404 results for “Augmented Bodies”

The beginner’s guide to biohacking

Peter Joosten
November 19th 2019

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term 'biohacking'? Perhaps you are now thinking of a bunch of kids sitting in their kitchen with a DNA kit, (wannabe) cyborgs inserting subcutaneous chips in their bodies, or perhaps a person striving for optimum performance through a perfect lifestyle. These are all types of biohacking, but there's more to it. Here's what you need to know (and were too affraid to ask).

Bulletproof coffee

The problem …

Instagram will remove filters promoting cosmetic surgery amid mental health concerns

Cara Curtis
October 29th 2019

If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, it’s littered with timelapses of injected lip fillers, Kardashian-promoted beauty products, and Story filters that “enhance” your face. The subliminal pressure to be “perfect” is no longer subliminal, and it’s putting more more of a strain on young users more than ever. 

This is why Instagram is planning to remove all AR filters that depict or are associated with cosmetic surgery. Over the past few months, filters like “Plastica” — an effect …

Exploring body architecture with Lucy McRae

Meike Schipper
August 13th 2019

As evolution goes on, the human body is evolving too. What does it mean to be human in times of advanced biotechnology and genetic engineering? Are our bodies ready for our technologized lifestyle? We spoke with science fiction artist and body architect Lucy McRae, who is exploring the future of our body, beauty and the self. 

As former ballet dancer and architect, Lucy effectively blurs the boundaries between design, art, architecture and science. She is well-known for her Swallowable Parfume …

This tiny tooth sensor tracks what you eat, and it could help you be healthier

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
December 28th 2018

The South Beach diet. The Atkins diet. Eating paleo. Cutting out gluten. Going vegan. The list of fad diets and health crazes goes on, yet health statistics in the US and around the world show that most people still don’t know what to eat, or when, or how much.

New research from Tufts University’s engineering school has created a product that may be able to help: a sensor worn on users’ teeth that wirelessly transmits data about food intake to …

Custom-grown bones, and other wild advances in regenerative medicine

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
November 8th 2018

The human body has always been an incredible machine, from the grand feats of strength and athleticism it can accomplish down to the fine details of each vein, nerve, and cell. But the way we think about the body has changed over time, as has our level of understanding of it.…

How animal filters unmask the estranged relation to our wild self

Meike Schipper
November 6th 2018

Would you like a dog snout, cat eyes or fluffy bunny ears? The choice is yours. Virtual selfie filters have become a widespread phenomenon on social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. But what kind of self do these animal filters show us?…

The age of cyborgs has arrived

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
October 31st 2018

How many cyborgs did you see during your morning commute today? I would guess at least five. Did they make you nervous? Probably not; you likely didn’t even realize they were there.…

MIT’s new voiceless interface can read the words in your head

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
October 17th 2018

The way we interact with the technology in our lives is getting progressively more seamless. If typing terms or addresses into your phone wasn’t easy enough, now you can just tell Siri to do the search or pull up the directions for you. Don’t feel like getting off the couch to flick a switch, or want your house to be lit up by the time you pull into your driveway? Just tell your Echo home assistant what you want, and …

Reimagining popular apps with the Pyramid of Technology

Alejandro Alvarez
October 3rd 2018

Today, there's an app for everything. They help us satisfy our cravings, allow us to communicate at all times and make it easier to share special moments. But the dark, cold screens of our smart phones, the de facto platform for these tools, simply don’t resonate with the sensorial aspects of our human needs.…

Teens are seeking cosmetic surgery to look like your favorite Snapchat filter

bryan clark
September 21st 2018

Cosmetic surgeons have always fielded seemingly odd requests to recreate body parts from celebrities: Angelina Jolie’s lips, David Beckham’s calve, or perhaps Salma Hayek’s breasts. Teens today, however, are a different breed. Whereas a decade or two ago, looking like their favorite celebrity — or at least the version that’s airbrushed to within an inch of reality — might have been the request du jour, today teens want to look like their favorite Snapchat filters.

Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of the Ethnic …

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term 'biohacking'? Perhaps you are now thinking of a bunch of kids sitting in their kitchen with a DNA kit, (wannabe) cyborgs inserting subcutaneous chips in their bodies, or perhaps a person striving for optimum performance through a perfect lifestyle. These are all types of biohacking, but there's more to it. Here's what you need to know (and were too affraid to ask).

Bulletproof coffee

The problem with biohacking is that all the examples outlined above are true. Amateur biotechnologists, cyborgs and supporters of a healthy lifestyle all associate themselves with the term biohacking.

Within the latter group, which I call the lifestyle optimizers, Dave Asprey is the guru. Asprey is the frontman of the American brand Bulletproof. Among other things, this brand sells special coffee that you must mix with butter and coconut oil. The promised result: instant focus, without any sugar crash and hours of satiation.

A brief bio of biohacking

But what exactly do we mean when we speak of 'biohacking'? The term was first used in 1988 in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. The article described the possibilities to perform all kinds of technological experiments from your basement. This included DNA analysis, the cultivation of bacteria and testing the effect of viruses on fungi. Today, this definition is still dominant for the group of amateur biotechnologists.

Within the other two groups, the cyborgs and the lifestyle optimizers, biohacking is aimed at people. In using the term, the link to computers is made: just consider how computerhackers break into hardware and software vs. biohackers grinding their own wetware.

The cyborgs take this notion quite literally, by implanting technology into their bodies, whereas lifestyle followers believe that you can improve the human body and prevent aging with smart nutrition, health hacks and useful gadgets.

Steam engines and other metaphors

The comparison with computer technology comes from our current technological paradigm. Yet in the past, the paradigm of that time was used to look at the human body.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, the human brain was considered a constellation of pipes, steam and drive shafts. The saying "blowing off some steam" is also a good example of how people saw themselves as, well, a kind of steam engine.

These days we see the brain often described as an algorithm or hard disk and the body as a battery that needs to recharge. Keeping this in mind, the idea of biohacking is not that strange.

Technology after all, is what makes us human.

Shifting boundaries

Take something as simple as sight. In prehistoric times, your chances of survival were nil when suffering from poor vision. When the first glasses were made around 1200 AD, our ancestors most likely responded, “Your vision was given to you by God—why change that?"

As we have developed ourselves scientifically over time, so did our technology; as contact lenses are socially accepted today, does this also apply to smart contact lenses that have a Google Glass-like function tomorrow?

And what about LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis), or commonly referred to as laser eye surgery. This technology is becoming more accessible, but how socially accepted is it to give yourself super vision like golf superstar Tiger Woods

This is my point: ethical boundaries of what we find socially acceptable are constantly shifting. That is what biohacking is about. Glasses are no longer biohacking, but smart contact lenses are.

Thinking ahead, one may wonder: Will glasses at some point become out-dated? Will everyone have genetically modified eyes for optimum vision?

Chances are, the next generations of biohackers will be at the forefront of these technologies. Perhaps they will replace their biological eyes with bionic ones. Perhaps they will simply change their diet.

Just like our technology, biohacking (and its dream and ideas that we have of ourselves) moves along the progress of mankind. But as with other technological developments, it's impossible to predict how these will evolve in the future. But there is one thing that we can be certain of. Things will change.

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If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, it’s littered with timelapses of injected lip fillers, Kardashian-promoted beauty products, and Story filters that “enhance” your face. The subliminal pressure to be “perfect” is no longer subliminal, and it’s putting more more of a strain on young users more than ever

This is why Instagram is planning to remove all AR filters that depict or are associated with cosmetic surgery. Over the past few months, filters like “Plastica” — an effect that gives you extreme plastic surgery — have become increasingly popular, even viral. But with their rapid popularity comes growing concerns over the impact they may have on young people’s body image.

Instagram-filter-cosmetic-surgery

Back in August, Facebook announced its (previously invite-only) tool to create face filters — Spark AR Creators – was open to the public, allowing anyone to create and publish effects for use in Instagram Stories. With this came a flood of more problematic filters, such as “Fix Me” an effect which illustrates the pen-markings of pre-surgery, including a nose job, eyebrow lift, and cheek fillers.

Although Spark AR didn’t design the filter, it did approve the filter to be used by its one billion users on Instagram Stories. A post published by Spark AR Creators stated that it wants its filters “to be a positive experience and are re-evaluating its existing policies as they relate to well-being.” While its policies are being reviewed and updated, Facebook is removing existing filters like “Fix Me,” and postponing the approval of any similar new effects.

This news comes shortly after Facebook and Instagram announced they will tighten their policy on posts related to cosmetic surgery and weight loss products by hiding related posts from users known to be aged under 18. This update includes the removal of any content that makes a “miraculous” claim about a diet or weight-loss product linked to a commercial offer, such as a discount code or affiliate link.

It’s reassuring to see Instagram and Facebook take responsibility for what they’ve been hosting, but it remains to be seen how proactively they will respond to issues of mental and physical health in the future.

This article is republished from The Next Web under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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As evolution goes on, the human body is evolving too. What does it mean to be human in times of advanced biotechnology and genetic engineering? Are our bodies ready for our technologized lifestyle? We spoke with science fiction artist and body architect Lucy McRae, who is exploring the future of our body, beauty and the self. 

As former ballet dancer and architect, Lucy effectively blurs the boundaries between design, art, architecture and science. She is well-known for her Swallowable Parfume and the photographic collaboration with Bart Hess, with whom she explored how the human silhouette might evolve. We spoke to Lucy about her recent projects, the future of our bodies and the importance of a feminine perspective on technology. 

Crisis of touch

Lucy’s most recent project is the Compression Cradle, which she exhibited at the Design Triennale in Milan. The Compression Cradle is a machine that affectionately hugs you. Every hour, audience members were able to get underneath the Compression Cradle and aerated volumes would hold them tight. Is this the way to prepare our bodies for a future that lacks human affection?

The Compression Cradle (2019), co-commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut and Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences

“Last year, The Guardian released an interesting article that said we are in a crisis of touch,” Lucy tells. “When you hug someone, you release the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that is responsible for building trust and desire amongst humans.” Unfortunately, in our world of virtual connection human touch becomes scarce. 

Instead of perceiving technology as the alienating factor in human connections, Lucy is interested in its possibilities. “Perhaps in the future, technology will be able to fill those needs. Will we have machines that repair the broken bonds with ourselves and the people around us? Compression Cradle is part of my inquiry into design as something that is restorative. Can design become a restorative mechanism?”

Break down barriers

The concept of restorative design and technology originates from an earlier project: The Future Day Spa. This futuristic spa is a personalised, guided experience, offering treatments that evoke states of love, trust and relaxation. “The Future Day Spa is also a project around a machine that hugs you, but it is shown in a different way; more like a film where the audience are characters in the future scenario,” Lucy explains.

The Future Day Spa (2015)

“During the ten-minute treatment at the Future Day Spa, one of the audience members said that he suffered from haptophobia, which is a fear of touch. He never had physical contact with any other person. Yet after the treatment, he said this felt like an embrace; he knew that this felt like a hug. There was this very sincere emotional connection going on, and when he got up out of the bed, he reached out and he hugged me. I realized that even somebody who silences his release of oxytocin and deprives himself off touch, still has this craving for it.”

This experience triggered Lucy to look at technology differently. “In this case, technology was the bridge between his fear of touch and his desire to be touched, which resulted in him breaking that barrier and then interacting with me again by giving me a hug. For me, it’s not about technology being in the spotlight; technology is being a harbinger to break down barriers. So that we get in touch with ourselves again.”

Technology is being a harbinger to break down barriers.

We are the protagonists

Lucy’s focus on bodily experience, touch and beauty is - up until now - quite unusual in the field of science fiction. She wants to give science fiction the sex change that is long overdue. “I am pleading for a future that is fleshy, visceral, messy and far away from anything related to the masculine sci-fi stereotype.”

“I think that it is necessary to bring a feminine perspective on technology and treat it more like an elastic membrane that is draped over something else, as opposed to it being the protagonist. I feel like our bodies, our minds and our personalities are the protagonist and technology exists just to support what we are trying to achieve.”

Our bodies, our minds and our personalities are the protagonist.

Lucy emphasizes that the exploration of subjects such as beauty and identity is essential to science fiction. “We are testing our future by imagining life off earth. In a way, beauty and identity are testing the waters of the future. Perhaps leaving earth and going to space is so alienating, that we are exploring alienating beauty as a way of testing what it might be like to live off earth. Beauty and fashion almost become symbols of where we are going.”

Calculated beauty

The Biometric Mirror utilizes the concept of beauty to reflect on artificial intelligence. “Biometric Mirror is a beauty salon that invites the general public to come in and be analyzed,” Lucy elaborates. “You're told how weird you are, whether you’re an introvert and extrovert, your gender, your age; it's this clean sweep of biometrics. Next, it morphs your face into what is considered to be bio-statistically beautiful.” It’s definition of beauty is based on an equation of Hollywood’s plastic surgery, the Marquardt’s mask, that is still used in most plastic surgeries to date. 

“The result is that, if we all follow the kind of perfected beauty portals that the Marquardt’s mask draws up, we are all going to look the same. Will artificial intelligence end up with a dull mono aesthetic without variation? Biometric Mirror is a way to engage the public and ask questions around the ethics of artificial intelligence. We need to be able to make accidents and there needs to be serendipity. How do we make sure that we keep that serendipity in artificial intelligence?”
 

How do we make sure that we keep that serendipity in artificial intelligence?

Generally, science seems to be on a mission to achieve perfection and suppress serendipity. “If we look for example at genetic engineering, its’ aim is to remove any disease, any imperfections. We can delete it; we can cut it out and replace it.” This is both a danger and a chance. “In a way, science is design. And that excites me, because then we may deliberately design the human body,” Lucy states.

After all, she remains an optimist. “I think the most important thing is that we ask the right questions, that the questions we’re asking are relevant and provocative and disruptive. We have to make sure that we are asking everybody, not just the experts. And that's why art is so important; you can't quantify art, you can't measure experimentation, and that's what makes it so valuable. Art and design can ask questions that science and technology may not. Ideally, someone experiences my work and is inspired to ask a question that they never have thought of before.” 

Lucy McRae is currently preparing for a solo show at NGV in Melbourne, Australia. You can also experience her work at San Fransisco MOMA as part of the show Far Out until January 2020, and during the first Rabat Biennale starting in September 2019.

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The South Beach diet. The Atkins diet. Eating paleo. Cutting out gluten. Going vegan. The list of fad diets and health crazes goes on, yet health statistics in the US and around the world show that most people still don’t know what to eat, or when, or how much.

New research from Tufts University’s engineering school has created a product that may be able to help: a sensor worn on users’ teeth that wirelessly transmits data about food intake to a smartphone app.

In a paper published in March in the journal Advanced Materials, the Tufts team deconstructed the sensor. It’s made of a porous silk film or a hydrogel that responds to changes in pH or temperature—the active layer—sandwiched between two square-shaped gold outer panels. The sensor’s middle layer detects chemicals and nutrients, reacting to different inputs with a shift in its electrical properties. That shift causes the sensor to transmit a different spectrum and intensity of radio frequency waves back to the app.

The future of the bioresponsive sensor

Fiorenzo Omenetto, a biomedical engineering professor at Tufts and co-author of the study, said, “We have extended common RFID [radio frequency ID] technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface.”

Measuring just two millimeters on each side, the sensor is impressively tiny, and it’s succeeded in detecting sugar, salt, and alcohol. The team plans to refine the sensor to the point where it will be able to detect and measure all kinds of nutrients, and maybe even biochemicals too. “In theory we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals. We are really limited only by our creativity,” Omenetto said.

The promise of the quantified self

Once you’ve chosen the right diet for you, then, wearing a sensor like this could help you get your quantities spot-on, ideally helping you improve your diet and thus your overall health. The sensor is just the latest in a series of wearable devices springing from the quantified self movement—from Fitbits to smart watches, these data-harvesting gadgets all aim to give users increased awareness and thus increased control over their own health, ideally shifting healthcare norms from reactive to proactive, curative to preventative.

A small step forward

It’s important to note, though, that while sensors and similar tools could certainly prove useful, they’re just one small component on the vast landscape of improving our diet and our health.

A disproportionate amount of the food we eat, particularly in the US, is heavily processed; we’re eating more chemicals than we are nutrients. In addition, many low-income areas are classified as food deserts, not a head of broccoli or a bunch of bananas in sight. Before monitoring the contents of each bite of food you eat, you must have access to healthy foods in the first place, not to mention know what’s healthy and what isn’t.

Ideally, then, the tooth sensor and other health tech like it will be geared towards a wide range of users, not just those who’ve already tried going paleo. Or pescatarian. Or dairy-free. You get the idea.

Image Credit: SilkLab, Tufts University

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

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The human body has always been an incredible machine, from the grand feats of strength and athleticism it can accomplish down to the fine details of each vein, nerve, and cell. But the way we think about the body has changed over time, as has our level of understanding of it.

In Nina Tandon’s view, there have been two different phases of knowledge here. “For so much of human history, medicine was about letting the body come to rest, because there was an assumed proportionality attributed to the body,” she said.

Then, around the turn of the last century, we started developing interchangeable parts (whether from donors, or made of plastic or metal), and thinking of our bodies a bit more like machines. “We’re each made out of 206 bones held together by 360 joints,” Tandon said. “But many of us are more than that. By the time we go through this lifetime, 70 percent of us will be living with parts of our body that we weren’t born with.”

If that percentage seems high—it did to me—consider all the things that count as ‘parts’ of our bodies that are artificial: Dental implants. Pacemakers. IUDs. Joint replacements.

Now, though, we’re moving into a third phase of bodily knowledge. “We are an ecosystem of cellular beings, trillions of cells,” Tandon said. “We finally realized that man is a modular system, and cells are the pixels in this world.”

Tandon is co-founder and CEO of EpiBone, a company working on custom-growing bones using patients’ own stem cells. In a talk at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego this week, Tandon shared some of her company’s work and her insights into regenerative medicine, a field with tremendous promise for improving human well-being.

NIna Tandon Exponential Medicine Summit 2018
Nina Tandon at Exponential Medicine

What sets the third phase of knowledge apart from the second phase is that we’re learning how to fix and rebuild our own bodies using, well, our own bodies. Some examples include CAR-T therapies, which fight cancer using a patient’s own cells; regenerative medicine, which uses stem cells to repair body parts or make new ones; and microbiome analyses, which use our gut bacteria to fashion personalized dietary treatments.

Tandon’s expertise, though, is in personalized bones (not a term you ever thought you’d hear, is it?). “Bone is the most transplanted human tissue after blood,” she said. “And we’re replacing over a million joints every year in this country alone, just because of a couple millimeters of damaged cartilage. Welcome to the hundred-billion-dollar medical device industry.”

Epibone is working on doing it better. Here are some details of their method.

First, patients undergo a CT scan to determine the size and shape of the bone they need. Stem cells are extracted from the adipose (fatty) tissue in the abdomen. A scaffold model of the bone is created, as is a custom bioreactor to grow the bone in, while the extracted stem cells are prodded to differentiate into osteoblasts (bone cells).

When they’re ready, the stem cells are infused into the bone scaffold, and a personalized bone graft grows in the bioreactor in just three weeks. When the new bone is implanted into the patient’s body, the surrounding tissue seamlessly integrates with it; the custom size and shape ensure it will fit, there’s no risk of rejection since it contains the patient’s own cells, and since it’s made of living tissue, it’s likely to require far less revision than other types of implants.

Epibone is hoping to start human clinical trials next year, and it’s in good company; Tandon mentioned several concurrent projects in regenerative medicine that show we’ve truly entered the “biofabrication age,” as she put it.

Humacyte is working on bioengineered acellular vessels, and is currently in phase three clinical trials. Emulate Bio miniaturizes organoids on tissue chips. CollPlant has engineered tobacco plants to produce recombinant human collagen. Ecovative uses mushrooms to engineer sustainable advanced materials. BioMASON created a concrete that self-heals its cracks using water-activated bacteria.

“Cellular therapies can also involve using bugs as drugs,” Tandon said. “Imagine a probiotic yogurt being a kind of diagnostic device in the future using these little micro machines called bacteria.” To that end, Sangeeta Bhatia’s lab at MIT has engineered bacteria to glow green in the presence of colon cancer cells.

The list goes on—companies are building tools so wild that many still sound like science fiction.

As they continue to advance, Tandon noted, we must always consider the ethics behind these technologies and how we’re using them, and the conversations need to go beyond hot-button issues like designer babies or body modification.

“Are the modalities of government grant funding, angel funding, and VC really incentivizing us to develop the technologies that we want to see?” she asked. Access to biotech tools and treatments is an ethical consideration as well; scale and cost control must be foremost in biotech developers’ minds, so as not to end up with solutions for only the wealthy and privileged.

Regenerative medicine will certainly pose challenges, but its possibilities are vast and exciting.

In closing, Tandon asked the audience to envision a future where all the extra parts our bodies need “…are made not out of metal, not out of ceramic, not out of parts carved from other peoples’ bodies—but made out of ourselves.”

Image Credit: ChooChin / Shutterstock.com
This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

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Would you like a dog snout, cat eyes or fluffy bunny ears? The choice is yours. Virtual selfie filters have become a widespread phenomenon on social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. But what kind of self do these animal filters show us?

"Animal filters are not about animals. They are about humans."

Photo-editing is nothing new, and selfie enhancing software is omnipresent. Face filters herald an evolution of photo-editing as they are based on the technology of augmented reality - which enables real-time editing.

When you take a selfie with Snapchat or Instagram, the mobile camera recognizes the appearance of your face and instantly augments a layer on top. These augmenting technologies merge the virtual representation of our human face with the simulation of, for example, an animal.

The reach of those filters goes beyond augmentation, which has become evident with the rise of Snapchat dysmorphia as a result of beautifying filters. They largely shape our experience of self. But what is the deal with those cute animal filters?

Humanizing wild nature

When you think about face filters, chances are, you think about the classic Snapchat dog snout: face filters and the depiction of animals are fascinatingly interconnected.

Similar to how we humanize our pets and dress up our cats and dogs, we humanize wild animals by making them into cute and aesthetic filters. And while real nature might be scary and unpredictable, animal filters are not. They are a clear record of our estranged relationship with wild nature.

Rather than hairy, strong and wild, animal filters look fluffy and cute.

The majority of animal filters additionally add makeup, enlarge the eyes and make the chin smaller. These are conventions of female beauty, that stem specifically from the Asian notion of cuteness or kawaii.

Kawaii is based on the infantilizing of facial characteristics and is increasingly influencing Western beauty ideals. As humans, we are attracted to large eyes and round faces because they resemble babies.

The cuteness of babies and animals instinctively triggers our urge to take care of them. Portraying yourself as a cute animal might thus be a very effective - and somehow even natural - way to appear more likeable.

Bio-mimicking our self(ie)

Animal filters are a selective and aesthetic form of biomimicry. Nature has an aura of authenticity and beauty and is a terrific marketing tool. We call this phenomenon biomimicmarketing: using images of nature to market a product.

Mostly, the product itself has nothing to do with its natural reference: Lacoste is not about crocodiles, Linux is not about penguins, Bacardi is not about bats and Apple is certainly not a fruit company. Similarly, animal filters are not about animals. They are about humans.

We use the aesthetics and specific cute qualities of animals to optimize our personal image. It seems like animal filters give us the opportunity to play with the notion of being an animal, but instead they reinforce the boundaries of human beauty norms.

I am not an animal

The cute versus wild paradox is illustrating the human experience of nature in our contemporary society. The use of animal filters is actually emphasizing that “I am not an animal, therefore I can pretend to be one”.

Contrary to our first hunch, animal filters do not bring us closer to animals. Instead, they enable us to distance ourselves from the species we do not belong to. The humanized animal filters are reinforcing our anthropocentric worldview, in which humans are the center of existence and largely distanced from animals.

We all love face filters, but we prefer to stay far away from our wild, beasty self.

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How many cyborgs did you see during your morning commute today? I would guess at least five. Did they make you nervous? Probably not; you likely didn’t even realize they were there.

In a presentation titled “Biohacking and the Connected Body” at Singularity University Global Summit, Hannes Sjoblad informed the audience that we’re already living in the age of cyborgs. Sjoblad is co-founder of the Sweden-based biohacker network Bionyfiken, a chartered non-profit that unites DIY-biologists, hackers, makers, body modification artists and health and performance devotees to explore human-machine integration.

The regular cyborg

Sjoblad said the cyborgs we see today don’t look like Hollywood prototypes; they’re regular people who have integrated technology into their bodies to improve or monitor some aspect of their health. Sjoblad defined biohacking as applying hacker ethic to biological systems. Some biohackers experiment with their biology with the goal of taking the human body’s experience beyond what nature intended.

Smart insulin monitoring systems, pacemakers, bionic eyes, and Cochlear implants are all examples of biohacking, according to Sjoblad. He told the audience, “We live in a time where, thanks to technology, we can make the deaf hear, the blind see, and the lame walk.” He is convinced that while biohacking could conceivably end up having Brave New World-like dystopian consequences, it can also be leveraged to improve and enhance our quality of life in multiple ways.

Biohacking our health

The field where biohacking can make the most positive impact is health. In addition to pacemakers and insulin monitors, several new technologies are being developed with the goal of improving our health and simplifying access to information about our bodies.

Ingestibles are a type of smart pill that use wireless technology to monitor internal reactions to medications, helping doctors determine optimum dosage levels and tailor treatments to different people. Your body doesn’t absorb or process medication exactly as your neighbor’s does, so shouldn’t you each have a treatment that works best with your unique system? Colonoscopies and endoscopies could one day be replaced by miniature pill-shaped video cameras that would collect and transmit images as they travel through the digestive tract.

Hacking everyday life

Security is another area where biohacking could be beneficial. One example Sjoblad gave was personalization of weapons: an invader in your house couldn’t fire your gun because it will have been matched to your fingerprint or synced with your body so that it only responds to you.

Biohacking can also simplify everyday tasks. In an impressive example of walking the walk rather than just talking the talk, Sjoblad had an NFC chip implanted in his hand. The chip contains data from everything he used to have to carry around in his pockets: credit and bank card information, key cards to enter his office building and gym, business cards, and frequent shopper loyalty cards. When he’s in line for a morning coffee or rushing to get to the office on time, he doesn’t have to root around in his pockets or bag to find the right card or key; he just waves his hand in front of a sensor and he’s good to go.

Evolved from radio frequency identification (RFID)—an old and widely distributed technology—NFC chips are activated by another chip, and small amounts of data can be transferred back and forth. No wireless connection is necessary. Sjoblad sees his NFC implant as a personal key to the Internet of Things, a simple way for him to talk to the smart, connected devices around him.

Extending our senses

Sjoblad isn’t the only person who feels a need for connection.When British science writer Frank Swain realized he was going to go deaf, he decided to hack his hearing to be able to hear Wi-Fi. Swain developed software that tunes into wireless communication fields and uses an inbuilt Wi-Fi sensor to pick up router name, encryption modes and distance from the device. This data is translated into an audio stream where distant signals click or pop, and strong signals sound their network ID in a looped melody. Swain hears it all through an upgraded hearing aid.

Global datastreams can also become sensory experiences. Spanish artist Moon Ribas developed and implanted a chip in her elbow that is connected to the global monitoring system for seismographic sensors; each time there’s an earthquake, she feels it through vibrations in her arm.

You can feel connected to our planet, too: North Sense makes a “standalone artificial sensory organ” that connects to your body and vibrates whenever you’re facing north. It’s a built-in compass; you’ll never get lost again.

Future potential

Biohacking applications are likely to proliferate in the coming years, some of them more useful than others. But there are serious ethical questions that can’t be ignored during development and use of this technology. To what extent is it wise to tamper with nature, and who gets to decide?

Most of us are probably ok with waiting in line an extra 10 minutes or occasionally having to pull up a maps app on our phone if it means we don’t need to implant computer chips into our forearms. If it’s frightening to think of criminals stealing our wallets, imagine them cutting a chunk of our skin out to have instant access to and control over our personal data. The physical invasiveness and potential for something to go wrong seems to far outweigh the benefits the average person could derive from this technology.

But that may not always be the case. It’s worth noting the miniaturization of technology continues at a quick rate, and the smaller things get, the less invasive (and hopefully more useful) they’ll be. Even today, there are people already sensibly benefiting from biohacking. If you look closely enough, you’ll spot at least a couple cyborgs on your commute tomorrow morning.

Image Credit: IrelandsTechnologyBlog

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

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The way we interact with the technology in our lives is getting progressively more seamless. If typing terms or addresses into your phone wasn’t easy enough, now you can just tell Siri to do the search or pull up the directions for you. Don’t feel like getting off the couch to flick a switch, or want your house to be lit up by the time you pull into your driveway? Just tell your Echo home assistant what you want, and presto—lights on.

Engineers have been working on various types of brain-machine interfaces to take this seamlessness one step further, be it by measuring activity in the visual cortex to recreate images, or training an algorithm to "speak" for paralyzed patients based on their brain activation patterns.

At the Association for Computing Machinery’s ACM Intelligent User Interface conference in Tokyo, a team from MIT Media Lab unveiled AlterEgo, a wearable interface that "reads" the words users are thinking—without the users having to say anything out loud.

[embed]https://youtu.be/RuUSc53Xpeg[/embed]

If you thought Google Glass was awkward-looking, AlterEgo’s not much sleeker; the tech consists of a white plastic strip that hooks over the ear and extends below the jaw, with an additional attachment placed just under the wearer’s mouth. The strip contains electrodes that pick up neuromuscular signals, which are released when the user thinks of a certain word, silently "saying" it inside his or her head. A machine learning system then interprets the signals and identifies which words the user had in mind—and, amazingly, it does so correctly 92 percent of the time.

Arnav Kapur, a graduate student who led AlterEgo’s development, said, “The motivation for this was to build an IA device—an intelligence-augmentation device. Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?”

It’s Not All in Your Head

Who knew your face made specific, teeny muscle movements when you think? Isn’t that the fun of it, that there’s no way anyone but you can know what's in your head?

It turns out we have a system that prepares for physical speech; it's active even when we don't say anything out loud, and the preparation extends all the way to our muscles, which give off myoelectric signals based on what they think we're about to say.

To figure out which areas of our faces give off the strongest neuromuscular signals related to speech, the MIT team had test subjects think of and silently say (also called “subvocalize”) a sequence of words four times, with a group of 16 electrodes placed on different parts of subjects’ faces each time.

Analysis of the resulting data showed that signals from seven specific electrode locations best deciphered subvocalized words. The team fed the data to a neural network, which was able to identify patterns between certain words and the signals AlterEgo had picked up.

More Than Words

Thus far, the system’s abilities are limited to fairly straightforward words; the researchers used simple math problems and chess moves to collect initial data, with the range of users’ vocabularies limited to about 20 possible words. So while its proof of concept is pretty amazing, AlterEgo has a ways to go before it will be able to make out all your thoughts. The tech’s developers are aiming to expand its capabilities, though, and their future work will focus on collecting data for more complex words and conversations.

What’s It For?

While technologies like AlterEgo can bring convenience to our lives, we should stop and ask ourselves how much intrusiveness we’re willing to allow in exchange for just that—convenience, as opposed to need. Do I need to have electrodes read my thoughts while I’m, say, grocery shopping in order to get the best deals, or save the most time? Or can I just read price tags and walk a little faster?

When discussing the usefulness of the technology, Pattie Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and Kapur’s thesis advisor, mentioned the inconvenience of having to take out your phone and look something up during a conversation. “My students and I have been experimenting with new form factors and new types of experience that enable people to still benefit from all the wonderful knowledge and services that these devices give us, but do it in a way that lets them remain in the present,” she said.

Thad Starner is a professor at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing. He wasn't involved in AlterEgo’s creation, but he's done a lot of work in wearable tech and was closely involved with Google Glass. Starner had some ideas about more utilitarian applications for AlterEgo, pointing out that in high-noise environments, such as on an airport’s tarmac, on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, or in power plants or printing presses, the system would “be great to communicate with voice in an environment where you normally wouldn’t be able to.”

Starner added, “This is a system that would make sense, especially because oftentimes in these types of or situations people are already wearing protective gear. For instance, if you’re a fighter pilot, or if you’re a firefighter, you’re already wearing these masks.” He also mentioned the tech would be useful for special operations and the disabled.

Gearing research for voiceless interfaces like AlterEgo towards these practical purposes would likely up support for the tech, while simultaneously taming fears of Orwellian mind-reading and invasions of mental privacy. It’s a conversation that will get louder—inside engineers’ heads and out—as progress in the field advances.

Image Credit: Lorrie Lejeune / MIT

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

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Today, there's an app for everything. They help us satisfy our cravings, allow us to communicate at all times and make it easier to share special moments. But the dark, cold screens of our smart phones, the de facto platform for these tools, simply don’t resonate with the sensorial aspects of our human needs.

What if we try to make our apps more sensitive? How can we extend our senses to make our apps work without a smart phone? This was the challenge for a group of participants of the Mexican education platform emerge MX. Together, we used the Pyramid of Technology to imagine a more natural version of our everyday apps.

Inspired by animals with extraordinary senses such as electroreception (sharks), tetrachromacy (mantis shrimp) and super sense of smell (moths), each team developed a new idea of how four different apps may work: Instagram, Tinder, WhatsApp and Rappi (a local food delivery service).

Envisioning the future of apps

The first team imagined WhatsApp as a neckpiece that would send and receive electrical signals translated into emotions, taking emojis to a naturalized level.

The Tinder team envisioned a bracelet that constantly measures our heart rate, sweating, dopamine and oxytocin levels. It then matches our results with nearby candidates that may be felling the same about us.

The Instagrammers went wild and created two scenarios. The first one involved eye drops that added tetrachromatic, ultraviolet and termic vision filters directly into our eyes. The second idea applied a layer of virtual reality filters projected on top of our surroundings.

Finally the Rappi team imagined a molar that works in conjunction with our smartphones spraying the smell and taste of the food we are watching on our screens, then interpretes our reaction and immediately sends our desired dish to our doors.

Uncontrollable nature

But not everything in these futures was perfect. The teams were also challenged to think on how these devices would get out of our hands and become uncontrollable. Using the 'Doomsday card' (one of the 'Question Cards' to the stimulate debate) they envisioned a WhatsApp that would share emotions we would prefer remain private; a Tinder that would eliminate the romance of relationships or that would expose aspects of our sexuality that we may prefer keep for someone special; an Instagram that would slowly blind us as we evolve, making our biological eyes a vestigial organ; and a Rappi app that may fail and spray a toxic substance into our mouths putting our lives at risk.

The Pyramid of Technology

The Next Nature workshop offered a platform for the exploratory thinking exhibited above. Altogether we achieved a deeper understanding of what technology is and how it can become more human. It also reminded us that it could quickly become a natural force out of our control and become a next nature.

The Pyramid of Technology is the next nature tool to facilitate this process. Would you like to attend, or host such a workshop? Well, we recently started the NNN Academy! Through interactive workshops, we explore what it means to build, design, and live in the next nature. Facilitated by our Pyramid of Technology Toolkit, and led by a trained NNN guide, the workshops offer a new way to discuss technology, facilitate brainstorms and catalyze innovative processes. Want to know more? Then visit this page!

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Cosmetic surgeons have always fielded seemingly odd requests to recreate body parts from celebrities: Angelina Jolie’s lips, David Beckham’s calve, or perhaps Salma Hayek’s breasts. Teens today, however, are a different breed. Whereas a decade or two ago, looking like their favorite celebrity — or at least the version that’s airbrushed to within an inch of reality — might have been the request du jour, today teens want to look like their favorite Snapchat filters.

Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of the Ethnic Skin Center at Boston Medical Center coined the term “Snapchat dysmorphia” to explain the worrying new trend. Teens, she says in a recently published paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Facial Plastic Surgery, are increasingly altering people‘s perception of beauty worldwide. “A little adjusting on Facetune can smoothen out skin, and make teeth look whiter and eyes and lips bigger. These filters have become the norm.”

And it’s beginning to lead to real issues. Body dysmorphia, for example, is a condition that involves “excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.” Snapchat dysphoria is an offshoot of the same condition. Teens, who once focused on things like the size of their nose, for example, are now hypercritical of completely normal lines, blemishes, and imperfections masked by Snapchat filters.

While surgeons are hesitant to complete these types of procedures on still-developing children, the American Medical Academy of Facial and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery says 55 percent of clinicians saw patients who “wanted to look better in their selfies” in 2017. This signifies a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

Vashi told Inverse that rhinoplasty — a common nose job where surgeons shave the bump and bridge of some noses — used to be fairly common. Now, people are inquiring about what it would take to look more like they’d see themselves when applying the butterfly or flower crown filter. “People have asked me to reshape their nose, or give them fuller lips. But it’s usually asymmetry they want corrected,” she said.

Asymmetric faces, by any measure, are perfectly normal. Symmetric faces, however, are those often seen as the most attractive. And while Snapchat doesn’t make asymmetric faces more symmetric, it does reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and blemishes by smoothing and brightening the underlying tissue, thereby reducing the appearance of asymmetry in certain faces.

And this symmetry, apparently, has some willing to undergo expensive procedures in an attempt to look more like an idealized version of themselves.

This story is published in partnership with The Next Web. Read the original piece here. Image via Vox.com.

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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term 'biohacking'? Perhaps you are now thinking of a bunch of kids sitting in their kitchen with a DNA kit, (wannabe) cyborgs inserting subcutaneous chips in their bodies, or perhaps a person striving for optimum performance through a perfect lifestyle. These are all types of biohacking, but there's more to it. Here's what you need to know (and were too affraid to ask).

Bulletproof coffee

The problem with biohacking is that all the examples outlined above are true. Amateur biotechnologists, cyborgs and supporters of a healthy lifestyle all associate themselves with the term biohacking.

Within the latter group, which I call the lifestyle optimizers, Dave Asprey is the guru. Asprey is the frontman of the American brand Bulletproof. Among other things, this brand sells special coffee that you must mix with butter and coconut oil. The promised result: instant focus, without any sugar crash and hours of satiation.

A brief bio of biohacking

But what exactly do we mean when we speak of 'biohacking'? The term was first used in 1988 in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. The article described the possibilities to perform all kinds of technological experiments from your basement. This included DNA analysis, the cultivation of bacteria and testing the effect of viruses on fungi. Today, this definition is still dominant for the group of amateur biotechnologists.

Within the other two groups, the cyborgs and the lifestyle optimizers, biohacking is aimed at people. In using the term, the link to computers is made: just consider how computerhackers break into hardware and software vs. biohackers grinding their own wetware.

The cyborgs take this notion quite literally, by implanting technology into their bodies, whereas lifestyle followers believe that you can improve the human body and prevent aging with smart nutrition, health hacks and useful gadgets.

Steam engines and other metaphors

The comparison with computer technology comes from our current technological paradigm. Yet in the past, the paradigm of that time was used to look at the human body.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, the human brain was considered a constellation of pipes, steam and drive shafts. The saying "blowing off some steam" is also a good example of how people saw themselves as, well, a kind of steam engine.

These days we see the brain often described as an algorithm or hard disk and the body as a battery that needs to recharge. Keeping this in mind, the idea of biohacking is not that strange.

Technology after all, is what makes us human.

Shifting boundaries

Take something as simple as sight. In prehistoric times, your chances of survival were nil when suffering from poor vision. When the first glasses were made around 1200 AD, our ancestors most likely responded, “Your vision was given to you by God—why change that?"

As we have developed ourselves scientifically over time, so did our technology; as contact lenses are socially accepted today, does this also apply to smart contact lenses that have a Google Glass-like function tomorrow?

And what about LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis), or commonly referred to as laser eye surgery. This technology is becoming more accessible, but how socially accepted is it to give yourself super vision like golf superstar Tiger Woods

This is my point: ethical boundaries of what we find socially acceptable are constantly shifting. That is what biohacking is about. Glasses are no longer biohacking, but smart contact lenses are.

Thinking ahead, one may wonder: Will glasses at some point become out-dated? Will everyone have genetically modified eyes for optimum vision?

Chances are, the next generations of biohackers will be at the forefront of these technologies. Perhaps they will replace their biological eyes with bionic ones. Perhaps they will simply change their diet.

Just like our technology, biohacking (and its dream and ideas that we have of ourselves) moves along the progress of mankind. But as with other technological developments, it's impossible to predict how these will evolve in the future. But there is one thing that we can be certain of. Things will change.

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