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May 8, 2016 AT 11:00 pm

5 Questions for Biohacker Amal Graafstra of Dangerous Things

Amal Graafstra

https://dangerousthings.com/

You and I met up in 2005 as the first wave of RFID implants were becoming popularized by the media. Beyond the practical benefits of not needing keys what had you come across to get into biohacking at that time? You were clearly inspired because you wrote a book on the topic.

At the time, I thought nothing of what I was doing… it was just a simple logical solution to a boring, pedestrian problem. The don’t even think “biohacking” was even a thing back in 2005, though the modern idea of “transhumanism” had been floating around since the 1960s. As maker culture began to percolate up through stratified layers of “disposable consumerism” of the previous decades, people went back into their garages and basements and started making things again… and this movement swept up biologists, body hackers, and people like me along with it. In fact, I had my little booth with my freshly published book and my little table of demos at the very first Maker Faire in 2006, and things have never been the same. It wasn’t until much later that I actually got involved in biohacking as a methodology, philosophy, and now a business model. The RFID Toys book came about purely as a very pointed request from Wiley publishing, who wanted to capitalize on the media hype by having me quickly bang out a tech project book in 2 months time… I did it in 5, and missed the Christmas deadline for that year, and book sales never really broke the advance I got for writing it. All in all, I lost money on the deal really, but it was well worth the experience.

After the hype you got married, moved, had a kid and even worked a traditional job at Outback Solar. Some time passed and you returned to biohacking with more implant options, readers and custom electronics to interface with. You clearly cannot stay away from this world. What other biohacks are you into outside of the implants {metabolism, sleep, exercise, meditation, etc}?

After the hype died down, I continued to do IT work for medical clinics for a while. Then I got involved with an SMS marketing company, then launched my own SMS text messaging content delivery company until Twitter was launched and basically killed it, then went to work for OutBack Power as director of IT for a few years. After OutBack, I bounced around doing consulting gigs for a while, but ultimately decided to launch Dangerous Things after the flood of emails from would-be biohackers became too numerous to reply to on a daily basis. Makers and hackers were back fiddling with gadgets in garages everywhere, and many of them were now buying used copies of then out-of-print RFID Toys and wanting to get implants. Some people were simply watching youtube videos and grabbing any old transponder they could find and haphazard jamming it into their hand. With the launch of Dangerous Things, the focus was to source and test safe implants, then to partner with doctors and professional body piercers so customers could go to a professional and get a safe clean installation done.

I’ve been interested in various types of biohacking, including polyphasic sleep schedules. Once, for a few weeks, I entered into a polyphasic sleep schedule in order to power through a particularly challenging software development deadline. I would work for 3 hours and 40 minutes, then sleep for 20 minutes, then wake, sleep, wake. Unlike a normal day where you have peaks of productivity and valleys of fatigue, you sleep every 20 minutes and typically wake up every time like it’s the best sleep you’ve ever had. You wake up refreshed and ready to go, but it destroys your concept of day/night and you end up relying heavily on your calendar to schedule simple things like going outside to run an errand or brushing your teeth… but it’s a powerful way to claw back a few hours of sleep per day and convert them into highly productive time… but it’s difficult to maintain if you have any kind of normal relationship with any other human beings, or engage in any kind of typical social engagements. I have experimented with other sleep related biohacks, such as REM sleep augmentation and sleep phase alarms that wake you up just at the end of a REM sleep phase that is closest to your alarm time. Other than sleep hacks, I’ve not done much else but I do like to keep tabs on what new things people are trying. Nootropics seem interesting to me, as well as some of the new approaches to gene therapy being explored.

I know you can unlock doors, unlock your computer and access your vehicles with your implants. What else have you been doing with your implants? What other invisible super human abilities should we expect to see for the implant community in the near future?

The only thing I really wanted to do right from the start was get rid of my keys, and I’ve done that. I’m so extremely happy that every day I can hop in my car or walk through my door without that old familiar jingle jangle of keys, or that frustrating feeling rising up from the deepest depths of your soul when you are running late and can’t find your keys.

About a year ago I decided to focus efforts on solving the problem of identity, specifically bridging the gap between biological identity (you), and your tokenized identity. Consider how every online account you sign into, physical key on your keychain, and card in your wallet represents your identity in some way.. they act as tokens that interact with various systems on your behalf, as you. That key on your keychain is meant to identify you as person who is authorized to walk through that door, or that payment card in your wallet is meant to identify you as a specific account holder who is authorized to pay for some good or service. Both online and offline, identity is a huge problem.

I’m happy to say that this year Dangerous Things will be releasing a new device this year aimed at considerably narrowing that gap. UKI (www.myuki.com) is an implantable NFC platform for identity, security, cryptography, and payment applications. In short, it literally puts the power of cryptography in your hands.

The magnet implants look like fun. Do you use them yourself? What issues are there with them? What do you like about them? I assume the early issues of magnets breaking up is resolved today?

Magnets are an interesting upgrade. The idea is that you hijack a small section of your tactile sensory system by implanting a small magnet into an area with dense nerve endings, typically fingertips, and let the magnet’s movements communicate new information about your surroundings to your brain via your sense of touch. When this small but powerful implanted magnet encounters another strong magnetic field, it will either move or vibrate, and the surrounding nerves communicate those subtle movements to your brain. In about 2-3 weeks, neural plasticity starts to kick and your brain will begin to reinterpret the sensory data coming from that one specific finger or area not as “hey something is touching my finger”, but as “hey, there’s a magnetic field here”. That’s the core difference between an implanted magnet and just something you put on or wear… the brain accepts this input as a consistent, reliable, and robust new form of input and adjusts accordingly. I know this to be the case because of what happened at my local library.

I had my m31 biomagnet implanted for about a month, and I’d already begun to assimilate this new capability into my sense of self so completely that I would forget the magnet was there until I encountered something I could sense or interact with. While entering the library, I walked through the front door like any other day, only today I abruptly stopped dead in my tracks.. just standing there blocking the entire doorway. I’d passed by these beige plastic arches hundreds of times before, but today with my new sense, the library’s anti-theft book detection system was vibrating my magnet like crazy… but why did this jar me to harshly that I stopped walking mid-stride? Brain plasticity was hard at work. Any other day, if I’d been walking into the library and felt a little buzz on my fingertip, I would have simply looked down at my hand to see what little insect or strange thing crawling on me was causing the sensation as I continued on my way in.. but my brain had already integrated the fact that when that small spot on that one finger sent data up the spinal cord, it means something different.. it means something about the surrounding environment. My reaction to stop in my tracks and evaluate just where I was walking and what was going on around me proved to me that neural plasticity was very powerful and relatively robust, even for something so seemingly insignificant as a little buzzing sensation in my finger.

Years ago we all agreed that storage would be the desirable thing to have on an implant. Significant storage still has not happened, but now there are glowing LED implants on the horizon. Are those exciting to you for any application?

It’s not that strange at all. The reason there aren’t a ton of storage devices or glowing lights or crazy active biohacker electronics yet is energy storage safety. The glowing LEDs recently in the news are interesting but very risky. The makers mitigate some risk by only using a non-rechargeable lithium coin cell for power, but the tough reality is – lithium cells are lethal. That’s the short story right there. Look at Sony laptop batteries or hover boards bursting into flames… do anything wrong, and sh*t explodes. By that I mean, if you charge or discharge a lithium ion battery incorrectly, it explodes. Build the charging circuit wrong, it explodes. Design your power management wrong, it explodes. Puncture or bend it so the layers inside short, it releases lethal hydrofluoric acid, and then it explodes. The battery factory made your battery with crappy materials, they degrade and it explodes. The chemicals in the battery were impure, they break down internally and it explodes.

This is why medical devices are so expensive. Some medical implants use lithium ion cells, but they put those cells (L-ion or not) inside giant tombs of titanium with epoxy resin inside. They also use electronic components with extremely tight tolerances and insane materials purity and manufacture QA standards. Imagine if your rechargeable pacemaker’s battery charging circuit used bottom shelf crappy resistors and capacitors made with impure materials that break down and go way out of spec after a random amount of use, causing thermal runaway in the lithium cell until it exploded in your chest, shredding your heart and perforating your lungs into ribbons. You’d probably feel pretty bad.

So basically, we could build all kinds of crazy circuits.. that’s not the problem. The issue is that biohackers don’t yet have the capital to work with these expensive components. Rather than raising the money to get in with the old guard, in true biohacker fashion we hope to leapfrog the entire problem. We’ve been working on a new energy storage cell that is flexible, has no issues with thermal runaway, and should have similar energy density to lithium ion with lower internal resistance. It will function like a hybrid supercap, reducing the risk for biohackers and opening the door to new and exciting implants!

https://dangerousthings.com/


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