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April 02, 2007

Body hacking

photo of Quinn Norton's finger undergoing magnet insertion surgery

I spent last week at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, and a mind-expanding week it was. There were a number of great presentations(*) but the one that's really stuck with me is Quinn Norton's talk about body hacking.

Body Hacking is kind of a catch-all term for any technique or procedure performed on your body to enhance its function or perceptions. These hacks cover a huge rage when it comes to cost, danger, and societal approval. At one end of the scale are things like getting braces and undergoing laser eye surgery...procedures that have been undergone by millions. At the other end are things like downing powerful prescription drugs for reasons the pharmaceutical companies never dreamt of and having sex change surgery...just because you've spent 30 years as a dude and thought it might be cool to spend the next 30 as a gal.

Norton's talk was a riveting look at what's going on with body hacking right now, and how society and the law are completely unprepared for the explosion in body hacking that's coming. (Are you ready for people covered in fur? For people who have elective brain surgery to tweak their personality?)

I expect that in a few weeks audio of Norton's ETech talk will be available. In the meantime, you can take a look at her presentation slides, and watch a video of her giving this talk at last December's 23C3 hacker conference in Germany. (Watch out! This video is a biggie, 184 MB. But it's worth it).

By the way, Norton knows about this whole body hacking thing first hand. Literally. She had a small rare earth magnet surgically implanted in her ring finger, giving herself the super-natural ability to detect magnetic fields. (That's her hand in the photo). Read her account of the operation and its aftermath. Let's just say everything does not go smoothly.

(*) I'll get around to writing about them soon.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at April 2, 2007 03:41 PM


Just so you know, I'm having a hard time downloading the video. After waiting all that time, what I got was a screen full of gobbledygook. I'm using Safari... maybe that's the prob? Dunno. Sure would like to watch it, though...

Posted by: K Bennett at April 3, 2007 11:42 AM