Tim Cannon: My name is Tim Cannon, and I’m a cofounder of Grindhouse Wetware. We do basi­cal­ly low-cost implantable tech­nol­o­gy. We start­ed doing this about five years ago. And this is some­thing that I’ve had kind of a pas­sion about for a long time. As a kid, I read a lot of sci­ence fic­tion, right, and par­tic­u­lar­ly cyber­punk and where it focus­es on the merg­ing of man and machine. And it sort of empha­sizes this idea that tech­nol­o­gy isn’t always going to solve all of the prob­lems in the world, and that you have this kind of… High tech, low life is kind of the con­cept.

Now, I grew up read­ing this stuff, and I just thought it would be an amaz­ing world if I grew up and this was avail­able. Now, if you cut to say 2011, I start­ed to read about peo­ple implant­i­ng mag­nets into their fin­gers and being able to feel the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum nat­u­ral­ly. And to me this was fas­ci­nat­ing. The idea of being able to gain a new sense was some­thing that I couldn’t help but want to know about. And so I heard about this in April, and by May I had a mag­net in my fin­ger. And so this was some­thing that I just absolute­ly had to take a deep dive into once I start­ed to expe­ri­ence the things I was expe­ri­enc­ing.

I ran around and start­ed to enjoy my new sen­so­ry per­cep­tion. However, once the nov­el­ty wore off, I start­ed to real­ize I could prob­a­bly begin to build devices to talk to these mag­nets and these sorts of things. And so as a result we start­ed to build things like, so I took a sen­sor that took dis­tance and I wired it into a micro­proces­sor and cre­at­ed some­thing that cre­at­ed a sonar sense. So it would ping me faster or slow­er based on whether things were clos­er or fur­ther away from the sen­sor. And using that I was able to pick this device up and actu­al­ly nav­i­gate around my lab with only my mag­net as my sen­so­ry organ. I would close my eyes, I’d be blind­fold­ed, but still be able to walk around. I’d be able to feel the walls com­ing in through this new sen­so­ry organ that I had implant­ed in myself.

Closeup of a small metal object sticking to the tip of one of Tim's fingers

That’s a pic­ture of the mag­net stick­ing to a lit­tle speak­er that we had just to kind of illus­trate that I had it implant­ed.

So, once I start­ed to do that and found out how low the actu­al dif­fi­cul­ty was in build­ing these sorts of things, we kind of said well, how far can we real­ly take this on a hack­er bud­get? And it turns out you can take it pret­ty far. As long as you’re will­ing to accept cer­tain types of caveats.

So with about $1,500 and a group of peo­ple, we decid­ed what we want­ed to do was build a device that would be able to be wire­less­ly recharge­able. It would be able to take some piece of bio­log­i­cal data. It would be able to kick that data out to the larg­er dig­i­tal world. And be able to receive data back into it.

And so the Circadia was born. Now, if any­body in here— I would hope in a bio­hack­ing vil­lage we don’t have too many squea­mish peo­ple. But just to pre­pare you that the slide… That was the device that I implant­ed in my arm. So, yeah I get that reac­tion a lot. It’s real­ly large.

However, we were able to do this with almost no bud­get. And we were able to make some­thing that was safe­ly implantable into the human body. And it would kick out my tem­per­a­ture once every five sec­onds over Bluetooth. And then basi­cal­ly we had built a ther­mo­stat at my house so that when I got cold, my house would turn up, and vice ver­sa. However, usabil­i­ty is some­thing that we should all be inter­est­ed in. Because when you go out for a cig­a­rette in the win­ter, your house would just whoosh, you know what I mean? And my girl­friend would get kind of pissed off, so.

But we start­ed to build these devices and real­ized that the poten­tial for this was very high, and that the bar­ri­ers for entry were actu­al­ly low­er than you would assume. You know, I think that the bar­ri­ers are more in our minds. Now, with the size of this device, of course we got a large amount of crit­i­cism. But my argu­ment tend­ed to be there’s already YouTube videos on how to make some­thing small­er. There’s already a whole engi­neer­ing field on how to do this. What we don’t know is how to do this safe­ly on a hack­er bud­get. And that was the real suc­cess of the project, at least in my opin­ion.

This is a pic­ture of some­body who we had built an LED implant, and basi­cal­ly if you run a mag­net over the implant it would light the light for ten sec­onds. And this is me, I put it my hand. Bird, who also works with me and she’s here—she’s awe­some. And then a guy named Russ Foxx who implant­ed it in his chest because he said it would be awe­some to be like Iron Man. And I agree. I agree. It’s pret­ty awe­some.

So we start­ed to build these things and design things. However, when I got my mag­net there was this great sense of like wow, I’ve got this new sense and it’s so inter­est­ing. But when I start­ed to get exposed to all these dif­fer­ent elec­tro­mag­net­ic fields that I nev­er knew exist­ed before, I real­ized that I’m being bathed in these things con­stant­ly. However I had no idea, right. And so I was struck with a sense of blind­ness. I real­ized that the human body’s lim­i­ta­tions are so severe. That we’re con­stant­ly being exposed to things—there’s a whole hid­den world.

And the brain is a pat­tern recog­ni­tion device. And the truth is the more data that you can throw into that pat­tern recog­ni­tion device, the bet­ter pat­terns and the more clear and the more hid­den fea­tures that you’re going to find in the world around you. And that actu­al­ly adds to our abil­i­ty to see things. I think it would be very inter­est­ing if there were some sort of mag­net­ic anom­aly, and all of a sud­den it’s in some…you know Bumblefuck, Iowa, right. And then all of a sud­den you have an entire tourism indus­try based on the fact that there’s some weird mag­net­ic anom­aly that nobody would have ever been inter­est­ed in. I think that these sorts of things are very fas­ci­nat­ing.

So, I think that one of the oth­er things that real­ly start­ed to dawn on me as I start­ed to inves­ti­gate bio­hack­ing was that humans are an ani­mal with pre­dictable behav­iors. And some of those behav­iors maybe aren’t as use­ful as they used to be when we look at it from the con­text of the mod­ern world ver­sus the con­text of the Ice Age. And I think that we have cur­rent­ly, the philoso­phers are stuck in a sort of a hold­ing pat­tern where real­ly the ques­tions that they’re ask­ing are, Should we be doing this? Should we allow peo­ple to do this? Is it okay?

But I’d like to take this from a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. I think that we have a moral imper­a­tive to change the human being, giv­en the fact that we are built so flawed and built for a time that we no longer live in. And I think soci­ety right now has a pret­ty… There’s a pret­ty per­va­sive belief that we kind of stopped evolv­ing from the neck up. And that we don’t have behav­iors that are actu­al­ly stuck inside the human being, and ways in which we’re in this sort of evo­lu­tion­ary lock­step with what we used to be, and not what we are and what we’ve become. And we’re pre-biased to view things in cer­tain ways. And there’s all sorts of things that biol­o­gy will do to us and change the way in which we’re inter­pret­ing the world. And in that way I think we need to look at our­selves, as an ani­mal, with pre­dictable behav­iors, and try to fig­ure out ways in which we can change those behav­iors in order to be more in line with the desires that we have.

I believe that what we would like to be is peace­ful explor­ers who are try­ing to mit­i­gate suf­fer­ing in the world and [record­ing audio drops briefly] like to see. But I don’t think that we can do it in a mon­key suit. I don’t think that we can do it in some­thing like this. And I think that the plan­et has a load-bearing capac­i­ty for life. And we are well beyond that load-bearing capac­i­ty. And we need to fig­ure out how we can change our­selves in such a way that we can begin to come into har­mo­ny with that before we begin to prop­a­gate to the rest of the galaxy.

I mean, if you con­sid­er the fact that it takes 2,000 calo­ries for the aver­age American to sit on their ass and make snarky com­ments on the Internet, it becomes very clear that we’re not very effi­cient. right. And so inter­est­ing­ly, we have all sorts of things— And so what I’d like to do is give an exam­ple.

A while back, they fig­ured out—salesmen fig­ured out—that you could give some­body a warm bev­er­age. And if they’re hold­ing a warm bev­er­age in their hand, they’re more pli­able to the tricks of var­i­ous sales­man. And this should be… I mean, there’s plen­ty of evo­lu­tion­ary rea­sons you can think of that if that that would be some­thing that would devel­op a trust bond. However now it’s being used to exploit us. And in that way, we have to think of our­selves as an ani­mal. If you dan­gle a car­rot in front of an ani­mal, you can get it to do all kinds of stuff, right. Horses just do horse things, until you har­ness them, right? and that sort of thing.

And so there are ways in which we can be exploit­ed based on evo­lu­tion­ary behav­iors, and this should be con­cern­ing to peo­ple because that’s not how it feels, right. When your brain deliv­ers you a behav­ior, it nev­er deliv­ers you a behav­ior and it’s like, Yeah, this is total­ly nor—,” it just feels like the right thing to do. You don’t feel like you’re being exploit­ed.

And so blood sug­ar is anoth­er real­ly great exam­ple of this. When your blood sug­ar dips low, you have a propen­si­ty to become more aggres­sive. So now let’s pic­ture a com­put­er pro­gram­mer, and he skipped lunch and maybe he skipped break­fast, and he comes home, and at any giv­en time he might be absolute­ly hap­py to hear the jubi­lance of his kids. But today, he yells at them. And he can’t fig­ure out why. And after his din­ner he’s think­ing, Man, why the hell was I so pissed off?”

Well, if you think about this in the con­text of the Ice Age, if your blood sug­ar goes low, you are about to have to choke some­thing to death with your bare hands and then eat it raw. That requires a fair amount of aggres­sion. More aggres­sion than I real­ly want to ever have to sum­mon. And I don’t think that we under­stand that in terms of self-control, we tac­it­ly accept all sorts of dif­fer­ent tal­ents that peo­ple have—mathematical tal­ents, and ath­let­ic tal­ents. However, we don’t tend to believe that there’s such a thing as say, moral tal­ent, or the tal­ent for self-control. These sorts of things.

And I think that when I look at the world, peo­ple tend to be tor­tured by their weak­ness­es, most­ly because they don’t under­stand where they come from. They don’t under­stand that the brain is seat­ed in those weak­ness­es. And I think we tend to think that evo­lu­tion want­ed us to become smarter and smarter and smarter. But the truth is intel­li­gence is not good for bio­log­i­cal life. It’s actu­al­ly not near­ly as help­ful as we tend to give it cred­it for. And self-control addi­tion­al­ly, is not good for bio­log­i­cal life. In the Ice Age, if you were the type of per­son that would skip a meal, you were not going to last very long. And nature was the thing that the delim­it­ed us. Nature was the thing that allowed us to say, Okay, well you just eat as much as you can. Have sex as much as you can. And we’ll han­dle it with war and famine and dis­ease,” right, and this sort of thing.

And so, self-control is not good for bio­log­i­cal life. And when you look at the anom­alous peo­ple in the world who hap­pen to have self-control, and then we tend to apply that back to the aver­age human being. And then we say gosh, I won­der why we just can’t get our shit togeth­er. Well it’s because we think the anom­alies and we say any­body can do this.” But that’s not the case. That’s not the case.

And if you’ve ever known a drug addict in your life, you know that these peo­ple don’t want to do the things that they do. Now, I’ll make a small admis­sion, is that I’m a recov­er­ing alco­holic. And I can remem­ber look­ing in the mir­ror and say­ing, Please, man. Just don’t drink today. Just today.” And come 2 AM, I spent the rent. I don’t know how I got there. And for a year after I got sober, I puz­zled over this. Why? Why could I not stop? And this nag­ging feel­ing in my brain, and this sort of thing. And I can remem­ber, final­ly the anal­o­gy came to me it’s like hold­ing two heavy buck­ets of water out in front of you all the time. And then you decide to go have a drink. You haven’t even had the drink yet. You decide to go have the drink. And it’s like let­ting them buck­ets down. Ohhh, feels so good.

And so basi­cal­ly, biol­o­gy is based on strug­gle. And as a result of that, it focus­es on robust­ness. In oth­er words, if we lost all of moder­ni­ty tomor­row, and we lost all of our knowl­edge, we would go on. Because we know we want to have sex. And we know we want to eat. And we know we don’t want to share with peo­ple who don’t look like us. And that’s exact­ly how you end up going for­ward in a case where you don’t have moder­ni­ty. And where you don’t have these sorts of things.

But if we had some sort of expo­nen­tial­ly com­pound­ing advan­tage over oth­er crea­tures, for a while we wouldn’t be able to notice it. For a while, it would take some time. We would still feel sub­ject to famine and death and war and these sorts of things. And the thing is, that’s exact­ly what tech­nol­o­gy is. Technology is this expo­nen­tial­ly com­pound­ing thing. However, we haven’t put our­selves in a con­text of some­thing that needs repair. And so now we’re so far out of lock­step with nature that we can’t stop our­selves. We are mon­keys with high-tech dig­i­tal fiber optic cable and laser guns. It’s not safe to be that—I would nev­er teach a mon­key to use a rifle. But I’ve got a whole room full of mon­keys who know rifles. It’s not good, right.

And so focus­ing on robust­ness is biology’s job. Which is why we need to divorce our­selves from biol­o­gy. We need to tran­scend biol­o­gy, in my opin­ion. Because how are we going to expect to get world peace if we’re all one skipped meal away from punch­ing each oth­er in the face? How can we have racial har­mo­ny when every sin­gle per­son in this room would fail the Stanford Implicit Racial Bias Test? Racism is a strategy—it’s a behav­ioral strat­e­gy. If you’re on the African savan­na, what’s the best way to deter­mine who you should share your resources with? Do they look dif­fer­ent than me? Then they don’t get to share.” This is some­thing that should con­cern every­one in this room, because we’re designed this way. Evolution did this to us. We can’t just judge human­i­ty on the good things. We need to stop pre­tend­ing that we are per­fect and that we are at the pin­na­cle of evo­lu­tion. We need to look at our­selves in the con­text of what we real­ly are.

Now, nature is com­plete­ly indif­fer­ent to our suc­cess. Nature will be here when we’re gone, and that’s absolute­ly fine. And at the end of the day… George Carlin has this great quote that says the Earth doesn’t give a fuck about plas­tic. The Earth will strike a new bal­ance. The Earth with plas­tic. It’s the peo­ple who live on the Earth that might have a bit of a prob­lem.

Now, you guys might— I’m sure you guys know Bill Nye. He has a quote where he says, if you’re in a car— In terms of like our progress in sav­ing the plan­et and this sort of thing. He says if you’re in a car and you’re careen­ing towards a cliff, you should pump the brakes. And I agree with that. However, I pre­fer to think of it this way. If you’re in a plane and you’re careen­ing towards a cliff, there’s going to be a point where you pass the abil­i­ty to hit the brakes. However, if you accel­er­ate you might actu­al­ly be able to take flight. So I don’t know where we are in that process, but I do know that my pref­er­ence is to fly. And that’s it. Thank you.


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