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Biohacking To Build a Better Human? A Former Google Employee is On It!

A Silicon Valley startup has revealed plans to ‘make better humans’ through biohacking. Specifically, Michael Brandt has announced that his firm HVMN (pronounced “human”) is developing cognitive enhancement supplements to better humanity. HVMN will develop metabolic performance products and products which will close the sensory loop. Yet, development is in the very early stages, and rumors suggest it will be focused around sensors.

It is worth noting that Brandt has an impressive past and is highly regarded in the tech sphere. He’s a Stanford graduate and a former Google employee. He also has Andreessen Horowitz backing his startup. In fact, HVMN has had more than $2 million of investment over recent years. And it currently sells subscriptions for monthly boxes of cognitive supplements. Notably, new products are in the pipeline for next year.

“We want to make better humans. We want to take technology and use it to help you as a system,” Brandt, HVMN co-founder and COO, shared with CNBC. “You have inputs. You have outputs like your productivity, your reaction time, your happiness even.” Markedly, the company is already proving a hit in stores across America with its chewable coffee “Go Cubes”. And their latest additions are set to take off in a comparable way.

HVMN is a Bold Hit in Nutrition Stores

a cartoon of a man buying Go Cubes for biohacking
HVMN is already proving a hit in stores across America with its chewable coffee “Go Cubes”

Formerly known as Nootrobox, HVMN has been selling a watered-down version of biohacking called Nootropic supplements since 2014. They help the brain become more productive, improve your focus, and allow you to think more clearly. Their latest biohacking supplements are deemed safe and allegedly improve mental functions.

“Since the company’s offerings are mixes of approved supplements, the products don’t require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” according to CNBC.

In no uncertain terms, Brandt says he anticipates a shift where people who do not have a diagnosed medical need for pharmaceuticals regularly seek cognitive enhancements to help improve themselves. “You’re seeing this broad consumer excitement around ‘human body’ as a platform and around biohacking,” Brandt notes. “Healthy people want to be optimized versions of themselves … You just want to have a better day. You want to be a better version of yourself.”

The Bold Impact of Biohacking

Do-it-yourself biology is taking off in a big way. People are looking at the latest and most innovative ways of improving themselves. In fact, biohacking has become the latest trend and opened a new multi-billion-dollar market at the same time. On an important note, research has shown that biohacking works, especially for those with mental health disabilities. Biohacking can be used in psychiatry to boost dopamine and serotonin—that is, the neurotransmitters that increase positive feelings. Moreover, long-term memory and increased productivity are also improved through biohacking, and it’s being used by the medical profession all over the world.

Indeed, biohacking can change the way our bodies develop. It can improve both our body and mind. Only time will tell how popular DIY biology becomes, but initial indicators suggest it will become a bold hit and a multi-billion-dollar industry by the end of the decade.

Anti-Mosquito Technology Rises—Verily & Microsoft Take on the Mosquito!

In the fight against killer mosquitoes, humans are not just relying on technology for the solution. They’re bringing in artificial intelligence and robots. Specifically, the California-based life sciences company Verily—owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet—has been working with public health teams on a bold and ambitious “Debug Project”. The plan is to use anti-mosquito technology via technological innovations—even AI—to fight off Aedes aegypti mosquito populations in Florida Keys and Fresno, CA.

The female mosquitos of this species are the ones that bite and carry a range of viruses—like dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and the deformity-causing Zika virus. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) called Zika a global health emergency. While the majority of reported cases in America stem from patients who traveled to various locations and were bitten by mosquitoes there, Texas and Florida have cases, which were caused by local mosquitos. Thus, for fear of future outbreaks, these two states opted to become testing grounds for cutting-edge mosquito fighting technology.

Verily’s Anti-Mosquito Technology: ‘Mosquito vs. Mosquito’ Solution

Wired reports that Verily releases up to 100,000 live male mosquitos in Fresno every single day and that they will do so until December this year. These Aedes aegypti males are meant to mate with the female of its species and infect them with the bacteria they are carrying: Wolbachia. Wolbachia renders the eggs unable to hatch, thereby crippling the growth of the mosquito population.

a photo of robots zapping mosquitoes with lasers, depicting an upgrade in anti-mosquito technology
Verily and Microsoft’s anti-mosquito technology methods are proving to be effective!

To achieve this feat, Verily transformed one of its buildings into a breeding area for mosquito larvae. Reports said robots watch over the factory and ensure that optimal conditions are set for their 150,000 guests. Larval-rearing robots are in charge of the feeding cycles and monitoring growth. A very critical step in this process is the gender-sorting of the mosquitos. The company cannot risk having a bacteria-infected male breed with an infected male, because then the eggs will be able to hatch—and that defeats the purpose of the whole million-dollar exercise.

The process of generating Wolbachia-carrier mosquitos was first patented by University of Kentucky entomologist Stephen Dobson. As an expert in his field, Dobson can naturally tell the males apart from the females. However, it would be impossible for the scientist to sort all of the mosquitos by eye in such large-scale operations. Nonetheless, reports say Verily worked with Dobson to create a two-step process to sort the mosquitos by gender using advanced computer vision technologies. The opportunities for this project extend beyond the United States. The company wants to be ready to ship out an army of sterile male mosquitoes whenever the disease strikes any corner of the globe.

Microsoft’s Smart Trap in Texas

Not to be outdone, Microsoft has created its own anti-mosquito technology to isolate and capture Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The “Smart Trap” is as large as a birdhouse and utilizes infrared sensors and robotics to slam the door shut once it recognizes the shadows cast by the insects’ beating wings. The trap, which has 64 chambers, is equipped with machine learning and cloud computing capabilities—thus, allowing the trap to seal itself shut when the said species of mosquitoes are caught. Microsoft Engineer Ethan Jackson is said to have developed this anti-mosquito technology. The device saves scientists time and offers researchers more perspective on the behavior of mosquitoes. The traps were tested in Harris County, including Houston, and authorities said the traps were 85 percent accurate.

While completely different, the two anti-mosquito technology methods are inherently better than the old solutions of fumigation and using insecticides to kill mosquitoes and their eggs. While the programs are not cheap, these are very tangible examples of how automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are changing the world for the better!

Australian Data Privacy Law Impacts World Data

A newly proposed Australian Data Privacy Law could force Facebook and Google to give police access to their messages. The new government ruling could open the floodgates for law enforcement agencies around the globe who have been seeking access to encrypted messages for the “greater good”.

Before his departure, FBI Director James Comey was lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent.

Last year, the FBI tried to force Apple into rewriting their own coding so they could infiltrate the iPhone device of the San Bernadino terrorist. Apple put up a good fight to the FBI’s requests and the agency only backed down when it figured out a way of cracking the code itself.

The British government faced similar data protection obstacles in the past when trying to look at the Facebook messages of missing people or persons of interest. The law was recently changed in this regard.

The Australian government’s new cybersecurity law will force global tech firms such as Google and Facebook to give law enforcement agencies access to encrypted messages sent by suspected criminals and extremists.

According to The Guardian, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the law would be modelled on Britain’s Investigatory Powers Act, passed in November. The law gives UK intelligence agencies some of the most extensive surveillance powers in the west.

Under Australia’s new law, internet companies will have the same obligations as telecommunication companies to assist the police. Experts have said the new law could be rolled out in other territories worldwide, including the United States.

U.S. Law Enforcement Seeks Similar Access to Private Data

Google and Facebook will have to comply to the new Australian data privacy law

The United States has been pushing forward with data protection laws and privacy issues of its own over the past few months.

The FBI has recently called for a rewrite of US surveillance laws that would mean the justice department could access American citizen’s web browsing history, emails and location detail without a warrant or approval from a judge.

“The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records. Before his departure, FBI Director James Comey was lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent,” The Guardian writes.

However, Facebook, Google and Yahoo have formed an alliance to fight the FBI’s new proposal. They have sent a letter warning Congress that they will oppose any plans to rewrite the law in the FBI’s favor.

Data protection is proving a headache for law and policymakers around the world. Not only do citizens have a right to their privacy, but the same citizens deserve a right to live in a safe society. Law enforcement agencies argue that gaining access to social media, emails and cloud platforms of suspected criminals will help them fight terror and ensure safety, from Australia to America and beyond.