From Earthquake-Sensing To Sex-Simulation - Microchip-Implanted Biohacking Has Gone Wild

The human augmentation market could increase tenfold, to $2.3 billion, in seven years. Biohacking advocates say 100,000 people around the world have already been transformed into human cyborgs, which means they have microchip implants in their bodies to open doors, store passwords, hold personal data, and or even for simulation sex. 

Patrick Kramer, the chief executive officer of Digiwell, a Hamburg startup turning people into cyborgs, spoke with Bloomberg about microchipping and body hacking.

Kramer said he had implanted about 2,000 microchips in the past 18 months, and even told Bloomberg that he has three chips in his hands: one to open his office door, another to store health data, and the last enables him to share contact information.

Digiwell is one of a handful of biohacking and human augmentation companies in Europe and estimates that there are about 100,000 cyborgs worldwide. "The question isn't 'Do you have a microchip?" Kramer says. "It's more like, 'How many?' We've entered mainstream." 

Advisory firm Gartner Inc. identified do-it-yourself biohacking as an emerging technology trend-- others include artificial intelligence, automation, and blockchain with the potential to severely disrupt businesses heading into 2020. 

Another research firm OG Analysis predicts the human augmentation market, which includes bionic limbs and computer brains could grow more than tenfold, to $2.3 billion. "We're only at the beginning of this trend," says Oliver Bendel, a professor at the University of Applied Science & Arts Northwestern Switzerland who specializes in machine ethics. 

A Spanish dancer named Moon Ribs told Bloomberg she has a microchip in her arm connected to seismic sensors, which is triggered by earthquakes. She uses the technology in a performance art piece called Waiting for Earthquakes. Neil Harbisson, a colorblind artist from Ireland, has sensors in his head that lets him "hear" colors. And lastly, if these cyborgs are not weird enough, Rich Lee, from Utah, developed a cyborg sex toy he calls the Lovetron 9000, a vibrating device to be implanted in the pelvis. 

Lee gave a speech at BdyHax, a conference in Austin earlier this year that brought together national and international speakers on wearable and implantable tech, brain-computer interfaces, prosthetic tech, gene therapy, bioethics, and the latest breaking research in the field. At the Austin conference, speakers included the developer of an artificial pancreas, a representative of a group advocating tech connections to the brain, and a scientist from DARPA.

Friedmann Ebelt, an activist with Digitalcourage, a German data privacy and internet rights group, told Bloomberg that biohacking raises many questions, particularly about data protection and cybersecurity as every tech gadget risks being hacked. Ebelt said that hackers could turn implants into cyberweapons, with the potential to send malicious links to others. "You can switch off and put away an infected smartphone, but you can't do that with an implant."

To become a cyborg, Digiwell charges $40 to $250 per chip, plus a $30 fee to inject the device, which can be completed at their Hamburg office. His clients include a lawyer who wants access to confidential files by using his hand to open an electronically locked filing cabinet, a teen with no arms that has a chip in her foot to open doors and an elderly man with Parkinson's disease who continually forgets his keys. 

Kramer is also the co-founder of another company called VivoKey Technologies, which is developing a device that will generate passwords for online transactions, and buyers can download software to upgrade it with more functions. "Humanity can't wait millions of years for evolution to improve their brains and bodies," Kramer says. "That's why we're doing it ourselves." 

BofA chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett tends to agree technological innovation is becoming rapidly transformational, notably in fields of information technology, biotech, and automation. 

He said in a recent note: 

"The greater speed & connectivity of technology is extremely disruptive to numerous industries; accelerating supplies of robots, AI, data, human life are profoundly deflationary. 

By 2023, the average $1,000 laptop will be able to communicate at speed of the human brain...and 25 years later, at the rate of the entire human face.

The number of connected devices per person: 0.08 million in 2003; 3.5 billion in 2015, 6.6 billion in 2020." 

Biohacking is an open innovation and social movement that seeks to enhance the capabilities of the human body. This technology is rapidly turning people into cyborg-like creatures. Some of the tech has not been rigorously tested in laboratories, which means there are many unknown unknowns about the long-term health implications of biohacking.