The future kinda sucks


We’re all going to be cyborgs who live on protein pills! Unfortunately, reality makes that less glamorous than it sounds. It turns out that Soylent is rather unpleasant, and all those happy ambitious post-humanists who got gadgets implanted under their skin are discovering some downsides. When I met a guy who’d done some biohacking and implanted magnets under his fingertips (he can feel electric fields!), I thought it was nifty — but it turns out those magnets wear out after a few years, and you end up dredging corroded bits of wire out of your flesh.

OK, maybe it’s the near future that sucks, but it’ll all be great in the 22nd century.

Comments

  1. doubly says

    From the soylent article you linked, struck a nerve:

    > The point is, I derive a lot of joy from food because I’m not a sociopath.

    Like, damn, is it not time to stop policing what other people do or don’t feel? For fuck’s sake. If you don’t like food you’re a sociopath, if you’re asexual or aromantic you’re broken and inhuman, if you don’t like watching TV you’re a serial killer. And god help you if you actually are a sociopath, cause there’s clearly no difference between mental illness and *evil*.

    I hate food most of the time, with occasional exceptions. But apparently if I’m not awed by the richness of human sensation every single day at each of 8, 12, and 18 o clock, then I’m incapable of empathy. Ffs.

  2. Rob Bos says

    It’s probably useful to distinguish between the concept and the implementation. Magnets under the skin is still a pretty cool idea, even if someone chose a magnet that only lasted a few years.

  3. komarov says

    Gosh, inserting random bits into your body to claim augment status turned out to be a fad? Who’d have thought it. I can sort of see the appeal of trying new and unusual things, but … long term? Not really. At least the second link points out the underlying problem: The implants aren’t any better than wearables. I was genuinely puzzled by the skin-attached compass that vibrates when you turn north. Yes, I could graft an expensive box to my torso and plug myself into a reacharger every so often. Or maybe I’ll just look for an app for my phone.

    As for the magnets: I dimly remember that you can magnetise iron by hitting it really hard. It’s only temporary and may not work with the magnets used (Neodymium, I’m guessing). But that’s all part of the Joy Of Experimentation. Basically, the idea is that if your implanted magnet stops working you could try hitting your fingers with a hammer really hard. Repeatedly. I assume any voluntary ‘augment’ would have no issue with this, seeing how they were happy to stick a magnets in their fingers to begin with. If anybody does try it I’d love to hear how it went…

    OK, maybe it’s the near future that sucks, but it’ll all be great in the 22nd century.

    Unless Elon Musk is right and we’ve all been enslaved by sentient spambots. Granted, it’s not the worst case scenario, but hardly ‘great’.

  4. says

    Jokes don’t make something ok, and food bigotry is still bigotry. In addition to being rude, I find that impulsive non-literal comparisons to mental illness tend to lead to irrational decision making. It makes one incompetent with respect to coherently speaking about what one is bothered by. That makes those of you using such comparisons look vulnerable.

    I’m not at the level of overtly attacking it yet because I’m under enough of an emotional load at the moment. We don’t seem to agree here and I confess to choosing who I dig at when it comes to scraping at the reason for the comparison.

    I believe the social cost to those of you enjoying comparing something to a mental illness will be less that the cost to people like misogynists and other predatory bigots. Have you seen how they use mental illness comparisons? The social tool of comparison to a diagnosis still exists, what it needs is mutually agreed upon rules, in a seed group of people if nothing else. Psychopathology as the ill-shaped category that it is still contains human beings we need to know about.

    Otherwise I’m cool with poking at the occasional person for how they are using other people. Society will do it for mental hygiene purposes eventually.

  5. says

    @kentreniche
    Obviously the post is written in a humorous, overblown tone, so I don’t think the author had any intent to offend or even to promote any particular view. However, if she can make a joke, doubly can post a rant. Especially since there’s actually a legitimate point there. E.g. you might consider how often homophobia is rooted simply in the idea “Dude-on-dude is gross.”

    As it relates to Soylent, I’ve heard from some people that they’re very happy with it. So, let the people who like it drink it and the rest of us won’t. Simple as explosive diarrhea.

  6. says

    Too bad about Soylent. I like the idea since food generally seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth–I don’t have time to make anything good, or, for that matter, the skills, or the time to develop skills, and having to eat a balanced diet just results in my dietary habits being incredibly mediocre because I sure as fig don’t know what constitutes a balanced diet. And any pleasure I could derive from food I could probably derive from better uses of my time that could also eventually result in a net gain in my financial security rather than a net loss. I guess what I’m saying is: capitalism has ruined food, like everything else.
    (PS, I am a sociopath, but only insofar as every human on the planet is a sociopath)

  7. Callinectes says

    I don’t see a problem with naming a food product “Soylent.” But then, I’d be fine with “People Veal.”

  8. says

    I might go for the magnets thing if they were appropriately encapsulated. Give it a century or two and tricorder-like abilities would be nice too.

  9. WhiteHatLurker says

    FWIW, the book version of Soylent doesn’t contain people. It is based on lentils and soybeans. The soylent beverage victim might have cut the vendor some slack on that.

  10. IngisKahn says

    Random anecdote: Soylent has been my weekday breakfast and lunch for over the past year and I love it. Serves as dinner too when I’m eating alone.

  11. andyo says

    Is Soylent fundamentally different than, say Ensure? Cause I remember Steve Novella either writing or talking about it on the SGU, saying that it’s practically the same thing. Doctors use Ensure for patients who can’t eat solid food.

  12. andyo says

    Re: implants, I read that Verge piece before, and it still doesn’t click with me why a magnet would be useful under the skin. It seems more trouble than it’s worth. First thing that I thought of was the MRI thing. And the woman’s friend thought he could cover it with tape and it would be OK?

    I can sort of kinda see the usefulness of NFC, for example you can unlock your phone via NFC similarly than you can with fingerprints. But the advantage over fingerprints would be that you can change the “code”, which would be difficult if the chip is under your skin. Something like a ring would probably be more useful.

  13. Moggie says

    I recently replaced the keyboard in my laptop. So many tiny screws to deal with! For a job like that, I can see why having magnetic fingertips would be slightly useful, but that’s about it. It’s not exactly Ghost in the Shell, is it?

  14. says

    If any of the food bigotry questions ate directed at my comment it’s again directed at the psychopath comment. Irrational connections and social pressure based on food is a thing. This one is not like the typical disgusted rant at someone’s food preferences, but I still think it fits.

  15. snuffcurry says

    Is Soylent fundamentally different than, say Ensure?

    Are the ingredients that make up Ensure haphazardly, inconsistently measured (roughly by volume, using scoops) and hand-mixed in a non-sterile environment by people without food-handling training and certification?

    Ensure provides supplementary calories (per serving and depending on the formulation and flavor, between one-tenth and one-sixth recommended daily calories); all forms of Soylent are marketed as meal replacements. Neither are nutritionally complete and if you’re trying to hit certain macros, they’ll need to be paired with eat-y edibles. Soylent, in any of its manifestations, is less expensive. Both could possibly serve a positive function in a hospital or clinical environment, with monitoring, for patients unable to eat enough food to obtain proper, close to optimal, nutrition. Even when the powdered hodgepodge of vitamins and minerals added to them are potentially useful, they (like the multivitamins they resemble) suffer from the same bioavailability issues, making them untenable for long-term use to the exclusion of food.

  16. zetopan says

    I read those links for the first time – as in, this is the first time that I had ever seen anything like this. People who are performing “home surgery” on themselves and inserting foreign objects inside their bodies without even having a clue about how the objects and their body chemistry are going to react are certifiable. I suspect that a sizable number of them don’t even know if the Earth moves through space. By the way, neodymium magnets do not magically lose strength over time unless they are subjected to extreme conditions that no human body could ever withstand (e.g. very high temperatures, etc).

  17. says

    I can sort of kinda see the usefulness of NFC, for example you can unlock your phone via NFC similarly than you can with fingerprints. But the advantage over fingerprints would be that you can change the “code”, which would be difficult if the chip is under your skin. Something like a ring would probably be more useful.

    Actually, this has kind of been the whole problem, and why they went “physical contact” chip on new bank cards, instead of radio wave – if you can read it, at any distance, how ever limited that may be, you can copy the bloody code, and/or, work out what the generated code will be, based on the fact that it has a known algorithm. Somehow the people looking at sticking these things in themselves, or wearing them, fail at the concept of security and encyrption just as badly as they do at, “We are not at the point where this stuff will actually enhance anything yet.” lol

  18. wcorvi says

    Magnets wouldn’t detect electric fields. Changes in electric fields (which we call magnetic fields), but not the field itself. Magnets, like ‘quantum mechanics’, are often used to baffle with bullshit by people who understand neither. Vibrations (which us scientists call ‘vibes’) are the same.

  19. consciousness razor says

    Vibrations (which us scientists call ‘vibes’) are the same.

    But then… what sciencey word do you people have to talk about vibes like this?

    And while we’re on the subject of cyborgs, are we all really sure that guy isn’t one? Or maybe some sort of demon?

  20. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I’ve always wondered about implanting an RFID chip, with a centimeter range to prevent covert reading. Implanted in pink tip or under finger nail. One could then connect ones RFID tag to ones “transit” account to allow easy access to the “metro” by waving ones finger over the reader with no cards or tickets involved. Could also be used to regulate entry into secure sites without having to wave around ones photo id with lots of personal id information visible. etc. etc. The RFID only provides a long random number that is a key into the database to identify the owner of that long random number.

  21. municipalis says

    The Soylent article is pretty stupid.

    But Soylent takes things a step further. I’m used to seeing a weird list of ingredients on junkfood wrappers, but a Soylent box only has two or three recognizable ingredients, and it’s supposed to be a meal.

    What does the recognizability of the ingredients have to do with Soylent’s quality as a meal? The fact that the author doesn’t know what “Manganese Sulfate” is doesn’t change the fact that humans require manganese in their diets. And, indeed, the majority of the ingredients on the Soylent lable that’s pictured are what you’d find in a multivitamin. There’s also an old post on Soylent’s website explaining most of these ingredients.

    This type of criticism seems founded on the idea that there’s some sort of functional difference between “whole” or “natural” food and a “processed” food. Where’s the evidence for this? The founder of Soylent actually had a really good response to these complaints on his blog. That said, there may well be legitimate criticism on this front against Soylent, but it should be grounded in science.

  22. ck, the Irate Lump says

    slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) wrote:

    The RFID only provides a long random number that is a key into the database to identify the owner of that long random number.

    Secure identification always requires some kind of challenge/response mechanism, because a simple identifying number (no matter how long) would be far too easily compromised and copied. The problem is RFID tags tend to have very limited computational power, so any encryption available tends to be barely adequate at best. It would be almost impossible to provide an RFID tag that would be secure from birth to death, unless you happened to die very young. At best, any particular tag technology is likely to be made insecure (obsolete) every decade or two.

    RFID works fine in things like credit cards, which can be expired on a regular basis and replaced with newer technology, or for inventory tracking where encryption isn’t really necessary. I can’t recommend embedding these kinds of things in your body for identification purposes.

  23. Moggie says

    slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)):

    I’ve always wondered about implanting an RFID chip, with a centimeter range to prevent covert reading. Implanted in pink tip or under finger nail. One could then connect ones RFID tag to ones “transit” account to allow easy access to the “metro” by waving ones finger over the reader with no cards or tickets involved. Could also be used to regulate entry into secure sites without having to wave around ones photo id with lots of personal id information visible. etc. etc. The RFID only provides a long random number that is a key into the database to identify the owner of that long random number.

    Unless you like going around buck naked, I’m not seeing how this is significantly better than wearing that tag on your wrist. I’m not a fan of smartwatches, but RFID or NFC embedded in a convemtional watch (or its strap) would do the trick.

    Here’s one disadvantage of implanting something of value, such as a payment device or secure identifier: what happens when the bad guys want it? At the moment, if you’re mugged, your attacker takes your wallet or phone. This sucks, but now imagine that they take your finger instead.

  24. pita says

    biohacking is dumb, but i’m down for innovations in food. i feel like we should be at a point as a society where we have a meat-substitute that is indistinguishable from actual meat.

  25. says

    Off-hand thought on RFID: Could you re-write the code number on one of those? If so, you could have a system where every time you log in, the chip is given a new code. Each code is valid only once. This makes copying difficult, since any code is immediately obsolete the next time the user logs in. Alternatively, if the thief uses the code first, the user will find out as soon as they try to log in themselves, since their code will no longer work.

    I know nothing about RFIDs, encryption, or security matters in general. I’d appreciate input from people who have a clue.

  26. ck, the Irate Lump says

    LykeX wrote:

    Could you re-write the code number on one of those? If so, you could have a system where every time you log in, the chip is given a new code. Each code is valid only once.

    Sometimes, but that doesn’t necessarily provide additional security. A well designed RFID system doesn’t transmit the secret code over the air (except perhaps when programming the card), and will block the code from being directly read from the card. The way they usually work for authentication is that both the card and the receiver know something about the secret code. The receiver sends a random challenge code to the RFID card after it’s been energized by a magnetic field. The RFID chip performs a cryptographic (mathematical) operation on the challenge code to produce the response code, which is then transmitted back to the requester. This response can be verified by the requester using the secret code it knows about.

    No system is perfect, of course, and plenty of RFID chips that were once sold as “secure” (like the ubiquitous MIFARE Classic) have become somewhat easy to clone because of weaknesses in their access controls (which prevent the secret keys from being read off the card) or their cryptographic algorithms.

  27. rietpluim says

    kentreniche

    Everything is not about you. She was making a joke.

    Perhaps not everything, but the joke certainly was, and it wasn’t funny, for reasons excellently explained by doubly.

  28. Dunc says

    I’ve always wondered about implanting an RFID chip, with a centimeter range to prevent covert reading.

    Any phone with NFC could skim that – all I’d need to do would be find some way of persuading you to hold my phone, which is not exactly hard… Or attach a skimmer to the reader, like people already do with ATMs… Or use a better antenna, since the range is limited by the reading antenna, not the chip…

    One could then connect ones RFID tag to ones “transit” account to allow easy access to the “metro” by waving ones finger over the reader with no cards or tickets involved.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather carry a card in my wallet than have a minor surgical procedure carried out on one of my fingers. (Or any other body part suitable for waving at ID scanners.)

  29. says

    RFID/NFC chips can be really small and require no power supply. For something like a public transport token, I could go with having one superglued to a fingernail, so that it lasts (say) six months before it needs replacing. It would make leaving it at home a lot harder. :)

    But implanting under the skin? Not for me.

  30. methuseus says

    @Dunc 32:

    Or use a better antenna, since the range is limited by the reading antenna, not the chip…

    Actually, the chip has an antenna, too, so there is a maximum distance, especially since implanted RFID chips require the power be transmitted to them. There’s still no way to limit it to less than about 10 feet, though, unless you want ridiculously high powered readers and high failure rates.

  31. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Shit
    Haven’t yet heard the “Lost kids” angle. Like most people chip thir pets to recover them when they get lost. Amber Alerts have also become common and stories of kids who get lost and can’t report their home address. Putting an ID bracelet on them is vulnerable to being snatched. Yada yada yada

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