Interview by Kev Kharas
Photography by Joachim Belaieff
( March 11, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Hannes Sjoblad is the fresh face attempting to popularise the biohacking movement – a small but growing group of people and organisations operating in countries across the world to fuse their own bodies with technology. Sjoblad, a member of the biohacking group BioNyfiken, has chips implanted in his hands that mean instead of filling his pockets with house and car keys, business cards, security passes and the other usual detritus, he merely has to present his hand to whatever digital scanner is blocking his path and continue on his way.
The movement’s DIY ethos is a refreshing and more agile alternative to the slow-moving machinations of the corporate forces currently exploring the possibilities of human-robotic fusion.
VICE: How do you think biohacking could change the relationship humans have with time?
Hannes Sjoblad: Life extension – most obviously. If we can live longer, healthier lives, we’d have a different view on time, stress, careers and relationships.
How do you think the world will look in 20 years, in terms of lifespans?
Everyone from the UN to pension companies make forecasts on population development. If you look at the trends we see in health tech and biotech – stem cell therapies, DNA sequencing, 3D printing of organs based on your own cells, for example – I think we are significantly underestimating our expected lifespan. We’re going to live much longer than the previous generation. I am a business person with a strong career drive. When I started to think that I could live to be 120 or 150, I was working a job in the finance industry in London, seven days a week. But I thought, ‘If I’m going to live another hundred years, there’s no point stressing to make that million in the next three. There is plenty of time, to enjoy life, to explore different priorities and to not rush as much.’
How do you think that we as humans should adapt to this shift?
The classical model is that you grow up, go to school, get your degree, work hard for 30, 40 years, then you retire. But I think that model is changing. If we are healthy and in sound mind, we could be working till we are 100 years old – maybe I can take a PhD when I’m 95.
Understanding the possible impact of exponential technological development changed my life. I think this realisation will reach more people over time.
You’ve talked before about biohacker implants that monitor our health. Do you think eventually these implants won’t just be monitoring our health, but talking to each other to respond to changes in our physiology and automatically carrying out repairs, or making adjustments?
Oh, definitely. That must happen. We see prototypes today in things like glucose meters, where parents can monitor their diabetic children’s glucose levels and calibrate doses of insulin using a smartphone app. Just like we have a system that monitors a power plant, we need to have the same for our bodies. Imagine if we had a dashboard showing us what was going on in our bodies, and giving us the ability to take action accordingly. It would transform the way we look at health. At the moment we are reliant on a shitty system called the central nervous system. It has weaknesses – if you stuff your face with a huge bag of candy, your body tells you: ‘Thumbs up, this is good. Give me more!’ However, studies have shown that more people are dying today from diseases related to eating too much than they are from not eating enough. So the way our bodies are built and our rewards systems are simply not tuned to the world that we inhabit.
What could the impetus be for biohacking to go fully mainstream, in the way that home computing did in the mid 90s?
We have the sensors, we know how to make implants, we just need to create a good enough user experience. Once that’s done, I’m 100 per cent convinced that health-monitoring chip implants will benefit billions of people on this planet.
Do you think the gap between humans and robots will ever be so slim as to be insignificant?
I think we will see a great diversity in types of people. People with different genetics, morphology – just like we have in fashion, people will be exploring in different directions. There will definitely be those who upgrade and improve themselves with robotics – things like health logging chip implants, augmented reality contact lenses, wearable soft exoskeletons.
But there will be other avenues of human augmentation as well; genetic intervention with somatic or germ line therapies would be an example of this.
Do you think much about what kind of legacy you want to leave behind for future generations?
Not so much. What drives me is that there are ideas that I really want to share – that we can overcome ageing, overcome the limitations of these bodies that we’re born into, and that the tools are available right there in front of us.
What is the single biggest misconception that people have about time?
In general, I think a lot of people in modern society are stressing way too much. People think they need to accomplish things very, very fast – like a career or getting rich. But in the US, the FDA now consider ageing a disease that we need to work to cure. Billions are being invested in human longevity projects such as Calico by Google and Longevity Inc. From a medical perspective, we have a much better understanding of ageing than we did ten years ago. I think we can make people more happy and harmonious if they just understand they may have a lot more time than they think.