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Hey, folks, let's play!

icedrake posted a question in this conversation thread which I thought might deserve wider discussion. On the subject of intentional, functional body modifications, his challenge was to put together a list of desired augmentations. The augmentations should be something reasonably attainable within the next decade; assume that money is no concern. For bonus points, say why you want it.

My own list:

Subdermal BlueTooth controller/display combination

Availability: Now (sort of)

This is a subdermal black and white programmable tattoo, with built-in BlueTooth connectivity. It's powered by your body's own metabolism (using a nifty little fuel cell that runs on blood). It can be programmed by any BlueTooth device, so the display can be changed at will, and in theory at least can even show streaming 3G media. (I'd love to watch The Matrix on this thing!)

No new technology here; we can make it with off-the-shelf parts, though there's no plan at the present for commercialization.

Why I want it: The idea of a direct, implanted interface with other devices is just too cool for words. On a geek cool scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being "not cool" and 10 being "übergeek," this clocks in at about a 27.4. I am a big fan of tattoos and a big fan of wireless communication; combining the two is just...well, a geekgasm of cool. And it's functional!

Implanted rare-earth magnets that offer the ability to feel electromagnetic fields

Availability: 1-3 years, or now (with potential problems)

A tiny (about the size of a grain of rice) rare-earth magnet is coated with silicone and surgically implanted in the fingertip beneath the skin. It reacts to electromagnetic fields, and its close proximity to the sensory nerves in the fingertips allows the wearer to feel such fields. You can run your finger over a power cord and tell if it's plugged in or not, feel the hard drive in your computer spin up, trace the path of power cables through the wall, and even feel the electromagnetic field emitted by the grocery store anti-shoplifting sensors.

People have done this now, but the art of coating the magnets with silicone is still in its infancy. many people who have these magnets implanted end up rejecting them. Even a microscopic breach of the silicone jacket around the magnet causes the body to destroy the magnet, which often leads to infection. A lot of folks in the body-mod community are working on this problem. It's a simple enough engineering challenge; with the right funding and research, it could be licked in a week. Body-mod enthusiasts don't exactly have access to funding or to cutting-edge engineering or biomedical know-how, so I said 1-3 years on this one.

Why I want it: We live, every single day, immersed in an environment we are completely unaware of. We're bathed constantly in electromagnetic fields of all kinds, and yet we're totally blind to them. Adding a new sense opens up a new world; it's like being born deaf and suddenly being given the ability to hear.

This ability is useful for a number of practical reasons; but forget those. It's being given sight when you're blind, touch when you're numb. Anything that promises a whole new sense gets my vote!

Respirocytes: artificial mechanical red blood cells

Availability: 7-10 years (maybe)

The most speculative of the near-tech things on this list, respirocytes are nanoscale machines which could be injected into a person, and which perform the basic functions of red blood cells--transporting oxygen to the tissues and carbon dioxide away from the tissues of the body. They do this job, at least in theory, thousands of times more efficiently.

A person injected with a therapeutic dose of respirocytes would, if the technology works, be able to do things like hold his breath for half an hour, run at top speed without breathing for ten minutes, and even survive with his heart stopped for half an hour or more.

Actually making these things will require some pretty fancy work in nanoscale fabrication. The idea is pretty simple; it's the execution that's the tough part. The basic technologies are sound, but we're not very good at making moving parts on the required scale yet.

Why I want it: It's hard to know where to begin.

First of all, these offer a tremendous insurance policy against heart attack, injury, or environmental dangers that affect breathing. With medical technology as it is now, a person who drowns or suffers a heart attack and does not receive medical attention within minutes is likely to die or suffer irreversible brain damage; these expand the window of time tremendously. They also protect against things like dying in a fire (most people killed in building fires die of smoke inhalation, not burns), counteract the effects of weakened cardiopulmonary organs, and just generally make a person a whole lot more resilient.

On top of that, I suspect that we'd likely find that one of the limiting factors on brain functioning, the efficiency with which the brain can be supplied with oxygen, might be removed. I have a sneaking feeling that a person shot full of respirocytes would probably feel, and think, a lot better.

Okay, that's enough for now. A lot of the things I want are likely more than ten years past the horizon, more's the pity. How 'bout you folks? Your turn now!


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
Ok, that bluetooth controller is officially *on* my list now. That's... cool.

The rare-earth magnets are nifty, but I don't think it's quite my thing. Unless I can also manage to sense the difference in fields from a cat5 cable transmitting data vs one that simply has a physical connection :)

Something a bit larger would be handy to have for glasses though. I'm a wee bit tired of the marks left by the arms of my reading glasses, and on my nose after extended use.

The respirocytes is an idea who's time came a long time ago. I'd line up to get this. It could potentially *seriously* reduce the effects of smoking.

On a similar note, a nanoscale gizmo that removes toxins from it's area would be pretty nifty. What an amazing way to cleanup the effects of smoking for us poor bastid addicts. Heck, ideally you'd want something that can be provided a list of toxins that should never appear in the human body, even under medical treatment.

Next up, retinal display. Something that can be fed data streams as simple as the time in preferred format to RSS feeds and weather.

And now that I think about it, it'd be srsly cool to combine this with the subdermal implant... programmable corneal implant perhaps? Depending on the level of control of the shading... the useful factor jumps through the ceiling :)

Mar. 6th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
The University of Waterloo just prototyped a contact lens with limited display capabilities. Dunno if it would qualify as a body mod, but I would take some sort of advanced vision correction with VR display before the arm insert.

Respirocytes are on my list too, because I swim a lot.

Oh, hey -- make that vision mod water-proof :-)

Hmm. Tacit took all the good ones. The only other thing I can think of off the top of my head is arrested tooth decay. I've seen two plausible techniques for eliminating tooth decay bacteria permanently or semi-permanently (the theory is that the responsible bacteria don't travel much, so if you can safely eradicate them, they're gone).

Oh, if possible, I would like to get my nails and/or teeth coated with diamond-CNT composite. Bonus if you can get them to glow selectively.

Mar. 7th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
Is that the same as this one?

I love that idea, and I thought about listing it, but I don't think it qualifies as an "augmentation" since it's removable and doesn't become part of the body.
Mar. 8th, 2008 01:11 am (UTC)
And it still wouldn't protect me from the @#$! chlorine :-)

Mar. 6th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
You and I really should sit down for a drink sometime.
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
Indeed we should!
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
You name it, I'm there.
Mar. 6th, 2008 12:54 am (UTC)
I was really hoping you'd do that :)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 6th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
I'll join you for these two, and I'll add a couple of chips. One in the area of my ear (maybe in combination with the off-switch). I'd love to being able to listen to my mp3's and work my cellphone that way.

The other one I'd like to have in my arm, so that a wave of my arm opens all doors and gets me money out of the wall etc.

I think there are experiments with the latter, but not any where in my neck of the wood or in my circles.
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
I suspect retinal implants are going to be a long-term thing, probably outside the next couple of decades. I could be wrong, but you're talking about a number of advancements in a wide variety of medical, fabrication, electronics, and nanotech fields to make that work.
Mar. 6th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
I'm SO on board for both the tattoo and the magnets!
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
Not the respirocytes? They'd make your job easier; anything that involves physical exertion, really.
Mar. 8th, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
well, I probably would be with the respirocytes, I just haven't looked into those yet - I already knew about the other two.
Mar. 6th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
Artificial erythrocytes are a holy grail for blood bankers. Even if they functioned no more efficiently than the real thing, they would be vastly superior in a hospital setting, for the simple reason that they wouldn't trigger an immune response in the patient. Recurrent transfusion recipients—say, with sickle-cell anemia—eventually generate antibodies to a whole spectrum of RBC antigens that most people have never heard of because they don't usually become a problem until after several exposures.
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
I'm actually surprised there's not more funding and research being directed at that end. It seems to me that solving the kind of challenges involved in making something like this work is merely a matter of throwing money at it. And the payoff would be huge.
Mar. 6th, 2008 04:27 am (UTC)
What I'd love is an implant that would record people I meet and their names. So then when I saw them again later I'd get a little dossier for them in my eye and remember their name. I'm terrrrrible with names.
Mar. 6th, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
Hey, I'm still waiting to hear whatever became of the pierced eyeglasses you told us about:


Honestly, I'd sign into the IAM site...but alas, I cannot as I have no body modifications to send them pictures of.

But I suspect that many people here are members, can anyone tell me if they're producing these things yet?
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
Man, I'd love to see those go into commercial production! I'd get the piercing just to have them, if I could afford them. Apparently, he still has no plans to commercialize them, from what I can tell.
Mar. 6th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
This stuff is really crazy-awesome. Aside from the third entry I'd be dubious personally, but still...total geekgasm indeed.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
I believe there are actually folks working on that--both on rebuilding damaged teeth and on growing new ones. I have no idea how far away working tech is, though.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 8th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
I'm sure there is. Cloning a tooth bud, maybe. (Funny thing, tooth buds. You can stick 'em anywhere and they'll sprout a tooth.) So far all the research I know about is using pig and rat tooth buds, but there's no evidence that Republican tooth buds would be any less effective, and indeed one might argue that harvesting them is more humane.

Wait, that was my out-loud voice, wasn't it?
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 7th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
A lot of things like that could be done now, or soon, if the will to do them existed. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where folks think that flouride is a Communist conspiracy and that vaccination is a Jewish plot to kill Christian babies, so I weep for our future.
Mar. 10th, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff.

I'd personally get the respirocytes and the magnets straight off. The display is problematic because new versions will rapidly improve after the first one comes out, but scar tissue under the skin will make it hard to get repeated upgrades. Won't it suck to be still at 320x240 monochrome when all your friends have 1080p full color?

The respirocytes I particularly want to see happen, not for myself but for my sister, who had one of the two nerves to her diaphragm accidentally clipped during heart surgery at age 4 months. Our whole family is athletic (triathletes, mostly), and she has 40% of normal lung capacity - she gets winded after a 40-yard light jog. It sucks, and is extremely frustrating for her.

Here's my favorite question/thought experiment. When we reach the point where things like respirocytes are available to the general public and are safe, how do we regulate professional sports? Do we require athletes to be unmodified, so that we eventually reach the point where professional athletes are, on average, less fit than Joe Sixpack sitting on his couch? We already have a couple of cases where known performance enhancing chemicals are freely available to the public but consumption by athletes is limited: caffeine is an example.
Mar. 10th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
Some other fun ideas:

Glucocytes: like respirocytes, except they store and modulate blood sugar. When the blood is flooded with glucose, they could compress and store it quickly, preventing the insulin response that triggers your body's liver-and-fat storage mechanism. When blood sugar is needed (say during intense exercise), they could release it faster than the liver can convert glycogen. Moreover, they could do it locally - the glucocytes floating through your quadriceps are the ones releasing the glucose right where it's needed. (Or in your brain, if you're doing heavy thinking). End result: you have dramatically more energy available for all activities, and you can't gain excess weight by eating sugary things.

Aural filter: an implant that can interrupt your normal hearing pathway (by blocking the ear canal), enabling the "turn my hearing off" function another poster suggested, but can also translate sounds up or down in frequency, or apply arbitrary filters, before passing them on to the inner ear. So, you can choose to hear sounds anywhere on the spectrum (dog whistles, machinery noises, etc.) or adjust the sound of your environment to get rid of things that are annoying you.

Mar. 26th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
I want that sub-q Bluetooth thing - and I can think of one program I absolutely want it to run: a blood sugar monitor. I'm borderline diabetic, and if I could keep track of my sugars without having to stab myself... wow. What a lifesaver.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )