Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Modular Body

Those who know me certainly also know that I'm a sucker for sci-fi and horror films that consider what the futures of biotechnology and genetics may bring. Especially when we consider the flawed or even non-existent educations our citizens are receiving in ethics. We're building a future where tinkering with biology will become too easy, while not enough people will question the morality of those tinkerings before they're conducted.

Splice (2012)
Films like eXistenZ and Splice are definitely in this realm. The former considers the future of gaming and our interactions with the worlds we create through our technology, while the latter film considers what might happen in organismal biotechnology research when we're driven by our desires for success to the point of losing our morality. In eXistenZ, we're brought to wonder if we may be able to biologically develop gaming systems that can interact with our minds to put us into virtual worlds. While Splice gives us two young scientists on the cutting edge of medical biotech in developing new model organisms; these two young scientists jeopardize their careers when they create an organism that includes human DNA (and they create one awesome organism).

Now, Floris Kaayk is working on something a bit startling and intriguing that might make us wonder what the future of biotech holds. Kaayk recently came to some internet fame after creating an online "media art project" called Human Birdwing, which included a video of a man flying with artificial wings. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn't realize that the video was not real and consider it more of a hoax than art.

Human Birdwing (by Floris Kaayk)
Kaayk's newest media art adventure is something called The Modular Body, and it's pretty trippy. As reported in DesignColumn: "Developments in the field of 3D-printed organs inspired Kaayk to think about a future in which our body parts could be divided into separate modules. Because the body would be made up of small blocks, it would be easy to alter its composition. We would be able to change certain modules in our bodies simply by plugging them in. For sporting activities you could plug in stronger limbs, while at night you would need only your brain, lung and heart modules" Sounds promising, but also potentially terrifying. For instance, in this video, a "scientist" is unveiling to the world the modular organism Oscar:

It's too bad this one isn't being turned into a full film, but it's pretty cool to see Kaayk turning this into a media art project. I'm sure a bunch of people will take this seriously as well, but maybe we're at a time where this seems believable enough given the current state of our world.
The very potential for little Oscar and other such modular beings could be the stuff of nightmares. Or, maybe, Kaayk's vision need not be so terrible. Maybe the development of such modular bodies really could change the nature of the human form. Might we one day have our brains in one module, while all of the other modules of our bodies could be moved around, or some things added or removed? Can you imagine meeting someone with 10 pairs of legs who walks like a centipede? Could we create limbs that allow us to walk along walls like spiders? I can think of so many possibilities for such modular forms, some amazing and some most terrible. What do you think?

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