Future superhumans: from microchips to microdoses

What would you do to augment yourself? Over the last 24 hours I’ve found myself discussing three very different approaches to making us future superhumans.

Conscious Control

First, I met Simon Fox of BfB Labs, a London-based start-up building ‘emotionally responsive games’. The company’s first game, Champions of the Shengha, will be launched on 27th September 2016 on Indiegogo. It uses a Bluetooth connected heart-rate monitor to bring a different dimension to a classic style: the trading card/duel, in the style of Yu-Gi-Oh. By following instructions to control your breathing, and so moderate your heart rate, you can enhance your power-ups.

Adding this sort of gamification to what is fundamentally a meditatory technique for managing your mind state is really interesting. Imagine a whole generation of kids who grow up associating calmness and with power. Kids who have a well-trained ability to consciously control their body’s natural responses to stress and anxiety.

This is just the company’s first game. You can imagine how many of the most beneficial components of ancient techniques of self-control could be brought bang up to date in a game environment.

Basic Bionics

The second stimulus for this blog post was a conversation with Danny Kelly on BBC WM about the latest people to insert RFID chips into their hands and call themselves transhuman. This isn’t anything new: people have been attracting publicity through this approach for a few years now. Every time it seems to startle a few people, even though the technology is pretty rudimentary — no different to tagging a pet.

It does open up some interesting possibilities, even if it is very much a technology for today. In the future machines will be able to recognise us from our faces or our heart beat signature. No need for internal electronics.

Meanwhile though, opening doors at work with a wave of your hand is one thing. Being able to pay for a pint as if by magic is quite another.

I can see how that would appeal to future superhumans with a taste for beer.

Microdosing

The third spur was a brilliant piece by Wired’s Olivia Solon on ‘microdosing’ of psychoactive substances as a means of improving at work performance. Tiny amounts of LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are taken every few days to maintain a low-level boost to focus and mood.

As Solon notes, this is not a new phenomenon, but it is one with a growing number of adherents. I don’t mind admitting that if I were both younger and braver, I might give it a go. But having watched a few people on bad trips in the 90s, illicit pills and powders have always terrified me.

Future Superhumans: Train, Augment, Enhance

These three ideas present three glimpses of ways that we might make all of us into future superhumans. Mind and body training so subtly integrated into games that we just don’t notice the improvements we’re making in our own capabilities. Electronic devices inserted subcutaneously to give us access to systems and services. And drugs to extract the maximum potential from our own minds.

This post forms part of my Future Human series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future Human page.

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Tom Cheesewright