2 weeks ago (Feb. 17-19th) I was in Austin for the BodyHacking Conference (#BDYHAX) representing NeuroTechX.
Disclaimer: I attended the event as a VIP guest with a NeuroTechX booth, and not specifically as press. Unfortunately this means that I missed a few of the talks and will not be able to comprehensively report all of the conference highlights. This post is intended to give you my personal view of the event.
Let’s start with the harsh reality – having a huge “kick a**” venue doesn’t guarantee a successful event. It can actually play against you, because with a great venue comes great expectation. (or was it with great power comes great responsibility?). In other words…
The Austin Convention Center was probably not the best venue for that specific event
According to the organisation, they had over 375 registered attendees and an estimated of about 1000 attendees through the Expo on the peak day, Saturday. Not bad for a first event! However, much of the time, the event felt half empty. The venue was so big, and the main room was so big (and had so many chairs), that it always felt like there weren’t enough people to fill the space.
The quality of the talks, the people and the panels, were definitely not the cause!
There are a few things to keep in mind. Not only was this the first “BodyHacking” event, it was the first ever event of it’s kind. Even if the event felt half empty most of the time, the quality was simply undeniable, and most of the people I interacted with had a great experience and are looking forward for next year’s event.
Is this the beginning of something big? I think so. Will I be there next year? Most definitely.
Even though the event felt empty, it was still an amazing experience. There are 3 specific aspects I would like to highlight: the networking opportunities, and the Talks and Panels, and the Expo.
The event itself
The real value of this kind of event is definitely the networking. With well known grinders, biohackers, cyborgs, etc. it was the perfect place to listen to great talks and then continue the discussions until late at night! I had the chance to meet people I’ve been reading about for a while, like Rich Lee that I first discovered in 2013 for his implanted earphones or Gabriel Licina that had his “night vision” story gone viral thanks to buzzwords used by many popular Magazines. (For those who are interested in learning more about the night vision eyedrops, here is a more accurate version of the science behind them).
The after-conference fun
Obviously, in a conference full of body hackers, grinders, biohackers, neurohackers, transhumanists, cyborgs, etc, we were all expecting great after parties and we got them. The conference started off with an Interactive Wearables Concert on Friday night, and the fun continued with the Wormhole Party on Saturday night.
The most interesting part is that I learned as much during the parties as I did during the conference. Absolutely everybody had an interesting story to tell. Everybody was well educated and knowledgeable about one (or many) bio-technology verticals, be it prosthetic or bio-hacking or something completely new to me. According to the organization, there were over 300 people at both parties. That’s a lot of stories to process.
Panel Discussions and Talks
Cyborgs & Prosthetics
My favorite panel was the Prosthetics and Transhumanism one with Angel Giuffra, James Young, Rich Lee & Luke Robert Mason as the moderator. Luke offered us a very inspirational opening and closing, while leaving lots of space for panelists to not only answer the questions, but go where they wanted to go and say what they wanted to say.
Everybody enjoyed the moment when Angel asked James: “How many sensors do you have? I have 2.” And then he replied “I have 5.” and then you saw Angel’s face turn into “competitive mode” (ie. I have more sensors than you)
We had a glimpse into the new concept of “Cyborg Envy”, because yes it’s a thing now. How can it not be, have you seen how “cool” these prosthetics look?
Angel talked about many interesting things, but one that should be highlighted is misconception & click bait. When the news are going out of control, claiming things like “mind control 3D printed prosthetics” trying to sensationalize things, “but that they are actually playing with people’s emotions. I cried. I really wanted that tech…” she said.James highlighted how important it is to expose both sides, that yes the tech is becoming cooler and better, but that at home he still uses his wheelchair, not his prosthetic leg.
One of Rich’s point was about how important communicating failures is. I believe that this point is very important because, as the maker movement gain in popularity, more and more “basement experiments” are occurring and communicating failure becomes crucial as some experiment are about modify the body and/or enhancing the brain.
Ethics of BodyHacking
Both of my favorite talks were on the topic of ethics. The first one was the neuroethics talk from Dr. Robert Buchanan.
“Dr. Buchanan is one of a few physicians in the US who is is a board certified specialist in both psychiatry and neurological surgery. Trained in neurosurgery, including those for disorders of the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves, he is also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 to the group which advises the Catholic church on bioethical issues. At the University of Texas Image Guided Transcranial Laboratory, Dr. Buchanan studies brain function and explores treatments for epilepsy, psychiatric disease, and movement disorders.” (BodyHacking website)
He started by setting up the table explaining that if you are smart, if you have a gift of god you have a duty, you owe it to the society to do good. We then knew we were in for a nice hour. A very opinionated hour. The main part of the talk was obviously brain enhancement. What exactly are we enhancing was the question. IQ? Happiness? What does enhancing IQ even mean? Are our brains made to be happy all the time?
“What if you increase your IQ from 100 to 150? You were happy living your life and now you feel like you need to do something great. Like you have to make a discovery.”
Then we talk about life extension and who’d decide on what’s the perfect CV to live forever. What kind of profiles would we need in an enhanced world. We talked about neural darwinism, neural selection.
“I don’t trust anybody. We need to be careful with whom make these decision for humanity. We have quite a bad check record.” (said in reference to Walter Freeman’s infamous lobotomy experiments)
Where We’re Going, They Don’t Have Roads: Are There ANY Ethical Constraints on Bodyhacking?
The second ethics talk was given by Richard Thieme. Richard Thieme is a former Episcopal priest. He is an author and communicator on the challenges posed by new technologies and the future. His work mostly focuses on the question of how we redesign ourselves to meet these challenges, and on creativity in response to radical changes and identity shifts. More than that, he is an incredible speaker. Having spoken for the NSA, the FBI, and the US Department of the Treasury, it is no surprise that he delivered a very inspiring and engaging talk about evolution, knowledge, rules and hacking. “Evolution is a hacker!”
Here were his main tips for hackers:
- If you know that you don’t know, ask people who do know
- Earn respect of your elders and do your homework
- If you “feel” that you know enough to do something, then do it. Break the rules.
- You need to become expert at being an expert.
- Become as knowledgeable as possible, but have humility.
- Don’t reject what you don’t understand.
- Know everything and then make an informed leap / decision.
He then summarized his talk with 2 rules, extra important, rules:
Rule number 1: Don’t be stupid.
Rule number 2: If you don’t know when to break the rules, don’t break the rules.
Nootropics, Supplements & Coffee
Many companies with supplements & nootropics were present, even with some samples for you to take. Companies like AlphaBrain, BulletProof Coffee, NaturalStack and smaller companies like Nootroo and First Aid Shot Therapy.
David Eagleman’s Neosensory startup was there with their vest that transform sound in vibration to have you feel sounds. Check out this video of me trying the vest with the word “Brain” and “Technology”. I did very poorly due to background, but some other people did very well!
At a $90 price tag, this conference was definitely worth it, and at$20 each so were the parties. You got to hang out with cyborgs, grinders, transhumanists, body hackers & people who have experienced different things from meditation to bulletproof coffee to nootropics to you name it, in order to better themselves in different ways. You got to listen to great speakers like Neil Harbisson & Richard Thieme. You got to interact with panelists like James Young & Angel Giuffria. You get to stay current with the various companies showcasing their products. And you could also get yourself an implanted chip with Amal Graafstra from Dangerous Things.
This conference may not be for everyone, but I for one can’t wait to see what happens next year!
Twitter : https://twitter.com/BodyHackingCon #BDYHAX
Website : https://bodyhackingcon.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/BodyHackingCon