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10 Human Body Modifications You Can Expect in the Next Decade
You are already a cyborg! Here's 10 ways you could merge even more with technology in the coming decade.
Elon Musk has called it: you're already a cyborg. Your smartphone enhances your mind, your spectacles enhance your vision, and your pacemaker (if you have one) regulates your heartbeat. Our environment is increasingly wired, sensor-filled, and digitally connected—and so are we! This trend will only continue.
All over the world biohackers, scientists, entrepreneurs and corporations are eagerly pursuing new and marketable applications for advanced technologies. Many of them are being actively designed to help humans fulfill our age-old transcendent longings—to be stronger, smarter, better-looking and more resilient, and to cultivate new abilities that seem like superpowers by the standards of the past.
Here are 10 emerging devices and technologies that could soon enhance you in body and mind.
1. RFID Chips
Microchips are not new, but the practice of routinely implanting them in humans is. Already, biohackers are enthusiastically getting chipped, many of them undergoing the DIY surgery in tattoo parlors. With small radio frequency identification (RFID) chips implanted in their hands or wrists these citizen cyborgs can already eliminate many tedious rituals from their daily lives, like carrying a wallet or keys.
I Got a Chip Implanted in a Biohacking Garage www.youtube.com
The chip can be used to make tap-and-go payments and can be programmed to open a home or office door electronically. No more carrying keys down to the beach when going for a swim, and no more jogging with them jangling in your pocket. One Australian biohacker, Meow-Ludo Meow Meow also thinks that chip implants could replace public transport cards.
But that's just the basics. Chipping could soon be used on a national scale for identification and security. Hacking and identity theft will certainly be a concern, but on the plus side there'll be no more anxiety about losing your passport when you travel! Transhumanist candidate for Governor of California Zoltan Istvan has a chip in his wrist to open his front door. The chips can also be used in the workplace. One Swedish office complex Epicenter has already made chipping a voluntary identification option for tenants and their employees. The Belgian digital marketing firm NewFusion also began offering implants to staff in 2017.
With electronic medical records becoming more pervasive, personal medical data could also be stored on implanted RFID chips. If you arrive in the emergency room and need a blood transfusion you can immediately be scanned for your blood type. Allergic to certain medications? The ER doctors will know this too, as well as who has medical power of attorney, whether or not you're an organ donor, and what your end of life wishes are (e.g. if you have a DNR－"do not resuscitate" order).
Hyundai's "Iron Man" robotic exoskeleton in action. Image credit: Hyundai/Business Insider
The Terminator was “a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton." But that was in 1984 and the concept was fictional. Jump ahead to the 2020s and you could be a different kind of cyborg—one that wears a metal exoskeleton over your biological meat sack.
Why would you? If you're in the military, particularly in combat, an exoskeleton can dramatically enhance your strength and endurance and allow you to carry more supplies when moving on foot.
Image credit: A Cuadra/Science
If you're just a regular human then carrying supplies is probably not a big concern. But back pain likely is. Sure, an exoskeleton may not help an office worker much, but it could be a big help to factory workers and manual laborers. In the near future, before the impending robot job-apocalypse, exoskeletons could help laborers to use the correct muscles when lifting and allow them to lift more weight safely.
Robotic Exoskeleton Helps Paralyzed Man Race Marathons | Freethink Superhuman youtu.be
The transhumanist politician Zoltan Istvan also thinks that exoskeletons could soon transform sport and other forms of recreation by helping us to reach new physical peaks and compete at a different level. He even thinks we'll use them in the bedroom, though it's contentious whether humans will really want to 'suit up' as a preamble to getting down and dirty.
3. Real-time Language Translation
Real time language translation applications have been around for a few years though they've had their share of quirks and imperfections. However, recent advances in machine learning have done a lot to improve machine translation of late—so much so that we are now on the cusp of achieving seamless translation in real time. In late 2016 The New York Times reported that Google's translation "A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime."
With artificial intelligence facilitating a whole new level of precision in this field, a wave of companies are racing to bring even better products to the market, including Microsoft and Google. The US startup Waverly Labs has crowdsourced over $4 million and has pre-sold 22,000 prototype earbuds that will translate in real time while canceling ambient noise. At $299 a pair, you have to wonder whether human translators will be able to earn much of a living from here on out.
4. Augmented Vision
Bionic eyes are a thing! They are currently used to treat hereditary and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and rely on a camera mounted on glasses feeding inputs to electrodes attached to the retina. This technique is a remarkable, though still imperfect, means of reversing a form of blindness.
Another kind of intraocular bionic lens is being developed by the Ocumetics Technology Corp and is currently being tested in clinical trials. The aim of the product is to restore “clear vision at all distances, without glasses or contact lenses" regardless of the age of the patient. Ideally, “three times better than 20/20 vision" could be achieved and laser eye surgery could eventually be rendered obsolete.
Perfect vision and no glasses would be a massive improvement for many. But why stop there? Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku thinks we should aim for superhuman vision and maintains that we are already well on our way.
Telescopic contact lenses have already been developed, which can enable the user to zoom in and out with a wink. The technology was developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and could soon be marketed to sufferers of AMD. But as the technology improves and gets cheaper it could eventually become the norm to have telescopic vision, as well as other add-ons like night vision.
5. Smart Contact Lenses
Patent diagrams for Samsung's smart contact lenses. Image credit: Samsung/Korea Intellectual Property Right Service (KIPRIS)
But wait, the eye stuff gets even cooler! Both Sony and Samsung have patented smart contact lens technology that can record video by blinking. The augmented reality company Magic Leap is also working on a smart contact lens, in tandem with its much anticipated new augmented reality headset. Both products will be able to overlay computer generated images onto the real world.
But augmented reality tech isn't just for fun. Another application of smart contact lenses being developed at the X lab (formerly Google X) is the capability to detect blood glucose levels in tears and alert diabetics when their blood sugar is too low.
How could this change your life in the next decade? Leading transhumanists and tech gurus Peter Diamandis and Kevin Kelly think that in the near future these kinds of innovations will hail the end of PCs, smartphones and screens-as-we-know-them. Soon you could walk around with the equivalent of your smartphone inside you, while the screen could be both everywhere and nowhere. Classic miniaturization and dematerialization in action!
6. 3D Printed Body Parts
Lab-grown bladders and functional vaginas have already been successfully implanted in patients. But even more exciting is the promise of 3D printing and implanting vital organs like hearts, lungs and kidneys.
Professor Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, believes that this will come and that important stepping stones will arrive very soon. He told the BBC in 2016:
“I think it will be less than a decade before surgeons like me are trialling customized printed organs and tissues. I can't wait!"
7. Smarter Drugs
Let's be honest, humans love drugs. Some age-old faves include alcohol, caffeine and sugar. But when it comes to both medicinal treatment and recreational or performance-enhancing drugs (think Prozac for depression and anxiety, or caffeine and amphetamines for alertness and concentration) today's drugs are pretty darn primitive. Why? Because they're a one-size-fits-all solution that can't be well tailored to the individual. Benefits are also very hard to decouple from side effects.
The good news is that soon we could have a new generation of better, smarter drugs. Already, artificial intelligence and cheap genomic sequencing are accelerating the drug discovery process and facilitating an increase in effective personalized medicine. Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical companies, governments and tech corporations are eagerly getting in on this medical big data game.
The Human Longevity Inc., which was run until early 2017 by the pioneering geneticist Craig Venter (of Human Genome Project fame) is on track to complete an ambitious plan to sequence 1 million human genomes by 2020. The company hopes to mine this enormous database of genetic, and phenotypic (lifestyle) data and rapidly accelerate the innovation of personalized drugs and treatment plans.
8. Brain-computer Interfaces
Humans can already control wheelchairs, advanced neuroprosthetic limbs and drones with their minds. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) have also been used to communicate with patients suffering from the rare affliction of locked-in syndrome. Soon we could be using technology like this all the time, not just to correct for disabilities, but to enhance communication and sensory connection. Perhaps we could even connect telepathically?
Mark Zuckerberg certainly thinks so. He famously proclaimed in 2015 that in the future (though more than a decade away):
"You're going to just be able to capture a thought, what you're thinking or feeling in kind of its ideal and perfect form in your head, and be able to share that with the world in a format where they can get that."
Zuckerberg is not the only tech kingpin thinking about this stuff. In 2016 Elon Musk famously spruiked the idea of a "neural lace," effectively an advanced BCI in which biological brains seamlessly mesh with non-biological computing. Rumblings on Twitter and hints from Musk himself suggest he is actually planning to work on his own lace design.
The leaders of Stanford University's NeuroTechnology Initiative also believe that in years to come "brain-machine interfaces will transform medicine, technology and society" and that "future devices will likely not only restore, but also augment, human capacities."
9. Designer Babies
In 2016 the first 3-parent baby was born. The nucleus from one of the mother's eggs was transplanted into a donor egg with the nucleus removed. The donor egg was then fertilized with the father's sperm, a process undertaken to avoid a fatal condition called Leigh syndrome, which is carried in the mother's mitochondrial DNA.
With gene editing becoming a more precise science, thanks to new techniques like CRISPR-Cas9, it will not be long before they are utilized en masse to prevent most heritable diseases. Why would you roll the genetic dice when you could actively intervene to ensure that your child will be healthy? Especially if you've had your genome sequenced and know you are a carrier of deleterious genes, like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, which strongly predispose those with the mutations to breast and ovarian cancer.
Pre-natal screening already affects the proportion of certain genetic traits in the population—a high percentage (most recently estimated at 67%) of fetuses identified as having Down syndrome are aborted. While statistics like this have sparked widespread ethical debates, they also indicate that humans tend to be willing to make use of technologies that give them more choice over their reproductive outcomes. IVF is another obvious example.
Beware the Frankenbabies! | Freethink Wrong youtu.be
The ultimate potential of gene-editing technology is profound and could be species changing. It's uncertain how far we'll progress (or indeed allow the technology to progress) in the next few years. But you'll definitely see movement in this space over the next decade.
10. Enhanced Sexual Organs
Photo: Jean-Paul Goode, Paper Magazine
Almost 300,000 Americans underwent breast augmentation surgery in 2016, a 4% increase on the previous year and a 37% increase since 2000. But it's not just boobs, almost all cosmetic procedures are on the rise. Clearly Americans have embraced this mode of human enhancement with gusto.
But who wouldn't want to achieve the same goals without sticking bags of silicon inside their body? There might just be a better way.
Transgender transhumanist Valkyrie Ice McGill predicted in 2014 that by 2024 a total functional gender transformation will be possible. The same technology that could enable a complete gender reassignment could also allow patients to achieve breast, buttock, and penis enlargements with more natural results. She stated:
“A decade from now, a plastic surgeon is likely to use body modeling software developed by MMOs and VR to enable you to decide precisely how you want to look, and then supervise the da Vinci autosurgeon as it uses your own body fat and skin cells to produce a stock of programmable stem cells, and then performs hundreds or even thousands of minimally invasive microsurgeries to place those programmed cells throughout your body, where they will become extra muscle mass, larger breasts, repair damaged internal organs, etc., allowing your future self the option of “resculpting" your personal appearance."
Holy crap! A bigger butt grown from your own stem cells. Kinda cool, if a little predictable. But then we idealize curvy women and muscular men because it's been an historical ideal with a strong biological impetus. Our tastes don't spring from nowhere.
Yet when it comes to sex, humanity as a species has big aspirations and vivid imaginations. There will always be those who want to create completely new ideals of beauty and sexuality and who hope to transcend the limits and values of the present day.
The transhumanist George Dvorsky is one such human. He has playfully outlined out a speculative ideal for “the penis of the future." Notably, it's not the same old thing but bigger. Among other traits, Dvorsky hopes that a future penis could be bacteria resistant and WiFi enabled. Another eager biohacker and transhumanist Rich Lee has a different vision. He thinks vibrating penis implants will be the way of the future.
Some other fascinating predictions can be found in the 2016 Future of Sex report. The authors believe that dating in virtual reality will be common by 2022, and that by 2027 we'll have brain interfaces that allow us to literally turn on our partners via their most powerful sexual organ: their mind.
Infographic from the 2016 Future of Sex report. Image credit: futureofsex.net
While the fullest realization of many of these technologies will likely be felt over several decades, it is realistic to imagine we will see these kinds of innovations improving fast and becoming more widely tested and adopted in the decade to come. Sure, you might not have a vibrating penis in 10 years time, but you will certainly have met someone with a chip implant by 2027 and there's a very good chance you'll have one yourself. The same goes for much of the rest. Very exciting stuff!
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While legalization has benefits, a new study suggests it may have one big drawback.
- A new study finds that rates of marijuana use and addiction have gone up in states that have recently legalized the drug.
- The problem was most severe for those over age of 26, with cases of addiction rising by a third.
- The findings complicate the debate around legalization.
Cannabis Use Disorder, is that when you get so high you can’t figure out how to smoke anymore?
Cannabis use disorder, also known as CUD or cannabis/marijuana addiction, is a psychological disorder described in DSM 5 as "the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant impairment." This includes people being unable to cut down on their usage despite wanting to, those who often use it despite finding it severely impairs their ability to function, or those who are putting themselves in danger to secure access to the drug.
While an understanding that marijuana can be addictive has existed for some time, and the image of the pothead who smokes so much they can hardly function is prevalent in our society, the effects of legalization on addiction rates have somehow gone understudied until now. Importantly, previous studies had failed to consider usage rates amongst populations over the age of 25.
In the new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, focused on self-reported data on monthly drug use in four states where marijuana is now legal, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, from both before and after the drug was legalized in each state and compared it to others which have not yet legalized.
The data gave insights into the drug use habits of the respondents and specifically gave information about if they had smoked at all in the last month, the frequency of their drug use, and if they had ever had issues with how much they were using drugs.The researchers ultimately considered the responses of 505,796 individuals.
The increase in cannabis usage they found was considerable. The number of respondents over the age of 26 who claimed to have used the drug in the last month went up by 23% compared with their counterparts in states that have yet to legalize. Abuse of the drug by this group rose by 37%.
Teen usage rose by 25%, and addiction rates rose as well. This increase was small, though, and the authors have suggested it may be due to an unknown factor. The rate of usage or abuse for respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 did not increase at all.
After breaking the results down by demographics, the primary finding held; adults over the age of 26 are using marijuana more often when it is legalized, and they are starting to use it too much.
The grain of salt
As in any study where findings are self-reported, the exact numbers you see here should be taken with a grain of salt. They could be slightly higher or lower. As this study relies on people self-reporting their usage of a drug that is still illegal in many places, it is very possible that the apparent spike in addiction rates is caused by more accurate reporting, as people who live in an area where pot is still illegal may be less likely to report smoking it every day.
And it should be repeated a thousand times over that correlation and causation are not the same thing. There could be some unknown factor causing these increases in each case.
Despite these qualifications, the study is still useful in giving us a general sense of what may happen in states that have yet to legalize.
What does this mean for society and drug users?
While claims of "reefer madness" are greatly exaggerated, marijuana has several well established and thoroughly studied side effects. While occasional use isn't terribly harmful, addiction can be. Lead author Magdalena Cerdá of New York University explains in the study that heavy marijuana use is associated with "psychological and physical health concerns, lower educational attainment, decline in social class, unemployment, and motor vehicle crashes."
A substantial increase in the number of people who are addicted to the stuff will incur costs to society down the line.
Of course, a 37% increase in problematic usage means that the percentage of adults smoking too much went from .9% to 1.23% of the population responding to the survey. This makes it far less prevalent than issues with alcohol, which affected around 6% of all Americans in 2018.
Recently, Big Think's Philip Perry wrote a piece about how legalization could improve the health of millions by allowing the government to regulate the purity of commercially sold marijuana. This remains true. However, it must be weighed against the findings of this study, which suggests that at least some of these health gains will be wiped out by increased addiction rates.
What does this mean for legalization efforts?
The legalization steamroller will undoubtedly keep rolling along. While health concerns are one factor in the debate over marijuana, it is only one of many. In Illinois, where I live, weed will become legal on January 1st of 2020. The legalization campaign and legislation were more concerned with issues of social justice, the failures of prohibition, and finding a new source of tax revenue (since we're half broke) than with matters of potential addiction.
As Vox reports, the authors of the study aren't suggesting that legalization shouldn't take place; that is another, broader debate. They merely wish to present the fact that legalization has a particular side effect that we should be aware of.
While this study is unlikely to change anybody's stance on if weed should be legalized or not, it does show us a critical element to be considered when discussing drug policy. No drug is perfectly safe, and we have reason to believe that legalizing marijuana will mean that more people will have a hard time with it. Let's hope that legalization proponents keep that in mind as they rack up their victories.
For some reason, the bodies of deceased monks stay "fresh" for a long time.
It's definitely happening, and it's definitely weird. After the apparent death of some monks, their bodies remain in a meditating position without decaying for an extraordinary length of time, often as long as two or three weeks.
Tibetan Buddhists, who view death as a process rather than an event, might assert that the spirit has not yet finished with the physical body. For them, thukdam begins with a "clear light" meditation that allows the mind to gradually unspool, eventually dissipating into a state of universal consciousness no longer attached to the body. Only at that time is the body free to die.
Whether you believe this or not, it is a fascinating phenomenon: the fact remains that their bodies don't decompose like other bodies. (There have been a handful of other unexplained instances of delayed decomposition elsewhere in the world.)
The scientific inquiry into just what is going on with thukdam has attracted the attention and support of the Dalai Lama, the highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. He has reportedly been looking for scientists to solve the riddle for about 20 years. He is a supporter of science, writing, "Buddhism and science are not conflicting perspectives on the world, but rather differing approaches to the same end: seeking the truth."
The most serious study of the phenomenon so far is being undertaken by The Thukdam Project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Healthy Minds. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson is one of the founders of the center and has published hundreds of articles about mindfulness.
Davidson first encountered thukdam after his Tibetan monk friend Geshe Lhundub Sopa died, officially on August 28, 2014. Davidson last saw him five days later: "There was absolutely no change. It was really quite remarkable."
The science so far
Credit: GrafiStart / Adobe Stock
The Thukdam Project published its first annual report this winter. It discussed a recent study in which electroencephalograms failed to detect any brain activity in 13 monks who had practiced thukdam and had been dead for at least 26 hours. Davidson was senior author of the study.
While some might be inclined to say, well, that's that, Davidson sees the research as just a first step on a longer road. Philosopher Evan Thompson, who is not involved in The Thukdam Project, tells Tricycle, "If the thinking was that thukdam is something we can measure in the brain, this study suggests that's not the right place to look."
In any event, the question remains: why are these apparently deceased monks so slow to begin decomposition? While environmental factors can slow or speed up the process a bit, usually decomposition begins about four minutes after death and becomes quite obvious over the course of the next day or so.
As the Dalai Lama said:
"What science finds to be nonexistent we should all accept as nonexistent, but what science merely does not find is a completely different matter. An example is consciousness itself. Although sentient beings, including humans, have experienced consciousness for centuries, we still do not know what consciousness actually is: its complete nature and how it functions."
As thukdam researchers continue to seek a signal of post-mortem consciousness of some sort, it's fair to ask what — and where — consciousness is in the first place. It is a question with which Big Think readers are familiar. We write about new theories all the time: consciousness happens on a quantum level; consciousness is everywhere.
So far, though, says Tibetan medical doctor Tawni Tidwell, also a Thukdam Project member, searches beyond the brain for signs of consciousness have gone nowhere. She is encouraged, however, that a number of Tibetan monks have come to the U.S. for medical knowledge that they can take home. When they arrive back in Tibet, she says, "It's not the Westerners who are doing the measuring and poking and prodding. It's the monastics who trained at Emory."
When Olympic athletes perform dazzling feats of athletic prowess, they are using the same principles of physics that gave birth to stars and planets.
- Much of the beauty of gymnastics comes from the physics principle called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Conservation of angular momentum tells us that when a spinning object changes how its matter is distributed, it changes its rate of spin.
- Conservation of angular momentum links the formation of planets in star-forming clouds to the beauty of a gymnast's spinning dismount from the uneven bars.
It is that time again when we watch in awe as Olympic athletes perform dazzling feats of athletic prowess. But as we stare in rapt attention at the speed, grace, and strength they exhibit, it is also a good time to pay attention to how they embody, literally, fundamental principles that shape the entire universe. Yes, I'm talking about physics. On our screens, these athletes are giving us lessons in the principles that giants like Isaac Newton struggled mightily to articulate.
Naturally, there are many Olympic events from which we could learn some basic principles of physics. Swimming shows us hydrodynamic drag. Boxing teaches us about force and impulse. (Ouch!) But today, we will focus on gymnastics and the cosmic importance of the conservation of angular momentum.
The conservation of angular momentum
Much of the beauty of gymnastics comes from the spins and flips athletes perform as they launch themselves into the air from the vault or uneven bars. These are all examples of rotations — and so much of the structure and history of the universe, from planets to galaxies, comes down to the physics of rotating objects. And so much of the physics of rotating objects comes down to the conservation of angular momentum.
Let's start with the conservation of regular or "linear" momentum. Momentum is the product of mass and velocity. Way back in the age of Galileo and Newton, physicists came to understand that in the interactions between bodies, the sum of their momentums had to be conserved (which really means "does not change"). This is a familiar idea to anyone who has played billiards: when a moving pool ball strikes a stationary one, the first ball stops while the second scoots away. The total momentum of the system (the mass times velocity of both balls taken together) is conserved, leaving the originally moving ball unmoving and the originally stationary ball carrying all the system's momentum.
Credit: Sergey Nivens and Victoria VIAR PRO via Adobe Stock
Rotating objects also obey a conservation law, but now it is not just the mass of an object that matters. The distribution of mass — that is, where the mass is located relative to the center of the rotation — is also a factor. Conservation of angular momentum tells us that if a spinning object is not subject to any forces, then any changes in how its matter is distributed must lead to a change in its rate of spin. Comparing the conservation of angular momentum to the conservation of linear momentum, the "distribution of mass" is analogous to mass, and the "rate of spin" is analogous to velocity.
There are many places in cosmic physics where this conservation of angular momentum is key. My favorite example is the formation of stars. Every star begins its life as a giant cloud of slowly spinning interstellar gas. The clouds are usually supported against their own gravitational weight by gas pressure, but sometimes a small nudge from, say, a passing supernova blast wave will force the cloud to begin gravitational collapse. As the cloud begins to shrink, the conservation of angular momentum forces the spin rate of material in the cloud to speed up. As material is falling inward, it also rotates around the cloud's center at ever higher rates. Eventually, some of that gas is going so fast that a balance between the gravity of the newly forming star and what is called centrifugal force is achieved. That stuff then stops moving inward and goes into orbit around the young star, forming a disk, some material of which eventually becomes planets. So, the conservation of angular momentum is, literally, why we have planets in the universe!
Gymnastics, a cosmic sport
How does this appear in gymnastics? When athletes hurl themselves into the air to perform a flip, the only force acting on them is gravity. But since gravity only affects their "center of mass," it cannot apply forces in a way that changes the athlete's spin. But the gymnasts can do that for themselves by using the conservation of angular momentum.
By changing how their mass is arranged, gymnasts can change how fast they spin. You can see this in the dismount phase of the uneven bar competitions. When a gymnast comes off the bars and performs a flip by tucking their legs inward, they can quickly increase their rotation rate in midair. The sudden dramatic increase in the speed of their flip is what makes us gasp in astonishment. It is both scary and a beautiful testament to the athletes' ability to intuitively control the physics of their bodies. And it is also the exact same physics that controls the birth of planets.
"As above so below," goes the old saying. You should keep that in mind as you watch the glory that is the Olympics. That is because it is not just athletes that have this intuitive understanding of physics. We all have it, and we use it every day, from walking down the stairs to swinging a hammer. So, it is no exaggeration to claim that the first place we came to understand the deepest principles of physics was not in contemplating the heavens but moving through the world in our own earthbound flesh.