I’m sort of inured to pain by this point. Anesthetic is illegal for people like me, so we learn to live without it; I’ve made scalpel incisions in my hands, pushed five-millimeter diameter needles through my skin, and once used a vegetable knife to carve a cavity into the tip of my index finger. I’m an idiot, but I’m an idiot working in the name of progress: I’m Lepht Anonym, scrapheap transhumanist. I work with what I can get.
Sadly, they don’t do it like that on TV. The art of improving the human is shiny and bright in the media. You see million-euro cryogenics policies and hormonal life-extension regimes that only the elite can afford. You see the hypothesis of an immortal silicon body to house your artificially-enhanced mind. You could buy that too, maybe, if you sold most of your organic body and the home it lives in. But you can do something to bring it down a notch: homebrewing.
My first foray was into RFID (radio frequency identification) following Amal Graafstra. He’s famous for having his doctor implant him with a passive ID ampoule. After one visit to an outraged state GP here in Scotland (“I wouldn’t do it even if I could, and I have no idea why you want to do it!”), I was fairly certain I’d been born in the wrong country for that — here, doctors would be struck off the records for helping me. I was on my own.
Luckily, I’m far too stupid to be stopped by bureaucracy. I bought my first Swann-Morton scalpel online, scrubbed the cleanest bathroom we could get with household bleach, settled myself cross-legged over the bathtub with my spotter, and poised the blade over the Biro-ink line I’d drawn for guidance. For a few minutes, I doubted whether I’d even be able to do it — cutting yourself open is not something we’re adapted to be good at. Contemplating St. Gibson, I took the plunge.
It took a few weeks to heal, and when it did, with some help from my local gurus I was able to program a cheap open-source Phidgets RFID reader to recognise the chip’s hexadecimal ID. The piece of C code that did it resided on a Linux machine and ran in the background while the reader was connected, waiting for my chip to show up. In short, it could see me and print a little “hi” when it did. That’s just garbage programming, too — you can see the potential if it was given to a real coder. The chip works with any homebrew RFID project: Graafstra’s RFID keyboard, for instance, grants or revokes access to my XP box based on whether the user is lepht or not. You want a laptop tracking system? A door that only lets you in? A safe that won’t allow keypad input if you’re not next to it? All you need is an ampoule (you get five for a euro, the last time I checked), from any RFID hobby place, a cheap reader, and a touch of disregard for risks. Salvage a keyboard from your local dump and you’ve got a simple system for bioidentification.
RFID chips work on passive power. Readers take power from a USB to generate magnetic fields. The chips contain copper coils to convert the magnetic field back into an electric one that they can use as their power source. After the RFID op, I acquired another implant that works with EM fields, the neodymium-60 nodule pioneered by Steve Haworth.
The implants sit in various places under my skin: middle fingertips of my left hand, back of the right hand, right forearm — tiny magnets, five or six millimeters across, coated in gold and then in silicon to isolate the delicate metal from the destructive environment of your body. They’re something of an investment at about thirty euros apiece, and hard to get hold of, but worth pursuing. When implanted, they become technological sensory organs.
There’s an entire world of electromagnetic radiation out there, invisible to most. Our cities are saturated with it. A radio, for instance, gives off a field that’s bigger than the device itself. So do power supplies and wires in the walls. The implants pick up on the fields, and because they’re magnets, they fizz with gentle electricity, telling you this hard drive is currently active, that one is turned off, there’s the main line in the wall. Holding a mobile phone, you can feel the signals it sends and receives. You know it’s ringing before it starts to play any sounds, and when you answer it, you stick the touchscreen stylus to the back of your hand to hold it, then to your finger to type.
After a while, you don’t notice anything novel about this at all. Building computers, you pick up screws that have fallen down into the motherboard with one fingertip and stick them on the back of your wrist for safekeeping. You know not to touch the board when it’s powered, because your hands can “see” whether it is or not, just like you can see whether the hard drives being tested on the machine next to it are actually being written to or not. It’s just like any other sense, except that this one can be given to you for the price of a node, a needle and a bottle of antiseptic. A new way of seeing the world, all for about fifty euros. There’s nothing stopping you except your own sense of self-preservation. I say all this not to show off, but to invite more people in. I dream of seeing more body-tweakers around who are into these things. I know there are people out there who could open up home modification like we’ve never dreamed.
Turn off the TV. Pick up that needle. Come to the junkyard.
Watching commercials for vitamin pills on TV and thinking you need a mad scientist’s lab to be a transhumanist? You don’t. I’ve got no money, talent or backing. You just need curiosity and the willingness to withstand some pain. Risk, not money, is our obstacle. Is it yours? Are you reading this magazine right now? Do you think like that? What could we achieve together?
Lepht Anonym is the Silver City’s pseudo-anonymous biohacker, famous only in Aberdonian emergency rooms. It Lives for transhumanism. You can contact it at firstname.lastname@example.org.