advertisement
advertisement

Meet The Biohacking Pioneers Who Are Redesigning Their Own Bodies

In the transhumanism movement, implanted chips are as common as piercings.

In 2012, 25-year-old James Young was in a rail accident in which he lost both his left arm and left leg. An avid video gamer, Young taught himself how to use a controller using only one hand and, occasionally, his teeth. At the 2016 BodyHacking Con in Austin, Young debuted a $76,000 carbon-fiber arm inspired by the video game Metal Gear Solid. The high-tech limb he designed not only gives Young the dexterity to do most of the things he could before his accident, it also charges his phone, displays his social media feeds, and features a mount for a miniature drone–controlled from a panel on his forearm.

advertisement

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]
Young, who designed the limb along with prosthetic sculptor Sophie de Oliveira Barata, is 1 of 30-odd subjects shot for an ongoing photo series by photographer David Vintiner and creative director Gem Fletcher. The series, Transhuman, documents a rapidly growing international movement of the same name. Spanning the fields of medicine, technology, philosophy, art, and academia, transhumanism looks at the ways technology can enhance the physical and psychological capabilities of humans beyond the natural limits of biology. Like Young, some within the movement are developing bionic limbs for differently abled bodies. Others experiment with machines to enhance their sense of sight or touch.

Fletcher and Vintiner discovered the transhumanism community through a meet-up that takes place in the basement of a University College London building. In 2015, the pair released part of the ongoing series, called Futurists, which captured many of the main figures in London’s transhumanism scene. 

The latest series of images, Transhuman, expands the scope to subjects throughout Europe and the United States. “The movement itself is in intense flux,” Fletcher tell Co.Design. “It’s going through a period of rapid growth, so there are new people in the movement all the time. It’s truly a shape-shifting subject matter.”

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]
Fletcher and Vintiner’s subjects frequently introduce them to others in the movement; Fletcher says that the community, though international, is relatively tight-knit and inclusive. Meet-ups like the one at UCL, or the BodyHacking conference Young attended in Texas, have made it easy for members to meet each other. Some, like Aisen Caro, who invented a set of headphones that allows humans to experience echo-location, are scholars. (Caro is a PhD candidate in human informatics at Tsukuba University). Others, like the London-based F_T_R design studio, are inventing ways to blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds. F_T_R’s Skinterface project is a full-body suit equipped with actuators that convey a sense of touch to the wearer while she is experiencing a virtual world–while wearing a VR headset, for example.

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]
Another technology featured in the Transhuman series is a fantastical-looking wearable called the Eyesect, designed by the interdisciplinary lab The Constitute. The Eyesect is an otherworldly headset that covers the user’s head completely, and comes equipped with two handheld cameras. The camera feeds what they are seeing onto a screen inside the headset, giving viewers a sense of 360-degree vision. “You can move around the camera ‘eyes,’ so that you have complete freedom to look up, down, forward, and backward all at the same time,” says Fletcher. “It gives humans the experience that lots of different animals have with this expansive spatial perception.”

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]
Fletcher and Vintiner will continue the series, traveling next to Russia to shoot subjects there, and adding in some film and sound elements to the project as well. The movement is evolving at an exciting rate, says Fletcher, and more people are getting involved, particularly when it comes to biohacking. The most popular forms of small bodyhacks they’ve seen are people experimenting with DIY RFID (radio-frequency identification) implants that allow them to unlock doors or turn on lights with the swipe of a hand, for instance. Also popular in this community are implantable biomagnets, which allow people to interact with the world in new ways—like by picking up magnetic objects with the touch of a finger.

advertisement

“It’s becoming more accessible,” Fletcher says of the transhumanism movement. “We keep seeing more and more people with chips or small implants. It’s almost like the popularity of piercings in the ’90s.”

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

More