Biohacking introduces data ownership and ethical issues

This is a cross-post of a guest blog I wrote for recently. 

Recap: The Age of Human Augmentation with Tim Cannon

Tim-Cannon-300x200While most of us are excited about wearables, biohackers and grinders are already taking the next step – human augmentation. Tim Cannon, a software engineer whose passion has always been to be a cyborg, is Co-Founder of Grindhouse Wetware, a research and development group dedicated to creating open source human augmentation devices. Tim brought us into this world of experimenters and world changers who are more curious than risk-averse, and committed to ensuring that human augmentation is not the sole domain of large corporations.


So what the heck is biohacking? In simplest terms, biohackers use the human body the way hackers use computers. For example, Tim was inspired by another grinder, Lepht Anonym, to implant a magnet in his finger.


When he found that he could feel magnetic forces as a sort of buzzing sensation, he realized he now had an additional “sense” that most of us don’t have. Then Cannon went further and built a device to use that data for a range finder that allowed him to navigate blindfolded, and implanted devices in his arm and hand with other capabilities. He is working on commercializing an implanted device he calls Northstar that triggers actions based on hand movements much like leading edge wearables are just beginning to do today. (He called it Northstar because it glows brighter the hand gets closer to the north, allowing the user to see or feel directions.)


Biohackers face challenges finding safe components to implant, and they turn to body modification artists for help because doctors won’t assist, presumably due to fear of liability and professional or legal sanctions. That means no anesthesia to reduce the pain, and no medical advice to reduce the risk. That’s how committed they are to the cause and to satisfying their curiosity.


But it’s not all fun and profit for Cannon and his colleagues. They are delving into serious issues of privacy, and ownership over the data produced by our bodies, whether through external devices or implants.


Cannon told us about a friend who has a cochlear implant, a medical device that allows profoundly deaf people to hear. His friend was angered to learn that the device’s capabilities had been deliberately limited to what natural human ears can perceive, depriving him of a sense that would be possible without the filters. He was further angered to find that access to the data from the device is restricted to doctors and technicians. Cannon makes the point that once a device is in our body, it is part of us so why don’t we own the data?


Then there is cost and equal access to consider. Many people cannot afford $100,000 heart surgery but if low tech solutions can be built and brought to market, more people can be helped. Business doesn’t always prioritize open access to innovations, but open source innovations, says Cannon, can help make sure longer, better lives aren’t the sole domain of the rich.


To learn more about the work Tim Cannon and his colleagues are doing to augment humanity using safe, affordable, open source technology, check out Grindhouse Wetware or the forums.

Business plans – more controversial than you might think

Earlier today, I was one of three guests answering questions about business plans for startups on a Startup Canada’s weekly #startupchats Twitter session. It turned out to be a lively debate that let us all explore our assumptions and get past the platitudes to more meaningful discussion than this type of event sometimes delivers.

Stratpad is a cloud-based business planning tool.

Stratpad is a cloud-based business planning tool.


One of the other guests, Alex Glassey from has already posted an informative blog post around the three key issues that were debated – cash flow, what IS a business plan, and canvas vs. business plan:

#startupchats: the #bizplan debate in microcosm



Anyone familiar with my business approach will be unsurprised by the fact that my positions on each boil down to the fact that apparently conflicting approaches are more often complementary.

  • Of course cash flow is important! (But if you’ve got funding, you have more runway before it has to be a positive flow.)
  • Business plans CAN be complex and old fashioned. (But they’re more effective if they are leaner and iterative.)
  • Canvas vs. business plan? (Why not both. They each deliver benefits.)

Today’s other guest, @HackerStudios, put it all in perspective:

Even if you never show It to anyone, a #bizplan will help you beter understand your own business

Even if you never show It to anyone, a #bizplan will help you beter understand your own business

If you’re interested in tips for creating business plans that will help drive your startup forward, the recap of the discussion is a good read, with great points from all sides.  Check it out here:

Startup Canada’s Business Planning Twitter Chat Recapstartupcan

Hope to hear your feedback. What did we get right? What do you disagree with?