Sensory Extensions

One of the central ideas of transhumanism is the enhancement of the human condition and experiance. This can vary in meaning from person to person and even from topic to topic within the same individual.

For me, my main areas of interest are enhancing my enjoyment and experiance of the world around me. This is a fairly broad requirement and actually covers everything from life extension (gives me more time to experiance and appreciate the world.) to more base hedonistic experiences.

As a result I’ve always been fascinated in things that let me sample and experiance the world in ways my normal biology doesn’t allow, such as insane jealousy of the multi-spectrum vision of the predator in the movies of the same name. Much to my delight there have been a couple of modern forays into this type of enhancement that I’ve been following with interest and I will detail them here…

The Gift of Magnetic vision : As detailed in this article here. Some body modification enthusiasts have come up with a way of adding an additional “sense” of magnetism to our standard run of sight, sound, touch, etc. Admittedly it’s really just a tie in with our existing sense of touch but the possibilities and the enrichment of the human experiance are belittled by calling a simple “trick of the mind”. To sum it up, they have had small rare earth magnets inserted into their fingertips. These obviously have the benefit of reacting to magnetic fields and other magnetic items. In our modern world there are an “assload” of devices, locations or situations where we experiance magnetic fields we are completely un-aware of. Some examples from the article include the ability to tell where, in a machine, the electric motor is (through sense of the magnets in it), the ability to detect the fields in the store doorway anti-theft devices, and even the ability to tell if a wire carrying electricity is live or not through the magnetic field it generates.

To me these seem like a fantastic additions for a modern person in a modern environment. If not simply for the added awareness of the world around you, as something that extends possibilities for such interaction. (even sexual as they detail in the article).

As with any new body modification there have been problems with some of the initial implants. It seems it is difficult to get the bio-neutral covering on the magnet to be strong enough not to tear and expose the magnet, and when exposed to the body the magnets obviously rust. Rather obviously having that crap in your system is not healthy ™. There is a follow-up article written in 2006 detailing some of the issues involved.

However I have since e-mailed Jesse Jarrell and she assures me that as of 2008 her thickly coated implant is still functioning well and still appears sealed away from her body.

Wired magazine also did an article on this which I think was well worded and positive

I think I’ll wait on this one for a little longer than I did before my RFID implant for the simple reason that I don’t want to be sticking rare earth metals in my body, until I’m very sure they are well sealed, for medical reasons. But this is absolutely an implant I am keen on and would like to experiance.

Another “enhanced awareness” project that has been keeping my interest going is this one…

The Feelspace belt : This is a belt (or some similar device touching the body) that has a ring of small vibrating buttons around the circumference similar to the ones found in cell phones.The idea is that this, coupled with a GPS unit and/or electronic compass, give you a physical indication as to which direction is physically north and/or what direction you need to go to reach a destination.The article is most interesting in how quickly the trial users integrated this new unerring sense of north into their standard suite of senses. The users said they felt “great” and “omnipotent” in their newly found perfect sense of direction.

The effect was so deeply integrated into their senses that (from the article) :

“When the original feelSpace experiment ended, Wächter, the sysadmin who started dreaming in north, says he felt lost; like the people wearing the weird goggles in those Austrian experiments, his brain had remapped in expectation of the new input. “Sometimes I would even get a phantom buzzing.” He bought himself a GPS unit, which today he glances at obsessively. One woman was so dizzy and disoriented for her first two post-feelSpace days that her colleagues wanted to send her home from work. “My living space shrank quickly,” says König. “The world appeared smaller and more chaotic.”

I think it says a lot about the plasticity of the human mind and the ability of our bodies to be enhanced to accept new input. This (for me) gives a great sense of hope that we are _not_ at the peak of our evolution and still have a massive amount of wiggle room when it comes to going further, even with what we have now.

There appears to be a few other people trying to make similar units such as the “active belt” which, like the original, are pretty bulky and ugly. However I hold out good hope for such devices becoming smaller and more functional and eventually even implantable.

So there you are, a couple of technologies I’m following keenly and keeping in mind for possible personal enhancement in the future (assuming kinks/bulkiness is worked out). I hope you found it interesting and if you have any links to similar things and or commentary feel free to add it.

AM