Microchipping – a progressive biohack or a dead end?

Microchip motivation

Hasn’t almost everyone forgotten their keys or lost their wallet at least once?

This guy, Jowan Österlund, did too on more than one occasion and hated it. Now, though, he carries it at all times.

Well, most of the time at least.

The thing is, he doesn’t actually carry or hold it but has it installed inside his hand.

The interesting part though, he says, isn’t how he installed it. Rather, it is the journey to the point of being implanted with a microchip. It was an unplanned journey that didn’t only change the game in the field of technology, but started a movement.

Jowan says that people using this are “evolving everyday convenience”.

“We can do easier travel we can do faster and safer payment. We can do something as mundane as opening a door. I mean the opportunities are endless.”

Here is the story about how he ended up here. You will be given a glimpse of the vision on how to keep this community growing.

As a kid Jowan was very much into all things about sci-fi, technology, role-playing games, video games, you name it. He was also a fairly wild outdoor loving kid so he ended up accruing quite a few injuries.

With this active imagination, in his mind he developed some imaginary superpowers. Either indestructibility, self-healing, super strength, any of these would give him the ability to avoid getting injured.

Implant inspiration

It wasn’t until he read an article about Kevin Warwick though, that he began to believe that his fantasies might actually be able to move towards reality.

Jowan found that Kevin Warwick had “massive skills” and knowledge in robotics and bioethics.

His childhood dreams of gaining some sort of super power were rekindled so he started looking into RFID and similar types of technology. Jowan was impressed that Kevin used it to open the door to his laboratory and office. Not long after, he found that he was able to implant this technology into himself.

Jowan is active in the piercing community. He estimates to have performed around 30,000 piercings and body modifications.

When piercing a body, Jowan puts safety first. He has the reputation of being very safe since he always do things in the exact same way. For people who like to pierce themselves, they are confident in his abilities and feel secure with his procedures.

Jowan feels this technology provides convenience in the same manner that you get with your phone or mobile device. It enables you to get on the train or the bus or to pay at the cash register to pay for your purchases. That ability can be incorporated into an implantable microchip.

An advantage of this that he gives is that “you are not gonna drop it [the phone], are you?”.

After some research he concluded that he could potentially implant everyone.

He certainly did implant himself. He was not alone in his enthusiasm for implants. One of his friends volunteered to be Jowan’s first implant subject and become “super human”.

In their haste and excitement, they completely forgot to test whether the chip worked. They found out after the minor operation that in fact it did not work that time.

Just like in the movies

Jowan was amazed by a moment he recalls when he says he felt like the 90’s movie character Johnnie Mnemonic (played by Keanu Reeves):

“I programmed my implant with a call trigger that as soon as I tapped my phone to the chip it called my wife. Now that bonus points that’s kind of when I realized that this was what the world’s been missing all along. Or at least I’ve been missing it because we’re filled up and packed with gadgets, doodads, wearables and knickknacks but they just take you that far don’t they? I mean this was something else.”

He felt he could then open up an entirely new discipline with his vast experience in body modification and his childhood passion. He saw a way in which to merge and position this discipline between the high tech world and the business world. Both areas that he felt had always been off-limits for him.

He doesn’t have the capacity to produce implants or smart implant technology himself but sees potential in this field via the open source community.

Jowan’s dream is for implant research and development to become available for everyone rather than being kept behind the gates of places like MIT and solely within the realm of PhD holders.

Through his rapidly growing community, they have managed to influence the way that even some of the biggest companies operate. An example is that Swedish Railways now allow biohacked implants as  ticket carriers. He points to this as an example of the impact we can have on society’s change by just doing new stuff.

Biohacking enthusiast

Jowan acknowledges that what he does with the microchip implants falls under the field of biohacking.

However, he is keen to clarify the terminology in use. The word “hacking” or “hacker” is bandied around as a bit of a mainstream technical buzzword. He gives the example of the news platform Lifehacker as a mainstream use of the term. He prefers to distance his craft from the image of a hooded dude hacking bank accounts, cyber criminals, and virus creators.

He says:

“But when you take a gadget and use it for something else and mix it with another thing to make a completely different thing that’s a hack right and that’s what we’re doing here hacking we just taking stripping away the word hacking from that Cyberdyne hacker.”

On the extreme end of the piercing/implanting spectrum, there are Tim Cannon and Shaun Sarver from Grindhouse Wetware. They are pioneering the design and implementation of larger implants. Just for fun and giggles, they have created implantable LEDs that light up under the skin. Five LEDs light up when you place a magnet over the implant.

Jowan says that instead of LED lights, the implant could contain sensors which supply information about your body.

Jowan gives an example of biohacking in the form of Neil Harbisson. He was unable to see colour at all so he created this device that lets him hear colour by vibration instead.

Elon Musk is looking to develop retail biohacking with the neuro-link project. This will enable us to upload and download thoughts and probably in the future connect us with supercomputers.

When you go into the medical arena, to whom Jowan has chosen to stay parallel, he and his team keep things simple.

He wants to make  this technology available for everyone. By open sourcing, anyone who wants to can use it, develop it, make it better and keep it growing.

Jowan says:

“Because if you don’t keep it easy to get amazing to have and easy to get rid of I think you’re doing it wrong.”

Potentially the implanted sensors could make seamless everyday interactions with a digital hyper-connected world.

Part of Jowan’s vision is to have the machine inside his body to be able to speak to him and tell him what’s up.

“Hey get something to drink buddy.”

“Get on the treadmill.”

“You gotta go biking.”

“Stop smoking.”

The commands your implant could give you are endless.

Together with a phone which basically is a part of us already, Jowan claims that we have got a perfect match.