My keynote for The Next Web conference in Amsterdam brought together my years writing about digital and biotechnological change in performance. Here's the video...
Last week, I was in Amsterdam for The Next Web, a major digital/tech festival with 15,000 delegates. The first of my contributions to the programme was a dream team panel of experts on digital sport. We invited Shireen Hampdan from the groundbreaking architecture company Populous, Oliver Weingarten from Virtually Live, which is pioneering gaming and virtual reality sports event integration, and Bill Martens, from the amazing BamTechMedia. Here's the video!
Last week, the Digital Health Generation project I have been working on with Emma Rich, Sarah C. Lewis, and Deborah Lupton had a major event in the House of Commons, sponsored by Lisa Cameron MP.
The evening was a culmination of our work over this last year and aimed to kickstart a conversation about how the future of healthcare ensures that young people are at the heart of plans.
Here are some of the slides from the evening.
Last weekend, I featured in an article by Robin McKie on transhumanism, following Wellcome awarding their annual book prize to Mark O'Connell for his 'To be a machine'. It's a really great article, but I've a few things to add based on some of the responses I've seen online and will make a podcast about it over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's the article.
Also, if you want a deep dive into this, check out something I wrote a few years ago, which draws together some related ideas on posthumanism and cyborgs.
This week, I was in Milton Keynes giving a keynote on digital health with Dr Emma Rich. We are working on a Wellcome Trust project at the moment, which has been running a few events. Here's the link to the website and find below our presentation slides....
With over 35,000 views, this video is my most watched on YouTube, but aside from being an amazing display, what was especially beautiful was the fact that Intel made its show a daily feature within the Olympic park, taking place after the medals ceremonies.
In so doing, it may have achieved another Olympic first, by making part of the Opening Ceremony freely available to anyone who happened to be in the park.
It's well worth another watch....
Last week, I featured in a CNN article on the future of doping. It was great to chat with the author about all of the things that can be brought to bear on this subject, but there's so much more to be said than is covered in the final edit. Take a look and then return to here, if you'd like more.
For me, at the core of this subject are questions about evolution, transhumanism, and how we make sense of our place in the world. Modern sports have always been pursuits that test the limits of our human capacity physically, through a combination of mental, physical, and technological synthesis. Gene doping remains emblematic of a brave new era in which I believe our currently held views on doping will come under question and make little sense to uphold. That doesn't mean there is an easy solution to the problem of cheating in sport. Whether it is doping or other means, these tendencies to break rules in order to gain an unfair advantage will occur, regardless of what those rules are.
The argument on behalf of supervised doping has been espoused by a number of my peers, since I published first on this around 10 years ago. Over this time, I have become less convinced that it will be an effective way of securing either a level playing field - of any kind - or that it would significantly reduce the potential harm that the collective athletic population will be exposed to, when compared with the present system.
The details of this argument are within a manuscript I am currently writing, which updates my perspective on the subject, but the key message I would like to get across is that we are moving rapidly into an era of gene editing whereby the means by which we determine what counts as human or even achievement in sport will need substantial revision.
Moreover, we will find there to be strong moral arguments in favour of doping like practices in society more widely, which will then urge anti-doping to re-position its value system. These conditions are why we need a fresh look at the problem, not just to solve the next few Olympics, but to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the next century.
“STEPHEN HAWKING WAS THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR OF OUR TIME. NOT ONLY DID HE POPULARISE EXTRAORDINARILY COMPLEX IDEAS AND MAKE THEM AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIKE, BUT HIS LEGACY INSPIRED ARTISTS TO MAKE WORK THAT FURTHER ENRICHED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNIVERSE AND OUR PLACE WITHIN IT.
WHAT DISTINGUISHED HAWKING WAS THAT HIS RESEARCH INSIGHTS ALWAYS SHAPED THE SUBJECT OF HIS SCIENCE COMMUNICATION. IN SO DOING, HE MADE THE MASSIVE JUMP THAT MUCH SCIENCE COMMUNICATION FAILS TO ACHIEVE, NAMELY TO BRING THE LATEST IDEAS TO THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION. HAWKING DID THIS IN LEAPS AND BOUNDS AND WAS ALSO A DEEPLY HUMANITARIAN FIGURE, AS MUCH CONCERNED WITH THE SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES AS HE WAS FOR THE IDEA OF LIFE IN ITS ENTIRETY.”
“IN THE FINAL YEARS OF HIS LIFE, HE TURNED HIS ATTENTION TO THE OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS AFFORDED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND HOW THIS COULD CONTRIBUTE TO OR DETRACT FROM IMPROVING THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE MOST WORSE OFF IN SOCIETY. IN THIS RESPECT, HAWKING’S CONTRIBUTION WAS ALWAYS WRAPPED IN A DEEP COMMITMENT TO THE PURSUIT OF LIFE AND TO OUR ENJOYMENT OF IT. HIS CONTRIBUTION BEYOND PHYSICS WILL LIVE ON FOR YEARS TO COME, NOTABLY IN THE STEPHEN HAWKING MEDAL FOR SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, WHICH WAS FIRST AWARDED IN 2015."
In February, we ran our first webinar focused on the Digital Health Generation. Find out about what we are investigating for this Wellcome Trust funded project, trying to make sense of what digital health means to young people. Here's what we covered.
The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games was my 10th in total, Winter and Summer, 11th if you include the Youth Olympic Games, which I attended in 2014. Each Olympic Games is unique and, like a good novel, has story after story which characterise them in extraordinary historical terms. With Sydney 2000, it was the controversy around the contested land of Homebush Bay, juxtaposed against the eventual lighting of the Olympic cauldron by Cathy Freeman.
In Athens 2004 it was the feeling of the Games coming back to their origin with the shot put taking place within the Ancient stadium of Olympia, with Beijing 2008, China's first Olympic Games as host, it was the magnificence of the Opening Ceremony, set against the concerns about media freedom and human rights.
For London 2012, there was the transition from media to social media as the tipping point in content consumption, along with its controversial logo which made strides to transform how branding operated around the Olympic programme.
For Rio 2016, the first South American Games, discussions ensued around resident rights to remain, alongside concerns about corruption and the political turmoil surrounding the nation. These are just some of the stories that operate around the Games, some of which are matters of deep social concern, while others are snapshots of a society that help us understand more about a location, its people, and how the world makes sense of their values and political history.
PyeongChang 2018 was perhaps the most extraordinary of all in recent times, in terms of political discussions about how the Olympic Games contributes to global diplomacy. While sports officials are modest in their claims and expectations for Olympic participation to lead to significant political change, there does seem to have been an important series of outcomes from the conversation between North and South Korea, resulting from Olympic participation. I anticipate that this will be studied for many years to come, but watching what happens within this region for the next 5 years - and for future Olympic Games - will be fascinating.
While I was in PyeongChang, I made a series of videos, which cover subjects from virtual reality to Olympic diplomacy. You can find these on a dedicated page here.
Last November, I was asked to give a talk for a legal summit examining the doping dilemma in sport. It was a chance to reflect on 15 years of immersing myself in this complex subject. You can download the entire book publication from this event here but here's my manuscript pasted below for ease.
I. Overview of a Current Ethical Challenge in Anti-Doping, by Professor Andy Miah
Thank you to the WADA commentary team for inviting me here to give a talk. It has been a long journey for me in anti-doping and, to some extent, I want to take you through that 15 years or so within which I have often found myself on, for many people, the wrong side of the argument, for want of a better phrase. I was asked to talk about a current ethical issue around anti-doping. I think there are many, but I want to give you a glimpse of one particular topic through that journey that I have had in this world and outside of it. I began in this field from a sports science background. My PhD was in bioethics and sport, where I looked at genetics in particular, and my work expanded into bioethics more broadly. It is that interface between sport’s use of performance enhancement and the wider societal uses of technology that I want to address.
Forgive me reading a bit of the manuscript. Often I give talks just by talking, but I sometimes also write a manuscript that I develop through the talk. With this one I'm going to read a bit and hopefully give you an insight into the challenge, I think, with identifying what constitutes a current issue around ethical concerns in anti-doping.
Around 20 years ago I gave a talk at the first International Conference on Human Rights and Sport which took place in Sydney. I don't know if there was a second International Conference on Human Rights and Sport, but the issues were quite significant. My talk was titled, quite simply, “The Human Rights of the Genetically Modified Athlete”. Most people, as you can imagine thought: “What the hell is that about?” Especially people in sport thought this must be something like doping but just on a genetic level; that's how we should regard it and how we should think about the ethical issues around this topic. For most people in that world, this was simply another case of “bad hombres” using things they shouldn't be to compete in sport. But it was much deeper for me than just that. I was interested in thinking about a world in which there were genetically modified people whose enhancements were decided for them by the genetic selection or enhancement decisions of their parents or ancestors and how the world of sport might deal with that kind of person.
I wanted to imagine athletes who had not, themselves, done anything to achieve their genetic advantage but whose parents, who had sought to optimise their child’s chances through genetic selection or genetic enhancement, would have an impact on their lives. Their existence would not violate any rule within anti-doping, even though their being permitted to take part in elite sport would certainly mean that anyone who was not genetically modified or selected would be less competitive.
This was a time of considerable change in the world more broadly. This talk found itself one year before the completion of the Human Genome Project. I want to take you back to that moment.
The Human Genome Project was nearing completion, and in fact was creating an incredibly challenging set of ethical issues for the world at large. It seemed to me particularly challenging for the world of sport. How will it deal with a world in which this technology was used? But all of a sudden the work of Crick, Watson and Franklin came to life. We found ourselves in the middle of a new era in human evolution. This was what was at stake at the time: this feeling that we are transcending those biological limits and remaking humanity in quite controversial and challenging ways. We hadn't figured out how this would operate. So I wondered how would the world of sport deal with an era where genetic information and even gene transfer found its way into sport.
Looking back, I suppose I also thought that this was a game-changer for the subject and that intrigued me, certainly. Gene doping was going to bring about the collapse of anti-doping, a system which I had studied and found to be left wanting philosophically and practically as a project interested in sustaining a moral framework to sport that I thought was unjustified, undesirable, and ineffective.
Now, some 20 years later, and also 20 years since New Scientist published its first article on performance genes, I'm left wondering: “Is this still a current issue?”
In 2001, in September that year, there was a conference scheduled at Cold Spring Harbor where the World Anti-Doping Agency would talk about gene doping and the prospects. 9/11 happened, that conference was cancelled and postponed to the following year, but this was the time at which Professor Lee Sweeney began to say that he was being contacted by athletes and their entourages with a view to them being enrolled into clinical trials using gene therapy. This brought the issue to life for the world. Lee Sweeney saying this made it a live issue, made it a current issue.
Lee's work on IGF-1 in particular revealed a proof of principle in the science and he spoke of an appetite among athletes to enroll within his trials. This was about as current as it got, or so I thought. Also at this time the IOC set up a gene therapy working group and soon after WADA did the same. We've now had a good 15 years of talking about this matter, but what has really changed? Well, we have research like this (indicating video of mouse on treadmill) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcXuKU_kfww coming out of Case Western Reserve University, which gives you a sense of how genetic interventions may have an impact on performance.
So over this 15 years or so there have been discoveries, findings, that suggest a proof of principle that could have applications for humans. And since every Olympic Games from Sydney onwards the media has published stories claiming that gene doping is the next big threat for sports while many other threats have also come and gone. Tthink of THG, the ‘clear’ or designer steroids more generally. And there have been examples of how genetic interventions can dramatically affect performance capacity, at least within animal models.
So it has been current for at least 15 years. Fast forward now to 2016 and we see how this becomes manifest within public discourse.
I was in a meeting with our chief science adviser in the British government this week where we talked about trust and expertise, and I gather it came up a little bit yesterday. But here's how it happens. Scientists were asked about what's going on in the world of science, and they tell them. They are then asked about what's going to come next, and they tell them again.
“We don’t know yet whether this has been done anywhere, but…it will be used sometime”
This is a quote from Carl Johan Sundberg [WADA Gene Doping Panel] from just last year, before the Olympic Games began in Rio, which tells you how this discourse is propagated within the media, how current issues are formed through the opinions of expertise but, crucially, through the requests of them to make predictions about what's coming next. So it is a discourse that's facilitated by experts. One of the predicaments, I think, of anti-doping not specifically, but it certainly is one that it needs to deal with, is the ethics of communication around emerging technology issues. It is a real challenge.
You can find quotes like these from every single Olympic Games period. Usually about a month before WADA puts out its big statements about the fact that no one is going to get away with it this time, we have some fancy new test that is going to catch everybody, which happened last year with a genetic test for EPO, and you have these claims about whether in fact gene doping is here and here to stay.
Personally I experienced this directly. In 2004, I published a book called Genetically Modified Athletes, and just before the Athens Olympic Games, the BBC asked me on to their flagship Newsnight programme to talk about these implications and we had a good debate about where we were and where it might go. Eight years later, during the London 2012 Games, I had exactly the same debate on the same television programme about gene doping. It was almost word for word. So there's a real challenge here in terms of how we think about what is current and how we deal with it.
If this is a current issue, what was it 20 years ago when I started writing about the subject, when New Scientist published its first article on the subject? What is the difference between an emerging technology and a current technology when thinking about what we should be doing within our ethical investigations and policy making?
Some of my learning in bioethics were shaped by time at the Hastings Center in New York, where conversations with Dr Thomas Murray, who was involved with WADA at various levels, led me to conclude that sport would not deal with this matter head on since bioethics, it is often said, must deal only with the present-day reality of scientific possibilities, not what might be here in five or ten years' time. Genetic enhancements weren't possible scientifically, at least we didn't know that they would work and be safe, and so did not deserve our time, even if they were rich philosophical debates. Instead we focused on gene tests and selection, and soon after such tests were becoming available. Here's one screen shot of a genetic test that was made available commercially. You could buy this test over the Internet. It simply takes a mouth swab and gives you some data on whether you are more likely to be a power-based on endurance-based athlete. Every scientist in this field has criticised this test, but the point, I think, from a policy perspective and from an intervention perspective is that it has become a social reality. The test is out there. The language of genetic tests as being determining of capacities or likely life achievements became a reality. So this led WADA to focus on genetic tests, and it published the Stockholm declaration in 2005, based on our talks.
Now I may have an erroneous definition of the word current, but it does matter how we define this term. I consider it essential to the work of ethics that we do mid to long-term speculative work. Space, time, and money is required to undertake such enquiries or else we lose sight of the bigger problems and lose time to determine our resolve. Failing to dialogue with speculative matters also limits the duration of our convictions and undermines our capacity to avoid problems that we may face in the future. In any case it is critical to distinguish between different forms of that word current. And we can have quite simple distinction between what is happening right now, so for example cases that come up in the world of sport or actual gene doping that's taking place that we know about, this is one way of thinking about what's current. But a lot of the conversation around anti-doping focuses on a second definition which talks about the sorts of things that preoccupy our time - the worries we have about the future. Certainly for nearly 20 years now, gene doping has been a "current" issue in that respect.
While it makes sense that we focus our efforts on the first of these, focusing on: Well, if it's not here yet, let's focus on the stuff that's here and deal with that. We need to think about the second one to avoid having to deal with the first one. If we don't deal with these longer-term implications, then we have a harder time dealing with the stuff that comes at us at crisis points.
Here's an example of the problem. We are moving into a world where these technologies are talked about not as a means of distorting nature or corrupting some internal essence or jeopardising a moral framework to how we recognise talent or effort in sport, and the like. Rather, it actually has something much deeper to do with how we are changing as a species and as individuals. This terribly long quote is a good indication of that.
A quote from Lee Sweeney's work, who I mentioned earlier, who has been working with WADA trying to find ways of detecting gene doping. But he says, and I'll read it out:
1. “From my own work with the mice, I also know that earlier you intervene, the better off you're going to be when you get old. So once you go down that path, I think it's unethical to withhold from someone something that would actually allow their muscles to be much healthier now and to the future. As long as there's no safety risk, I don't see why athletes should be punished because they're athletes. So I'm on the other side of the fence from Wada on this one, even though we're on the same team right now”
2. Lee Sweeney, Jan 2014
At the moment the direction of travel for genetics is that, for it to be an effective public health intervention, we need to intervene before an athlete even becomes an athlete.
These technologies that, at the moment, are within the WADA Prohibited List and rejected by the sports community generally, are seen as kind of discrete doping problems, but they are part of a wider change in the circumstances of our biological condition.
A lot has happened over 20 years or so. We have now an article that covers gene doping within the WADA Code, even if our knowledge of what is taking place is limited. Over the years there have been indications of gene doping at Games but nothing confirmed. We've heard talk about specific genetic products being used at different Games; but, again, it is all very unclear. My concern is that the present strategy doesn't really address the problem that I wanted to consider back in Sydney in 1999, which was to do with the way in which genetics enters the population in a much deeper sense, perhaps through germ-line transfer of enhancements.
People in the world of sport, when asked this question about that germline modification or these wider questions about society and how it uses technology will shrug their shoulders and say, well, what can we do? We have nothing to do as a sporting organisation to address this. We have to see how society changes its values and, if it does, we may respond to it. Others will talk about it as just complete nonsense, that germ-line genetic engineering is just pie in the sky and akin to science fiction, and it is then also quickly dismissed. But then I'm often reminded, and have often been reminded over these years, as to how quickly these things change, how technology is taking us into new realms of capability. And year after year I have seen examples of that.
For example, this is from the TED Conference happening this week in Vancouver.
[IRON MAN TED VIDEO]
Sports find themselves at a time of tremendous change in the sorts of things that people want to do with their lives. Numbers around many sports, traditional sports, are diminishing. People are inventing alternative forms of physical practice which have alternative values and relationships to this problem of anti-doping.
One of the big areas that I wasn't going to get into but just to mention it very briefly is the rise of E-sports - competitive computer game playing - which has risen in the last few years significantly. It has so many profound implications for the world of sport. I could give a whole presentation on just that. However, the key thing here is that sport is losing generations to other kinds of activities, where the approach to the questions of doping is very different. So, we need to look at these and understand really what is going on and where it leaves us with regard to the ethical dilemmas that sports face.
In that context, the second the act of this talk is to men tion a few examples. Just to give you a glimpse of some of these challenges that we face
The first one I want to talk about is CRISPR, this technology that will allow a much more sophisticated approach to gene editing. CRISPR has been discussed at length in the press in the last couple of years, where there is concern that, in factk that era of gene transfer for potential enhancements that was dismissed 15 years ago as pie in the sky, as not quite here yet, is around the corner. The quotes again from scientists working in this field will say that this is easy to do, it may not be safe, but this is something that is now within our grasp. We also have projects that are changing those capacities we have as people. One of the nicest examples, I think, is North Sense. Here's a quick glimpse of it.
Now, many nonhuman animals have a capacity to know which direction is north, and this project is giving humans this sensorial capacity, which can change the sorts of things we can do in our lives. My proposition to you is that, in fact, this describes the future of sport much more than the older problems of doping that we see played out in the world of sport today. Creating people with different functions, different capacities, will lead to the creation of different kinds of sports and we'll see how this will change that approach that we have to the doping problem.
We also have the rise of ingestible sensors. A patent was awarded for this for the first time a year ago in the US, and we now begin to see this technology being rolled out. Here is, again, a sense of how it works.
[PROTEUS VIDEO PLAYS]
This is here now. You can see how athletes might wish to use something like this to fine-tune their doping to avoid detection and so on, but you can also see how, perhaps, it can be used in a much wider sense as well.
The next one is prosthetics. Prosthetics are changing the sense of what biology can do by transforming it into artificial apparatus. We saw this around the London 2012 Games with Oscar Pistorius, who became the first person to complete in an Olympic Games with a prosthetic device. But it was really only the beginning of this and we see ourselves at the cusp of an era where prosthetic devices on both significant levels like an artificial limb, but also on nanoscale levels, can be transforming that boundary between nature and technology to the point where it makes no sense to think about these as separate things.
So in different ways, each of these examples, I think is a problem for sport as they are not really covered by the Code not even its catch-all article which indicates the capacity to encompass other forms of enhancements that aren't listed specifically. But the Code fails the concern that medicine is slipping into the realm of enhancement rather than therapy, calling into question the role of medicine. Many people who work in this field coming from the medical perspective are worried this enhancement era transforms the act of providing medical care in a way that undermines it and so are pushing back against it. Yet, we exist in a world where we are increasingly comfortable with this slip and where some even argue that we have moved into a post-human era where the conventional assumptions about healthcare are no longer relevant.
I mentioned one example at breakfast this morning where, in the UK the NHS, our National Health Care Service, is beginning to experiment with artificial intelligence as a diagnostic tool within primary care. So you can see how these technological changes are coming. The dilemma, I think, to go back to the task I was set today, which was to talk about a current dilemma, can be articulated thus. How can anti-doping protect its social mandate, when human enhancement is allowing the general public to become more capable of performing acts of physical endeavour than the anti-doping compliant athlete?
The point at which the general public is more enhanced than the athlete is the point at which anti-doping becomes a failed project. As you will anticipate, I don't think that anti-doping can succeed, and what we will see steadily is an erosion of public interest in the unenhanced athlete and the expansion of alternative sports that will not operate by the same kinds of rules.
The answer, however, I think is found within the Code, which has a fundamental flaw within it. The Code is somewhat tautologous; it is a very self-contained set of directives and principles, self-referential in many ways. It asks the signatories to protect doping-free sport because that is the rule. It does not allow the signatories to question the rule. Even more worrisome is that within Article 18 on Education, it does not seek to undertake education in any meaningful sense.
As an educator myself my role is to guide students in the pursuit of certain ideas but to allow them to arrive at their own conclusions.
Anti-doping prescribes the end point of that educative route and it is to be in the service of the Code's purpose. In my view that is far from being education.
Thank you very much.
PROFESSOR KAMBER: Thank you, Andy, for your talk. I always enjoy your talks very much. I remember the first talks about gene doping and then we were on the brink, everybody is telling gene doping is around the corner, but I don't think so. But I'm convinced that we have to discuss this technical enhancement, these products helping people. But I think it is not a problem because we already have it in sports. We have all the sports equipment, already you have the bobsleigh, you have the Formula One cars. And so I think this direction is not such a problem. But I guess the discussion about gene doping, changing your genes, is over. I'm not sure it's coming to the sport. Because if you look at medical enhancement, medical improvement, in the last years, it didn't exist. But I agree with you that we have to discuss these enhancements with the technique, with this equipment we have. Maybe we have mixed races, as we have shown. This we have to discuss but no longer gene doping.
PROFESSOR MIAH: Wow, I can't believe you said that, Matthias, really. I'm staggered! I am given, you know that this is something that experts from your position say at every Olympic Games: This is something we need to discuss. It seems it is part of maybe it is part of the rhetoric. Maybe I misunderstand this. Is it simply about generating a sense of the fact that WADA is doing something, we're forward thinking, we're thinking about these problems and making clear to the public that this is what we're doing. But at every year over the last 15 years people within WADA have said: This is a problem we have to deal with. And the funding going into from their side, but also our side of it, suggests this is a serious concern. So I am surprised that you would say this, but I accept what you have said about the fact that gene therapy hasn't been particularly effective or successful in any medical sense, and the assumption is that until it is at least effective in a medical sense we wouldn't even dream of using it in a non-therapeutic context.
The caveat to that is there is no capacity to embrace its use within a non-therapeutic purpose because, as with other medical devices or methods or treatments, the limits of their regulation is in the precise terms of that therapeutic application. So, by implication, anything used out with those terms is considered to be unethical and unreasonable for scientists to be involved with. But the reason to put Lee Sweeney's quote up there is to show that people working within this field regard that the effective use of these next-generation therapies requires stepping back from the idea that there is something called "the natural course of aging" and intervene much earlier in life to benefit from those interventions later in life. When you get into that, for me that is a completely radical point for many people who think that, no, we get old and we die, and that's it. We might do some fixing along the way with some medicine, but the direction of travel for the project of western medicine [PAUSE] I was going to say "is immortality", but the less radical way to put that is this ongoing pursuit of interventions. And hopefully these interventions will be safer, but they need to happen earlier in life rather than later. You don't get to 70 and then start your gene therapy to deal with the problems you face, it has to be earlier on, and that is a big shift, I think, in how people will feel about it.
Sorry, that was a long response.
PROFESSOR SANDS: One more question and then we'll break to our panel. Right at the front over here.
JEAN-PIERRE MORAND: I must say that when we are listening to you it is like an abyss is opening in front of us. My reflection was the following. Sport is one aspect of life. What you are showing is touching on many, many, many more severe and more serious aspects, including who is going to be mortal, etcetera, etcetera. Then you say the Code is a failure. But I say, looking at this, sport as a concept becomes a failure. Because sport is based on comparison of people who are more or less having an equal field, otherwise it loses completely its function and sense and a competition will like a technical fair: which is the best matching? Which was designed the best by the best genetician then, and this is our product. There I think therefore doping becomes a detail and irrelevant in such a big, vast array of ethical problems.
PROFESSOR MIAH: I'm more optimistic.
I think that even with these technological interventions the human role in performance remains crucial and it is our task to decide which things are relevant to the test of competition and which things are not.
One of the central points of the presentation, and I was trying to draw attention to this mindful of the purpose of this event, is that there is no mechanism for that interface between sport and society within the Code itself.
Now that might be straightforward to many people. The Code is supported by governments and other organisations and their support implies a kind of assumption that this is what we want to do. But there needs to be an interface where people are able to discuss the ideology and the values behind it. And this is especially concerning when, within the Article 18 that talks about education, there is no statement about creating or nurturing critically-engaged athletes who can defend their position and understand what it is that matters to them about doping. It is entirely, I mean, for want of a better word, propagandist in how it approaches the concept of education. Without that interface within the Code, without some provision for a dialogue interface within that Code, it is destined to fail, I think. It doesn't fail, sport kind of happens and it takes place reasonably well, although we have these problems with it, but I do think the key point is that interface. At the moment the Code is pretty self-contained and it is about sport deciding what it wants to do and society accepting it. We need to look more broadly, I think.
PROFESSOR SANDS: Andy, a big thanks from the entire audience and from me. I think we take a moment to thank Andy for his very interesting and challenging outline of issues that we have faced and that we will face.
Andy, thanks a lot.
PROFESSOR MIAH: Thank you.
This month, i had the pleasure to give a keynote at the MeCCSA conference in London. As the UK subject association for Media, Communication and Cultural Studies, it was a real pleasure to be amongst peers I have known for well over a decade and a personal honour to have this opportunity. I focused on the way in which Sport 2.0 tells us a story about media change which has applicability well beyond the sports discipline.
This work takes me next to PyeongChang in February, where I will cover the Olympic Winter Games, my 5th one! Keep an eye on this platform for short blog pieces and wider coverage.
Here's a bit of an overview of the manuscript for the talk....
It’s a real pleasure to be here at MeCCSA some 15 years or so after my first MeCCSA conference. And I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect a little on the intersection of disciplines that operate around this diverse subject community.
I have the dubious privilege of working across a number of subjects and, depending on the day, have my expertise described in quite various ways.
In fact, last year, I found myself giving public talks on drones, fake news, genetic enhancement, social media, Google Glass, and eSports, over just the month of November.
But over the years, the connecting theme has been our technological culture and I have always focused on emerging technologies, writing about the digital alongside biotechnology from an early stage.
I have always been interested in the moment when technology becomes available and where new cultures of use emerge, curious about how our day to day lives are affected as a result.
I mention these details because they speak directly to the emergence of my own creative space within the conduct of my research, which has a bearing on the theme of this talk, Sport 2.0 – itself a title which speaks of a digital transition, drawing on the idea of Web 2.0 or Humanity 2.0, as Steve Fuller used it.
But, to put this further into context, next month my research takes me to PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, at which I will spend my time embedded within the media structures around the Games. Even here, there is an interesting story to tell I think, in terms of the complexity of how we, as academic researchers interface with the media communities we study.
But the origins of this work begin with a story like this from a couple of days ago
SHOW: BBC North Korea to Olympics screenshot
Way back when, I was taken with the idea that events - mega sports events in particular - become moments for cultural and political discourse and perhaps even social change. At the very least, they are imbued with these expectations and, indeed, the principal industries around them covet such importance.
And here we have, at a time of presumed instability of North and South relations, the possibility that the Olympic Games will help ease these relationships, which may have major geopolitical consequences.
We see this kind of expectation operate around many other recent Olympic Games, where organizations position themselves and their values around the event to put across some crucial social message, as we saw with Beijing 2008, nearly 8 years ago in this Amnesty campaign.
SHOW: Beijing Amnesty campaign
And the media artefacts created around these programmes of work fascinate me intellectually. The imagery here along is deeply provocative and disruptive in a context where all imagery associated with this proprietary event is controlled.
And yet they are also spaces of multifaceted resistances. I recall how, in the lead up to the Beijing Games – China’s first Olympics as host -its aspiration to use the slogan
“New Beijing, New Olympics” was ultimately quashed, in favour of “New Beijing, Fresh Olympics”,
The story goes that the International Olympic Committee deemed that host cities are not there to change the Olympics, but to simply be its temporary custodian.
And often, technology is a thread within these discussions. In fact, every Olympic Summer Games over the last century has involved the pioneering of some new form of media technology, whether it is underwater film making, or virtual reality.
SHOW: Pool Cam
Back in London 2012, one big success was Pool Cam – underwater cameras in the swimming venues, that then had their own Twitter accounts and which were tweeting images during the competitions. Within 2 days of its launch, over 21,000 followers to the account.
Here we have examples of media innovation and media change – how to photograph the games differently – which itself is a consequence of saturated and democratized media. The professionals having to think more creatively, but with the added nuance of these being automated photographers – another theme emerging within this territory – the handing over of creative decision making to artificially intelligent systems.
So, sports as innovation spaces for the media is a core theme here and it makes sense when you consider the economic infrastructure of large scale programmes like the Olympic Games, where billions of pounds in sponsorship and rights holder money are tied up in the system and where those organizations that fund its staging seek to leverage the 16 days of competition to increase their market share through exposure.
We see this at every Olympic Games, especially over the last 20 years with each subsequent Olympic Games claiming to have transcended the previous achievements of the last, especially technological terms. For Beijing 2008, the organizers even created a building designed to look like a bar code, as a key flagship infrastructure, central to one of its core themes: Digital Olympics.
SHOW Beijing Digital building
And in many respects, this is an easy win - more people consumed the Olympics on social media than the previous Games, because there are more people using more social media.
SHOW: image of the intel site
This year, in advance of the Korean Games, we see a huge step in the direction of eSports, as Intel – a primary Olympic sponsor – hosts a major event a week before the Games begin, at a time where discussions are afoot to include eSport in the Olympic programme, which is partly why the backdrop to this prezi is a photograph of an eSport event – the World Champs from 2015, also in Korea.
Already then, we have a number of questions to ask of this terrain, which are pertinent to the expansion of our field
· How are the sports and creative industries being reconfigured through digital change?
· How does technology operate as currency within the staging of mega events?
· How do we observe change within the media industries through such activity?
And through this talk, I want to outline how my research and practice have interwoven over the years, developing in part an ethnographic style of media research, and eventually how this moves into speculative ethnography, an idea which is particularly challenging to articulate, but which I think is crucial to our present times, which are characterised by the Kickstarter economy, an ever increasing part of our consumer culture, itself intimately connected to our pursuit of the future. I found myself writing about this a lot in a Nesta project on drones where, back in 2014, nearly every month a new Kickstarter drone was released, many of which never, dare I say, took off.
Many of these ideas borrow also from work with the Designer Interactions team at the RCA, for which I guest lectured over 10 years and where the central proposition involved designing for the future in a way that invited critical interrogation.
My most often cited example from this is the design of a telephone tooth implant which two colleagues developed and I want to play you an interview with them about it, if only to show how their mischievous exploits in exploiting the media’s fascination for technology was used as a way of starting a conversation about the direction of mobile technology.
SHOW: Telephone tooth input
And here in one design is an indication of where media technology may take us, throwing up all kinds of complex ethical, cultural, and social questions.
And as the future shows us its teeth, we begin to glimpse this brave new media world
SHOW: Cicret Bracelet
Over its course, there is a research story here that describes the development of theory, practice, and of the crucial role of collaboration with the media industries, or which tries to weave together the theme of this conference on creativity and agency, as a lot of my research has involved utilizing creativity as a means through which to assert agency within an industry community and to utilize that opportunity to explore technological and cultural trends within the media.
So, I have done things like given social media training to Olympic athletes. Another role I have is as the future media mentor for the Young Reporters programme of the International Olympic Committee, which takes 35 young people around the world to the Games to learn how to report from them.
So where does sport come into all of this? It is my contention that we obtain critical insights into media change by studying sport and that, especially as this interfaces with emerging technology, we gain an insight into how technology changes societies and individuals. And so, this is also a talk that foregrounds the expansion of our field into new territories, which have yet to benefit from a research community around them. And I will go on to say more about this in the final part of this talk
To this end, I urge you to think of this not as a talk about sport at all, but of the media technology ecosystem that operates around it. I want to offer an indication of where I think this takes us as researchers and tie it back to some critical commentaries on what this means for us more generally about our diverse field.
SHOW: Screenshot of chapter and book
While the MIT book is a more in-depth overview of many of these thoughts, further insights about this can be found in a recently published Afterword for a book on Digital Qualitative Research in Sport and Physical Activity, itself a good example of how expansive media research has become.
Yet, my entry into this field is also a story about the interconnections between research theory and practice.
Back in year 2000, I was working on a range of ethical issues related to sports technology and found myself brought into the fold of Olympic research.
This took me eventually to Sydney for the Olympic Games there, at which I learned of a place called the Non-Accredited Media Centre, set up in the bustling Darling Harbour, a prime city destination, way more integrated with the city than the Official Olympic Media Centre.
When arriving into Sydney, I went along to the Media centre and presented my case for their accrediting me as one of their reporters. At the time, I was a phd student and with very few media credentials. But I had a website and I had published a few things. And let’s face it, back then websites were radical. Sydney was only the second summer games to have one.
SHOW: Sydney 2000 website
So I showed them my website and that seemed to be sufficient for them to accredit me giving me a fancy pass which got me access to all number of things, everything except the sport in fact.
A big part of the early years of this work then saw me fascinated by the Olympics for everything other than sport. Thousands of reporters would come to the Games just to cover what happened around the cultural, political and social side and, at the same time, it was becoming apparent that the reporters who went to this kind of centre would be those typically working in an online capacity. In many respects these were outsiders to the Olympic world, but it was far more complicated still. In fact, some major media providers who had more staff than official accreditations would put their staff into this facility.
And here we see another intersection – between place marketing, event hosting, and new cultures of journalism. Very soon after Sydney, it became apparent that a core feature of such reporting was the rise of the online journalist around sports, which grew into a focus on citizen journalism. Many of the reporters accredited by the city to cover the games were people looking for that kind of story and by the time we get to Athens, the non-accredited media centre has become the politically most important venue at the Games from a non-sporting perspective, hosting all kinds of important events – in part because the access restrictions in the main Olympic venues made this prohibitive.
So, here I am trying to infiltrate this world of new Olympic journalism, while also trying to understand what was taking place around this new sports media complex.
In part to occupy this space more comfortably, I co-developed a platform that fitted the brief of the research aspirations, an online media outlet called Culture @ the Olympics, which would frame every application to subsequent Olympic Games to become accredited as non-sports media – media that the host city and region sought to engage to tell their story.
Now, there were two parallel tracks of digital change emerging at this point – 2004 – the time when we see the term Web 2.0 emerge to describe a shift in what the web could do. The first is the growing digitalization of the sports media and the second is the rise of citizen journalists who sought to occupy the privilege space of the professional media and disrupt its structures and narratives on the Games.
The two clashed around the time of Beijing as it became apparent that the expansion of who could be media meant that the exclusivity of that status could undermine the previously privileged exclusivity afforded to the media.
So for the remainder of this talk I want to whizz you through these points of intersection, which provide a glimpse into the complexity of the Sport 2.0 world and which hopefully will stimulate you to think differently about this field and where it is going in the future.
And to do that, we start here: 3 trends, all of which intersect in this world
- Mobile Health
- Mixed Reality
- Internet of things
- Artificial Intelligence
And so, to conclude, I want to frame Sport 2.0 as an intersection of various media cultures the analysis of which requires taking into account their complexity. Examining sport tells us a great deal about where the media have come and where they are heading and this is why all studies of the media need to take on board how they work around the complex world of the sports industries.
In the first of a new series of video shorts, here's a quick overview of what it is about drones that will melt your mind!
Today, the BBC launches a big initiative to help children navigate the world of fake news and this is a nice segway into an event I took part in a couple of weeks ago at the National Science and Media Museum, which opened a new exhibition on Fake News. Curated by John O'Shea and Sarah Browncross, I was really pleased to advise it in the lead up.
The Museum has done a great job of turning around an exhibition in a short space of time, which deals with one of the biggest stories of the year and certainly the biggest digital discourse of 2017. With the Collins Dictionary including 'fake news' into its historic pages, we need greater work on promoting digital literacy, but also thoughtful responses to how we engender trust within our institutions.
One of the problems here is that all information sources become compromised and this may even include museums as we begin to rethink who we trust and what counts as authority in a digital age. The trend over the last decade has been to elevate the crowd to the position of authority. The more likes on Facebook or views on YouTube, or recommendations on Amazon, the more credit we give to something. Yet, this reputation economy becomes subject to manipulation as the platform within which it takes place is monetised. So, we see celebrities being told off for promoting a product on Twitter, as this is strictly speaking advertising, which is carefully regulated.
The Museum's exhibition draws attention to the longer history of Fake News, which began well before Donald Trump came on the scene.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at an event hosted by the British Association of Science Writers focused on Fake News and Scientific Journalism. I was anxious first to draw our attention to the absurdity of this discussion, as it has been inflicted on us by Trump and his ridiculous accusations of fake news towards established, credible media organizations.
Anyway, moving on, we are here, the discourse has taken off and shone a light on how news information becomes indistinguishable from blatantly fake news, but also how it becomes blurred with entertainment.
My main concern in this is are the squeeze that printed press face, as a result of the social media era. We need to find better ways to support investigative journalism, but we also need to understand how people encounter news information across their day and across different devices. Otherwise, we are failing to take into account how this affects their receptiveness to certain media formats, or just the cognitive process that operates around such journeys.
A few weeks ago, we created the Library of Fake News as an installation for the Manchester Science Festival and I believe we need libraries to help us navigate this complex world of web news, where bottom line interests dominate all stakeholders. Libraries may be our only independent public institution that can help us wade through the noise and figure out what's really going on in the world.
The edited volume by myself and Mark Lorch received interest from the Mirror last week in an article which outlines the book we published earlier in the year with the Royal Society of Chemistry. Check it out here
The book was published out of a book sprint we conducted during Manchester Science Festival in 2016 and has been getting some great reviews, including one from Nature.
Here's the final edit of the event, created by Luke....
Last week, I took part in a debate hosted by Luke Robert Mason of Virtual Futures, which focused on the legacy and impact of GATTACA. We covered everything from CRISPR Cas9 to film theory and the challenge of speculative ethics.
It was fantastic to have put this together with Luke, as the film is such a remarkable examination of a potential future, where the prospect of genetic perfection is taken seriously. Having worked in bioethics for nearly 20 years now, it feels still like a really pressing subject, which we haven't quite figured out still.
This week, I took part in a TW Live event at the Museum of Science and Industry. You can watch the recording here.
This is probably the biggest event in my calendar and it's happening over the next week! My role is to work with a great team at Salford Uni to develop, design, curate, and produce a programme of work for the Festival. As Educational Sponsor, we put a lot of work into this and it's huge this year. Headlines for me personally including having our VC open the festival at the main launch, spread of budget investment across 4 schools and various other units, over 50 staff members involved in delivery, about the same number of students, and some really creative, innovative events.
The biggest one in terms of production for us is the GameLab, which happens weekend of 21/22 October. Here's a quick glimpse of it...