The procedure is simple but look and you'll cringe.
Pinched skin, plunged needle, pressed gauze -- and a 12-millimeter bioinert glass capsule is installed in the fleshy back of Tim Shank's hand.
Shank is a biohacker, a transhumanist, a grinder, a cyborg. The terms are jargon, he'll admit, reductive and a bit cheesy, but he's earnest in his plans to "hijack evolution" and give his physical body a digital and mechanical upgrade.
Late last year, Shank decided it was time to take the first steps in transcending his corporeal form and turned to a St. Paul piercing artist.
Implantable, non-medical computer chips and magnets are enjoying a small vogue in the Twin Cities, and Verno Musselman, owner of The Holy Mackerel, has become Ramsey County's premier practitioner. In the last five years, Musselman said he's completed "insertions" of about 10 computer chips and nearly 50 magnets.
Customers are warned about the risks of severe pain, vascular damage, nerve damage, scarring, fistulas, pulverized glass and disintegrated magnets. But Musselman, whose own wrist holds a magnet, said the operation is relatively simple and he "limits the amount of trauma."
After Shank's procedure, Musselman enthusiastically posted a video on the Holy Mackerel's Facebook page of the new superpower in action.
For now, as the video shows, the two subdermal chips in Shank's hands have all the functionality of a parlor magic trick. The near field communication tag, embedded between Shank's right thumb and forefinger, can be programmed to trigger a single operation on his phone, like muting a call or retrieving a contact. The RFID tag in his left hand can be set to unlock a door.
These types of body modification will not turn anyone into an omnipotent android overnight, but Shank's motivations go deeper than just the geeky cool factor.
"We stopped being limited by our own biological capabilities when we first took a stone and created a tool," Shank said. "I don't have any desire to be immortal or anything like that, though I'd like to be healthy and vibrant for 300 years."
And one day soon, he plans to see in the dark like a bat.
First, he'll implant a magnet in his wrist. Next, he'll make an electromagnetic cuff with the 3D printer he bought himself for Christmas. Then, he'll attach to the cuff a sonar "ping sensor."
The closer an object gets, the faster the tiny magnet will vibrate under his skin.
"You wouldn't need light to navigate or see," he said. "You could have this cuff on and feel things at a distance."
'No Chance Of Controlling It'
Shank believes there is "a 50 percent chance" accelerating scientific knowledge will eventually destroy the human race.
But as befits a man eager to merge his sensory system with unperfected gizmos purchased at DangerousThings.com, he refuses to live in fear.
"There's no chance of controlling it," he said. "It seems to have its own lifecycle."
Shank has chosen to accept the uncertainty of the future, to embrace digital intermingling, to hope for the best. Putting computer chips in his hands is his way to literally internalize the weirdness of the modern world.
"We're all tethered to our phones, and we know what it feels like when we leave our phone at home -- it's disorienting, we're disconnected," he said. "The implants are a recognition, an acknowledgement, that I'm tied to technology."
Twin Cities Plus
This is an exciting time to be alive for a fedora-wearing IT problem manager like Shank, whose primary interests concern surreal, futuristic innovations, if not yet real, at least scientifically plausible: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genetic engineering, nanotechnology that targets cancer cells, nootropics that target brain cells.
Six months ago, striving to meet people who wouldn't stare at him in boredom "like they're waiting for the conversation to be over," Shank founded Twin Cities Plus, a social group for men and women energized by questions of "how emerging technologies can be implemented in our lives to enhance capabilities and increase well-being."
About 80 members have joined in monthly roundtables, held over beer or pizza, on topics like virtual reality and life extension. The group is in the process of incorporating as a non-profit, and members have pooled resources to buy a 3D printer, with which they hope to print prosthetic hands for charity.
"There's no reason to filter technology," Shank said.
Unfiltered access to the tools of the future is what drives Shank. He can't help being a passenger on the journey of human evolution, but it's exhilarating to think your own personal lifespan contains an evolutionary leap, and Shank is ready to jump. It's almost worth the coin-flip odds at annihilation.
"We don't need to shepherd people into using technology to transform their lives," he said. "I don't need to tell people, waving a flag, 'Come transform with me.' It's more about helping people go into the transformation with their eyes open."
By Zac Farber
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