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Pushing the body’s boundaries: BodyHacking Conference 2017 kicks off

Why it matters to you

Bodyhackers are redefining what it means to be human.

From head to toe, the human body is one of the most remarkable things in existence. It’s been crafted over millions of years of evolution into the highly adaptable biosystems we embody today. But flesh is flawed — and a growing community of hackers want to make bodies better.

Ask a dozen self-proclaimed bodyhackers to describe their vocation and you’ll get a dozen differing definitions. Through nutritional genomics, nutritionists alter diets to better suit their DNA. DIY biochemists perform at-home fecal transplants to treat an irritated gut. Garage tinkerers re-engineer hearing aids to tune into far out frequencies. Grinders put tech directly into their bodies, such as implanting magnets into the flesh of their fingers, to experience new senses. All would don the badge “bodyhacker,” a catch-all term for someone who aims to augment the body for optimized or enhanced performance.

Bodyhackers from around the world have come to Austin, Texas this weekend to attend the second annual BodyHacking Conference (BDYHAX) where artists, academics, grinders, and cyborgs have gathered to discuss the methods, ethics, and legality involved.

“We wanted to make it interdisciplinary,” Trevor Goodman, BDYHAX event manager, told Digital Trends, “to bring together anyone who’s interested in bodyhacking and modification to the same place to share resources and learn from each other.”

The conference informally kicked off Friday night as models took to the runway forPut Together: A Bodyhacking Fashion Show. Their outfits were created by a handful of tech-oriented designers looking to push fashion forward. Headpieces twinkled with LEDs. Some models stumbled onto stage in monstrous 3D-printed dresses. Others sported echolocation headphones and temperature-controlled jackets.

The fashion show opened with Waiting for Earthquakes, an interpretive dance by Cyborg Foundation co-founder Moon Ribas who can sense earthquakes in real time through an implant in her arm.

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Biotech startups like Dangerous Things, Cyborg Nest, and Grindhouse Wetware are in attendance to show off their gear (some even offering on-site implants). Booths are occupied by companies like BrainPort, which makes a device that lets users see the world through their tongue; and NeoSensory, a vest that translates sounds into vibrations to help hearing impaired patients better comprehend speech. BDYHAX has also partnered with E-NABLE to build and donate 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children in need.

Bodyhacking is still in its experimental infancy and some people here acknowledge that such a conference is sort of premature. But they all also feel they’re on the cusp of something significant, a brave new world in which the body takes on new forms.

We’ll cover the bodyhacking movement over the next few weeks in a series of features about the legal implications of implanted tech, the safety of DIY procedures, and what humans might look like in the future. Most importantly, we’ll speak to some of the experts and most prominent figures in the field to figure out what the future might look like for humans.