GrindFest is a gathering of people who enjoy experimenting with electronic modifications to the human body —they are biohackers, or grinders. Dylan Matthews, a senior correspondent at Vox.com was there and participated; he had a microchip implanted in his left hand.
On why he had a computer chip implanted in his hand:
There are a number of reasons. One is the sheer novelty of it. I had an opportunity, and I figured I was not going to have many more opportunities to casually get a chip implanted into my hand. But, more seriously, there were some practical applications that I thought I could use it for. I’m currently talking with the building manager for a company in D.C. about using my hand as a key fob. So we have a system with the elevators where you have to swipe something, and I’m always fumbling for my keys. But you know, my hand’s right there.
On the top three things people in this community are doing:
The most universal one was putting chips inside. The second-most common was probably magnetic implants into fingerprints, which turns you into a very low-rent version of Magneto from the “X-Men.” You can lift paper clips and various other very light metallic objects, so it’s a fun party trick. And the third one I was going to mention, and the that I think is closest to being something I could see taking off as more than a novelty is, Rich Lee, who’s a prominent biohacker who was at the event, blazed the trail for a kind of implant known as tragus implants.
So the tragus is this bunch of cartilage on your outer ear, the sort of hard part in the middle of your ear. And so he got magnets implanted into both of his tragi. He also set up a system where he can wear a metal coil as a necklace, and connects the metal coil down to his iPhone or whatever source of music he wants. And so the music from the mp3 player goes up to the coil, the coil create a metal field from it, that vibrates the air around them, he picks that up as music. So he basically has earbuds implanted into his ears permanently.
On biohacking stuff like robotic hearts:
We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. So one example of a midterm thing that is probably a few years off, but is not super speculative, would be an implant that could detect the enzymes that are released from your heart when you go into cardiac arrest. That’s something you can pick up in your blood, and people already have implants that can run very basic blood tests. If you expanded that capacity, if you were able to do more sophisticated blood tests, you could imagine an implant — that could tell within seconds, or even a fraction of a second, whether you’re having a heart attack — that is connected to a cellular network and can call 911 and can dramatically improve response time for emergencies like that.
On setting off metal detectors:
It doesn’t. I went through TSA yesterday, not a peep.
On being hacked:
So the thing about it is that it’s an air-field communication, RFID. These are very short-distance technologies. It’s not like some hacker in China and go and make their way into it…. Not yet. I do have faith in their abilities. But it is something I worry about, and I think it is something people will have to worry about as more and more personal information get on this stuff. I mean, people don’t really care if chips like this that are in their pets, which are fairly pervasive now. No one cares if some hacker finds out that their dog is on heart murmur medication. People might care if someone finds out that they’re on heart murmur medication.
If you’re a member of your local public radio station, we thank you — because your support helps those stations keep programs like Marketplace on the air. But for Marketplace to continue to grow, we need additional investment from those who care most about what we do: superfans like you.
Your donation — as little as $5 — helps us create more content that matters to you and your community, and to reach more people where they are – whether that’s radio, podcasts or online.
When you contribute directly to Marketplace, you become a partner in that mission: someone who understands that when we all get smarter, everybody wins.