in the middle- that is as much part of the aesthetic as anything else.
The Grinder philosophy has a number of adherents and a couple tried and true processes. For example, many of them have gotten implantable magnets, typically on a fingertip, that allow them to pick up small objects or detect electromagnetic fields as mentioned above. Implantable RFID tags, pretty much like the ones that pets get, are also popular. Transdermal (beneath-the-skin) LEDs that recharge inductively, like this Samsung wireless charging pad does for your cell phone should be available by next year. Magnets installed in the tragus of the ear were trending this year, for use with induction headphones. Chips that read your blood pressure and heart rate are also very popular.
Grindfest was pretty heavily publicized. A camera crew from a major television network was there filming. A documentary crew and a number of journalists showed up on Sunday to cover the visit of Zoltan Istvan, the transhumanist candidate for president, and his coffin-shaped “Immortality Bus.” Those present did their best to work around the media presence, although there was considerable and understandable excitement for some high-profile implants like the bone-transduction bluetooth headphones from Benjamin Engel. “It has a bluetooth headset that is set up to vibrate my skull,” he explained, “And I’m going to translate internet data into an audio format and let my brain decrypt the information.” The implant was made from a product intended to turn a car windshield into a speaker, but had been covered with a biosafe coating. Unfortunately the new biosafe coating proved to be too dense for the speaker, so the final implantable will have to wait another few weeks.
There were many such displays. From the use of dimethyl sulfoxide to try to ingest medications transdermally – apparently unsuccessful, although the medications selected might have had something to do with that – to a car rigged to unlock and start from an RFID in the owner’s hand, the weekend was full of projects and research. Despite some wild talk about sabers and dueling scars, the group as a whole dispersed amicably on Monday morning. The next one, in six months, should see the fruit of this production cycle and a raft of new and exciting innovations.
Photo courtesy of BirdMachine.