Real-life cyborg implant may rewire brain

When you start with one sense, you want to have more. And that’s what cyborgism gives me. It gives me the ability to go beyond my five senses. Mohsen Minaei is a geophysicist. He’s also a cyborg. Cyborgism is just like a human being with additional ability, that he has gained through technology. Carry small things like paper clips. The first thing I put in my body was a chip. I put it here, and it gives the temperature of my body. But it’s this little device on his chest – attached with piercings – that Mohsen is most excited about right now. It’s a small chip on my chest that vibrates whenever I face north. It’s called North Sense, and about 300 people around the world have one. That simple buzz, it’s the magic. That’s Liviu Babitz. He invented it. He also wears one. Every time I turn North… maybe you can hear it. You could call him a body hacker. These are people who use technology – things like microchips magnets, or batteries – to enhance themselves, by embedding it in their bodies. Like this employee at a company where people have chip implants that can unlock doors and start the copy machine. But Liviu says North Sense is something different. Knowing which way is north all the time is a nice enhancement, but that’s not the point here. He believes, adding an extra sense to the body will change how the brain works. The North Sense creates in the brain what we would call new pathways. So instead of my reality being built from X number of elements, now it’s x plus one number of elements that I understand reality by. And there’s precedent for this. The brain is amazing – it’s plastic. That’s Adrien Peyrache and he’s a neuroscientist at McGill University. He says the brain has an amazing way of molding itself to new experiences. And to understand this, he points to a 2011 study… of London cab drivers. To drive one of the city’s famous black taxis, drivers have to memorize 25,000 streets. It’s a notoriously difficult task – and according to this study, it actually changed their brains. So they tested subjects in MRI and, yes, indeed their hippocampus is bigger because they train again and again, and this is what they do every day to navigate in this big city. And the hippocampus actually gets bigger because it needs more connection, because it’s working more. Adrien thinks North Sense could change the brain too. Do we have any other paths here? Perhaps with North Sense you’ll actually become more aware of how you can navigate by yourself without any external help. Doing this will be good training for your brain. The more you use your brain, very generally, the later the neurodegenerative disease will start. It’s too early to know how North Sense is changing the brains of users. So Liviu is working with researchers at three London universities to first learn how wearing North Sense can begin to change behavior. There’s even a simple test they came up with and tried it on Liviu, who’s been wearing his for a year and a half. They blindfolded Liviu and then spun him around. We would ask him to return to the point of origin. And that point of origin wasn’t always north either. This was quite astonishing to see how accurately he could always return to the point of origin and we’d tested this with a number of non North Sense users and they all were totally useless. They hope to run the test on more North Sense users to see if it’s really helping their sense of direction. For Mohsen, he says he feels effects that can’t be quantified. I have started learning piano, the keyboard is in the room, and it’s facing towards north actually. Whenever I start playing in some chords, like C chords, I try to move my body so North Sense vibrates. It has added another layer of information to piano playing. It’s very beautiful actually. It makes you want to see more, it makes you want to know more.

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