Haastattelu on englanniksi.
Originally published at Capital daily, dnevnik.bg (Bulgaria)
Could you give us a little background about yourself? Where are you from, how did you get to your position today?
My homebase is in Helsinki, Finland, the capital for startups in the Nordic region (consider for example the Slush conference that gathers 10,000 entrepreneurs and investors this year). I travel almost every month and spend a good ammount of time in various European cities. I give around 100 presentations a year. In fact, I just returned from Germany where I addressed the technology industry leaders about the opportunities in quantified self, wearables, and biohacking.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 15 years. I’m mostly well known for my work in the intersection of the human and the machine and how it affects organizations and individuals in the future. During the day I’m the CEO of a startup called Meetin.gs that redesigns the way how we meet. During the night my Batman project is the Biohacker’s Handbook – The source of learnings that I implement every day.
You focus a lot on biohacking. This is a relatively unknown concept here (in Bulgaria) so how would you describe it to someone who hears about it for the first time?
Your life, health, and day-to-day performance can be understood as a system. A biohacker sees things like sleep, exercise, nutrition, and work as a system that has various inputs (such as food or exercise), certain processes (such as the metabolic processes in your body), and various outputs (such as improved physical and mental performance).
Simply put, biohacking is about optimizing various systems in your life with various biological and technological tools for better health, wellbeing, and improved performance.
You also say that with biohacks one can improve their live. What is the role of technology in that regard?
As long as we have been humans, we have used technology as an extension of man. From finding food, to hunting, to traveling long distances we have surpassed the limitations set by our biology with technology. The internet is an extension of the mind. As such it allows you to receive answers in an instant, crawling for the best content and people available to solve your problems. It is simply magical. As a species we are destined to utilize technology from machinery to electronics to direct manipulation of the code of life itself in order to develop to a new level. In a philosophical sense, we are surpassing ourselves.
Can you give us a couple of examples of what biohacking has done to somebody to improve them?
In biohacking we recognize the potential of technology for a) analyzing the status quo and gaining awareness, e.g. providing a measurement of your current stress level from electric signals derived from your nervous system with a heart rate sensor, b) providing real-time feedback to your current performance, e.g. your reaction time with adequate instruments, and c) for direct interventions such as running a low current through specific areas of your brain (so called transcranial electrostimulation) or muscles to activate the nervous system for desired results. Yes indeed, technology can get very direct, very personal. There are biohackers out there who have event went far enough to implant magnets under their skin to sense magnetic fields. We are literally transforming into cyborgs.
In a way, this sounds wild and new, but there there is really nothing new in what we are talking about. For example, I bet many of your readers use glasses to be even be able to read your magazine.
As we know sleeping is important but very difficult to do properly due to long work hours, stress and so on. How can biohacking help?
Stop drinking coffee or tea 6-8 hours before sleep and write down the agenda for the next day in order to empty your mind before going to sleep. To provide some more advanced advice many are not aware of, you may want to limit the exposure to the blue wavelength of light in the evening. Studies have shown that the so called blue light that is emitted by led lights, mobile device screens, and computer screens can block the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you have difficulty of falling asleep, consider limiting this exposure for 1 hour prior to going to sleep. There are studies that show that supplements such as magnesium, l-theanine, or l-tryptophan may also help. Some people also take melatonin directly, but my advice is to fix your body’s natural ability to knock you out.
For stress management, consider biofeedback such as one of the stress management applications from the App store e.g. SweetBeatLife or Stress Check or dedicated devices like emWave. Meditation and deep breathing techniques also have a direct effect measurable with instruments reading the brainwaves or heart rate variability.
In Finland we also use adaptogenic plants such as Rhodiola Rosea or Chaga to help calm the nervous system and assist the body in managing stress.
You also focus on the idea that everything is technology, including food. How could food be perceived as technology and what should one do to use it as such?
To put it simply, you are a biological machinery running on food, air, water, and light. If any one of those is lacking you risk getting a disease and you may even die. If you do not get enough sun or foods containing Vitamin D, you don’t get enough Vitamin D and that alone influences over 200 genes. If you do not get enough nutrients, you will suffer. For example WHO reports that 30 % of world population suffer from iron deficiency, resulting in suboptimal production of red blood cells. If you do not get enough Vitamin A, your eyes will suffer watching that computer screen. And deficiencies in the Vitamin B family often results in neurological damage. Researchers have suggested that lack of micronutrients may result in DNA damage that is likely to be a major cause of cancer. Dr. Bruce Ames suggested in 2006 a “triage theory”, that suggests the body prioritizes the use of scarce micronutrients in favor of short-term survival at the expense of long-term health. If you lack a specific nutrient, it will be taken out of the vital organs, bones, or other rich locations in the body. He demonstrated this with Vitamin K on how it may lead to osteoporosis or atherosclerosis.
If you think of your body akin to a machine, you may want to consider oiling it properly like a car to make sure it runs smoothly for a long time. It is not just the longetivity we are after here, but also how you enjoy every moment of your life: Paying attention to nutrition can dramatically affect your mood and your mental and physical performance here and now. There is evidence that things such as depression may be addressed with nutrition or even by modifying the bacterial ecosystem in your gut (the microbiome) that is responsible for the production of many essential nutrients.
To start with, keep track of your basic biomarkers through lab tests and address any deficiencies accordingly and you will certainly feel the difference.
Does biohacking include more complex procedures like surgery or other types of body modifications?
The more extreme biohackers will do this, but I consider it still a novel and developing area but it is certainly part of the future. Some biohackers consider injecting themselves with electronic chips such as RFID or as I previously mentioned, magnets. I want to highlight however, that biohacking may as well be a question of life and death for some people: Artificial organs, bionic arms, and devices assisting deaf in hearing can provide dramatic improvements in day-to-day life for the disabled. But then again, even if you are fully normal and functional, you can still take yourself to the next level.
Some may say that biohacking is going against nature. Or is it using nature to its fullest?
Biohacking is in fact about becoming more aware of our own nature and the various intricate processes within. As crazy as it sounds, biohacking doesn’t really require any use of technology to begin with. The simple awareness and sensitivity to various processes in your life is enough. Every time you go to the gym and afterwards purposefully drink a protein shake or eat a meal, you are consciously biohacking specific metabolic processes.
The first step is to recognize yourself, to become more aware of yourself, and eventually about becoming part of nature again.
I believe that due to industrialization we have in fact alienated ourselves from nature: Mass production of food depletes the soil and options on our plate. Transportation and modern knowledge based economy make us move less. Now we have diseases we didn’t have centuries ago: Obesity, diabetes, and increased risk for heart disease. Isn’t it tragic that the very technology that provided us prosperity and longer life, is now also killing us? I’m not saying we have to go back to the agrarian society: We simply do not have that option. We have to move forward. And now technology such as stress monitors, wearables, and lab tests tell us how to get back to what nature designed us for: Walk more, stand more, eat a more diverse diet.
In the end, I’m an optimist. Our curiosity for more knowledge will eventually help us solve the very problems we created. New technology is an essential part of the puzzle.
Apart from biohacking you also are an enterpreneur. What other projects attract your attention?
I find organizations facinating constructs just like organisms. Human is a system consisting of cells and organs. An organization is a system consisting of humans and departments. Organizations have specific rules that are encoded in their culture and in the patterns of how things get done. Just like you would hack a human body by affecting the chemical messengers, you can hack an organization by changing their communication. By changing the way companies communicate internally and externally, you can change the whole organization. You can do this by changing the people, or more effectively by changing their tools. With Meetin.gs we are redesigning the way companies conduct business meetings. We simply provide the tools to get the job done. It hits right into the core of what is wrong with the work we do today. There are just too many poorly organized meetings. We change that part of the organism.
Apart from my day job, if you are interested to hear more about biohacking, see Biohacker Summit that will be held on 10th of December 2014 in Helsinki, Finland. We will be hacking the workweek for your benefit: www.biohackersummit.com