LAS VEGAS — At a biohacker conference convened here the other day, panelists took to the stage, settled into their chairs, and launched into their slide decks. Not Anastasia Synn.
With Frank Sinatra crooning “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” over the loudspeakers, Synn pulled out a giant needle and twisted it deeper and deeper into her left forearm as the music played on. It was only after finishing her routine, capped off by loud applause from the crowd of biohackers, that Synn sat down for a fireside chat about her work as a “cyborg magician.”
Synn has 26 microchips and magnets implanted throughout her body. Unlike many biohackers who experiment purely out of personal interest, Synn does it for her magic career. These days, she’s doing less performing on stage and spending more time designing bodily implants for other magicians.
STAT sat down with Synn after her performance last weekend at “Biohack the Planet” to learn more about her bodily implants, her medical precautions, and what it’s like to go through airport security.
You’re often described in interviews as a cyborg. What does that mean to you?
To me, a cyborg is anyone that wants to add technology or anything that isn’t already in their body to their body to achieve a new sense or a new ability.
So you have a total of 26 bodily implants, including microchips and magnets, and you’re getting a 27th one this afternoon.
Yes, and a 28th tomorrow. [A few days after this interview, Synn said she hadn’t yet installed implants No. 27 and 28. But, she said, “I suspect by the end of the month I’ll probably be up to 35.”]
What do you use these implants to do?
I’m a magician, so I use them in my magic act. And I also use them in my day-to-day life — to unlock my door at home, or to let my cat speak. I know that sounds crazy, but my cat’s upgraded even, so I can scan him, and he will tell his story about how I found him behind a grocery store. I love my cat.
I can’t go into too much detail about how the implants are used in magic, but there’s multiple ways that they can be used and even more ways they can be designed to be used.
What’s an example?
The computer that I want to put my leg that we’re working on right now will actually have an NFC and a Wi-Fi and a Bluetooth. [NFC, or near field communication, is a technology that uses magnetic fields to connect two devices when they’re brought into close proximity with each other.]
It’ll be able to read something by NFC, transfer it to my phone with Wi-Fi, transfer it to my hairpiece with Bluetooth, and then vibrate the magnet in my ear so I can receive secret information that no one else can hear. And I’m not wearing any kind of a headset, so people can inspect my ears. The magnets are great for doing any kind of coin manipulations — or anything that I can put magnetic material in can be held by my magnets.
Are you using your implants in any way to monitor your health?
I have one temperature chip under my arm, so I guess you could say that was a health monitor. It’s not hugely accurate. I think that if I were to choose again where to install it, I would put it directly in my armpit, where it could get a real legitimate reading. As far as other things, I would like to get my spire — which is a machine that you can buy on the market, from Amazon for example, and have it coated and implanted in my chest because it actually monitors my stress and my breathing. It texts me and says: ‘Hey, Anna. You’re really stressed out. Chill.’ And then it runs you through a breathing exercise. So I’d really like to have that become part of me, because I feel like it’s my best friend sometimes.
Let’s talk about some precautions that you’re taking because you have these implants in your body. You’ve mentioned that you get your liver and kidneys checked every three months.
The things that we’re coating my implants in are not medically sanctioned there. It’s not even like the silicone stuff that body modification people use just for decoration. It’s actually something that’s been in the medical field already, but not for this use. So we are using data sheets to make educated judgments on whether or not something should be used and following up with liver and kidney tests to make sure there’s no toxicity escaping into the body.
And the thing you’d be monitoring is your white blood cell count?
One thing. Also if you have any kind of renal failure, then obviously there’s a problem. So we’re monitoring for anything, any changes.
So you said that you’ve put most of your implants in yourself. What is that like?
I’ve put a little more than half of them in myself. The microchips are really easy to do. They come in a pre-sterilized assembly, you pop them in, and as long as you watch a quick five-minute YouTube video, I’m pretty sure anybody can do it. The ones that need to be scalpelled in — the larger magnets — I get my friend to do. He’s an emergency room nurse and he’s quite skilled with a scalpel, so I have no problems doing that. I have a high pain tolerance — I don’t know if you noticed — but I don’t have a problem with it. Some people might.
I’m sure you get this question all the time: What is it like going through TSA at the airport?
I actually have no problem with TSA whatsoever. The first time I went through, I showed them my implants and I said: ‘Is this going to set off any detectors?’ And I was really kind of proud and wanted to show them off. And they said: ‘I don’t know. Why don’t we try it?’ And I went through the magnet detector. Nothing. Then I went through the other one. Nothing. And since then even the wands haven’t been getting me when I go into shows.
So, this past spring, you testified before the Nevada state legislature against a bill that sought to ban coercive microchipping. But you and other critics worried that the bill went too far, and could potentially ban transmitting devices that a person might want to implant out of their own free will. What made you so concerned about that bill?
The fact that it wasn’t just banning coercive microchipping. It originally was introduced as that bill, but then it was sneakily changed into voluntary microchipping also being banned, and considering I already have 26, I saw a problem with that.
I’m not a criminal, and I don’t want to be made one because people who don’t understand the technology are legislating it.
I often hear a lot of concern about privacy and the risk of hacking when it comes to bodily implants like the ones that you have. How do you think about those concerns?
Honestly, the concerns that I have with my implants are pretty much nil. But I know that there’s the concern mainly with anything that’s battery power. That’s what we’re all trying to fix, and what we’re all worried about, because batteries out gas and lithium is poisonous to the human body, and it tends to explode and catch fire. And nobody wants that under their skin. So, for me, that’s a big problem.
This is a lightly edited transcript from a recent episode of STAT’s biotech podcast, “The Readout LOUD.” Like it? Consider subscribing to hear every episode.
Just weird. We used to judge a musical artist on product and image was secondary. Now it’s gimmicks and hype to drive people to them as an image that does music as an aside.
You notice she didn’t answer the last question about privacy and hacking….
Would she be against a bill in Nevada that just banned coercive chipping, only?
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