Soapbox Post

I just got back from HeatSync Labs, where the local hackers are taking their eyes off of 3D printing, near-space missions, tesla coils and cylon Roombas and working on something a little closer to home:  themselves.

Okay, that requires a little explanation. HeatSync is a Phoenix area hackerspace, a place for technically inclined people to come together, pool resources and work on interesting projects. Hackerspaces started in the nerdvanas of Silicon Valley and Route 128, but the movement is spreading across the country, and expanding from electronics to biotech. With the democratization of technical equipment, almost anybody can be a scientist. The hackerspace movement scales up the joy of just messing around with blinkenlights to an adult level, and it might just serve as the incubator for the next wave of innovation.

Augmenting Humanity @HeatSync is a small group of hackers with an interest in transhumanism, and with using their DIY skills to improve themselves. They're well on their way.

 

Jacob has an experimental magnetic sense, and wants more radical alterations. Harry is a recreational neuroscientist. He already has a 14 channel EEG he freed from an Emotiv controller, and his next step is to make an Arduino board DC neural stimulator, as well as his own version of ze goggles. With all this, he's well on his way to doing some real interesting science. Jeremy is into quantified self, and wants to use smartphones and wireless sensors to make data collection trivial. Bryan is blind, and is working with Apple to improve the accessibility of iDevices, while trying to find hacks to make his life easier. The current project is a liquid level sensor. As a father of three, Bryan spends a lot of time filling bottles, and a device which beeps at the proper level would be good for everybody.

These guys are definitely aware of the social and political aspects of what they're doing. They view themselves as citizen-scientists, in the vein of the old Royal Society, and they want to both improve themselves and generate useful knowledge that the standard scientific research process won't touch, either because it won't be funded or violates medical ethics (note: ethical medical research must treat a disease, so by definition, enhancement is unethical. The current work around has been 'medicalization', creating a disorder for people who want to be enhanced. Many people, myself included, think this is a major problem.) They also are very forward about getting their work out there and connecting with like minded hackers across the world. In the absence of formal journals, all of this is being organized through social media, blogs, wikis and video chat. We are lucky enough to live in an era where information can be shared easily, and advanced technology is cheap. In the next few months and years, I hope to spend a fair amount of time with Augmented Humanity, develop some projects, and get them out there. But for now, rest easy knowing that these people have the future well in hand.

 

 

About the Author: Michael Burnam-Fink is a doctoral student in ASU’s Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology program.

 

[Note: This was first posted on Michael’s blog We Alone on Earth.]
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