Biohacking – where are we heading?
By this time next week I will have successfully micro-chipped my CEO, Helen McRae, in front of several hundred people at Huddle 2017. While that’s not something you’d expect to happen in the course of a typical working week, it begs (at least) two questions - Why? And is this really a good idea (for all concerned)?
Ignoring the latter question for the time being, we’ll be doing this at Huddle 2017, as a way of highlighting the possibilities of our theme this year – the Journey to Post Human. Swedish body-hacking company BioHax International will inject an NFC device the size of a grain of rice into Helen’s hand. Once there, Helen will be able to use an NFC writing app to programme the chip to carry out certain actions – security pass access display digital content once scanned. As implants evolve to interact with objects and machines in payments and travel (Oyster card) and even enhancing people’s capabilities, they will become an increasingly attractive proposition to brands.
Bio-hacking is a phenomenon that combines a wide range of technological and cultural trends. It is commonly used to describe a movement that applies a DIY ethic to body augmentation through technology. It encompasses body modification for aesthetic purposes, augmentation to replace lost skills (eg self-designed bionic arms) or at the cutting-edge, a desire to push the boundaries of human capabilities (eg brain-computer interfaces or embedded sensors to allow colours to be ‘heard’).
It has its roots in the techno-utopianism of Silicon Valley with its prevailing view that everything in a life, including our own mortality, is a technical problem that can be solved through technology. But it is also part of the wider trajectory of technology that through miniaturisation has led to ever closer integration with the human body, to eliminate ‘friction’ in its usage and make modern life easier. Our connectivity has moved from the desktop, to the mobile, to the wearable and now potentially into our bodies. A similar trajectory can be observed in contraception which has moved from something which is worn, to a pill that’s swallowed and increasingly to an implant.
So what might it mean for brands and marketers?
In principle, implants could present the opportunity for brands to become ever closer to consumers, enabling them to tap into a new wealth of data. Brands and marketers would have the ability to analyse, react and respond to our very physicality. This would create an opportunity for brands to offer a level of personalisation only hinted of up to now.
But all things considered we’re a long way off from this being a reality. As it stands, bio-hacking is currently a fairly underground movement with comparatively limited big corporate involvement due to a combination of security and privacy concerns and perhaps scepticism about wider consumer interest. There are understandable concerns that chips could open the door to greater government surveillance and could present vulnerabilities to malware.
At this stage, or at least in the short term, for most brands the opportunity lies in tapping into the wider motivations that fuel bio-hacking, rather than the phenomenon itself. Its two underlying motivations of self-improvement through technology and a desire to take ‘friction’ out of everyday life (quicker, faster, easier) are areas that many brands across a range of sectors will be well placed to help serve. So brands probably shouldn’t be rushing out to chip people but rather should see bio-hacking as a bellwether for our future relationship with technology and a manifestation of perennial needs they can aim to serve.
Jeremy Pounder, futures director, Mindshare UK
Also featured in Mediatel here