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World

Reinventing yourself, or how to become a cyborg

Human progress across the centuries has been based on the fundamental desire to make things better. The vast leaps in technology mean that editing the human genome could get as easy as editing text on your smartphone.

Hannes Sjoblad doesn't look like a cyborg. He doesn't have a bionic arm that can destroy brick walls or titanium legs that enable him to run faster than a cheetah. Yet, there isn't really another word that better describes someone who wears a chip as big as a grain of rice in his left hand and swipes it to get into his apartment, his workplace and pay for public transport.

"For me, technology is fundamentally important in the way it is transforming not just the media, not just business, not just society, but technology is truly transforming...how we see ourselves as human beings," Sjoblad said at DW's annual Global Media Forum (GMF) in Bonn on Wednesday.

Who am I?

"Identity is a lot of things. It's about where you're born, it's about gender, about genetics, and it's about sexual orientation and many other things. Identity is something that you are given by others... but identity is also something that we take. Identity is something that you increasingly define for yourself. You can say, 'I am this' or 'I am no longer that,'" says Sjoblad. The world of the internet helps us connect, with our unique identities, with people who think similarly.

But the second, and perhaps more interesting aspect of digitalization, is that we can experiment with our identity, Sjoblad says. He calls himself a "biohacker," a person who "hacks" biological, organic processes to make them better. According to his website, Sjoblad "works to radically democratize public access to powerful technologies. In this setting, he does not step back from experiments with technology with his own body." Moreover, he envisions a future in which "the human body has fundamentally different capabilities than it does today."

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This is where the chip in his hand enters the picture. "It's a technology we have been putting in animals for more than thirty years industrially," Sjoblad says. "These are the things that i managed to replace, that I don't have to carry in my pockets anymore because of the implant," he explains, describing how the implant serves as keys to his workplace, cupboards and apartment and membership for his gym and so on. He also saves data in his hand, "like a USB drive."

"I don't carry paper or business cards anymore. You can just swipe my hand with your smartphone and you will get my contacts straight from my chip," he announces, to a bevy of laughter from the audience. For those interested in having a chip fitted in their bodies, Sjoblad organizes "Implant parties" in different cities across the globe.

The future is here

For those wanting to go a step further, human genome editing promises to become an affordable trend in the coming years. According to Sjoblad, a human genome testing kitcould soon be as tiny as a Snickers bar and cost as much as an ice cream cone from a shop around the corner. Accessing a person's DNA sequence could enable scientists and experts to "edit" the code and make changes to a person's physical and perhaps even mental attributes.

All this, according to Sjoblad, will translate into a lot of diversity, into a "dramatic explosion" of all kinds of identities from all over the world. "We are entering a completely new era of human evolution. I think that the idea that we can design ourselves genetically is as dramatic a transformation in biological evolution as when the first animals crawled out from the sea onto land. And we live right in the middle of this change."

 

Hannes Sjoblad spoke at DW's Global Media Forum 2017, held in Bonn. The slogan for this year was "Identity and Diversity." Dubbed "Media Innovation Lab," the last day of the GMF was a mixture of discussions, presentations and speeches about innovation in news, the latest trends in storytelling and reaching audiences around the world with information.