Quinn Norton on Body Hacking at 23c3

0lesmagnetss.jpgNotes from Quinn Norton‘s talk at the 23rd Chaos Communication Congress which took place in Berlin last week: Body hacking – Functional body modification. You are the platform.

If you understand german, futur:plom has what looks a like pretty good entry about Quinn’s talk. The image on the left is one of his’, they are way better than mine.

Right. I’m not a huge fan of people who keep laughing out loud at their own jokes and i wish that the conclusions and reflections she shared with us had gone a bit deeper. Still, Norton raised some challenging questions and it was good to listen to someone who has experimented some body hacking herself.

“You Are the Platform” comes from the title she gave to an article for MAKE: 06: Robots about how hardware hackers are remaking their bodies.

Norton is a journalist who comes from a body modification family. When she was a kid, it was normal for her to witness her mum get pierced.

Body hacking, like all other forms of hacking, is ultimately a form of volition, the freedom to enact your will upon a system: your body. When you hack your body you’re facing more taboos and infringing more laws than you’d expect. We don’t have so much right on our own body, you don’t have the rights to most surgeries.

Body Hacking, she “stole” MAKE’s motto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” And opening is painful.

Whether you think of BM as something cool and transgressive or creepy, it doesn’t actually DO much: genital piercings, implants… Actually genital piercings are functional BM because they enhance sex life. They might also be one of the oldest forms of BM.

Out of the BM scope: rituals, sex modification, cutting, phun (p = pain), etc.


A few years ago, Quinn Norton had a magnet implanted in the tip of one of her fingers. The ring finger to be precise because it’s a nerve-rich area of the body. After some time she started to sense electro-magnetic fields, she could feel the hard drive spin up under the load seconds before her laptop began stalling, she could could tell if an electrical cord was live, feel running motors, security devices, etc. She explained that very rapidly her brain had adapted and developed a sixth sense. The idea was pioneered by body-mod artists Jesse Jarrell and Steve Haworth.

Two months after the magnet was inserted, the implant area became infected and her sixth sense disappeared. The implant had shattered into pieces. Four months after that, the magnetism returned. The magnet had reassembled itself in the finger.

0rddifr.jpgAccording to Norton, RFID implants are not interesting. There is no functional difference between carrying an rfid tag around and implanting it.

Interested in an implated glucometer whose data could be continuously uploaded to the net.

Enhancement vs. treatment. She thinks that the question is often really arbitrary: it’s a treatement if you want to get to the level everyone else is at. Anything beyond that is regarded as unethical. Example of the blurry line: there’s a big push against sportsmen using steroids but some athletes get LASIK without any problem! Lasik stands for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis, a form of refractive laser eye surgery procedure intended for correcting myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. However, some athletes undergo a Lasik operation to get superior vision. To quote Slate: If steroids are cheating, why isn’t Lasik?

She explained that she wasn’t suffering from jetlag because she had taken some Provigil pills. They keep you awake but if you want to go to bed, you can actually fall asleep. besides, they are not addictive. And if you decide not to sleep and just rely on them, you don’t even pay. Soldiers were given some Provigil instead of sleep for every 8 hour. After 72 hrs, their performances were better than before. They did the same experiment with rats and the rats died after a few days.

Stomach staples to fight obesity. That’s ok now because obesity has been re-defined as a disease.

IUD (IntraUterin Device) maybe 1st body modification.

Could we think of vaccination as a body enhancement rather than a treatment? Why not? It’s meant to protect us against a disease. It turns us into freakishly superior beings compared to our ancestors.

What are we doing soon?
0boneimplantd.jpg – cochlear implants: a guy wants to get a bone implanted hearing aid to listen to the phone in his head. Still looking for a doctor to perform the surgery. (Note: Was he inspired the famous Tooth phone implant?) Other weirdness on Crazy Meds!
– Vision implants,
Neuro pacemakers
– tons of tailored drugs to be more intelligent, emotional strenght, sleep/wakefulness, etc.

Post Human Medical Tourism: What do you do when the medical ethics of your country do not allow you to undergo the procedure you want? Places are setting themselves up: Thailand is the place to flight to for hip replacement for example and the whole Russia is getting ready as well.

Rise in black market medicine in the US, trend driven by bad American policy on the matter. What will it mean in the future? Surgery hidden in private houses? People would have to go there because they don’t have health insurance (Meth lab busted
in SF with OP below it, police said it’s where gang members get
bullets removed). A lot of surgery equipment sold on eBay. part of it goes to hospitals for example, but what about the rest? Who buys it and for what?

Will the sick get only treatment and soldiers enhancements?
How do we create a non-mediacal human-market for altering ourselves?

Conclusions: “Do you still count as human when you’re done?” She asked whether she could still be regarded as human because she had that sixth sense.
“Anything we change on our body affects the brain!”

Pictures of some of Quinn Norton’s slides. Images used in this post found on Wired and Make.
NPR has an audio interview of Norton.