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Posthumanism

The Prospect of Immortality #BlueDotFestival

The Prospect of Immortality #BlueDotFestival

On 21st July, I spoke in a panel with Prof Kevin Warwick, Prof Mike Stubbs, and Gina Czarnecki about the future of death, as part of a series of talks within BlueDot Festival. 

The prospect of immortality has long been a fascination for me, an extension of the pursuit of human enhancement and the logical consequence to expanding the potential of evolution.

While there are many big challenges to dealing with death in a technological age, the possibility of extending life means we are confronted with some completely new questions about our lives. How would we organize ourselves if we lived to even 200 years? Would we go to school for longer? Would we procreate at the same time? Would we think about our careers as singular paths in life? Would we transform our political regulations to ensure nobody had too much power? All of this is up for grabs and needs thinking about, if we continue to pursue longer and healthier lives.

Sport 2.0 #sportfuture

Sport 2.0 #sportfuture

This week, I am in Lausanne for the Sport Future Rendezvous 2016 conference, organized by good friend Professor Jean-Loup Chappelet at the University of Lausanne. I took the chance to talk about the biodigital interface, the growth of e-sport, biotechnological change, ingestible sensors, and virtual realities. But the big controversy, as always, was my views around doping, which did hijack the futures debate a little. In any case, here's my presentation.

 

 Thanks to Michel Filliau for the photograph.

LIFE 2.0 Future Everything #Futr16

LIFE 2.0 Future Everything #Futr16

This week, I took part in a really excellent panel on Life - and how it is changing - as part of Future Everything. My co-presenters were Abi Glencross and David Benque Here's my manuscript...

 

 

LIFE 2.0

When would less equal more?

Andy Miah

1

A few years ago, Gaia theorist James Lovelock was interviewed by the Guardian about how he saw the world today, after decades of providing warnings for humanity about its failing to turn the tide on our devastating impact on the environment. Amongst other things, he concluded with one piece of advice for everyone,

 

2/3

“enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan”

 

He also claimed that

“about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100”

 

which is only 84 years away folks.

 

4

Unlike other species, we are incredibly inefficient when it comes to our utilization of resources and this inefficiency has grown over time, as our societies have become ever more complex.

 

-       We eat more than we need.

-       We exercise less than we should.

-       We waste more food than ever before – 53% of fruit and veg, for eg..

-       New materials have led to increasingly dead, toxic resources occupying our natural world, taking its toll on wildlife.

 

And the accumulation of these systemic imbalances means that identifying points where efficiencies could be made has also become incredibly complicated.

 

Consider our movement around this planet, which relies heavily on the availability of fuel for vehicles.

 

We could do less of this.

 

We could share our cars more. We could use video conferencing more. We could stop going on holiday, or at least holiday closer. We could send things via slower means and wait more patiently for them to arrive.

 

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But instead we have the Amazon Dash button and drone delivery emerging to satisfy even greater desires for immediacy.

 

In any case, these are all social solutions to the problem of how to get more out of our resources, to reduce the pace at which we use them and buy ourselves more time to find alternative sources to keep this planet going – but especially to keep us going within it!

 

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However, there are also technological solutions. Indeed, seen in this way, the behavioural fix to diminish our exploitation of natural resources by being less wasteful is just a stop-gap towards a more long term solution, and we have a few already.

 

-       We can produce in-vitro meat, instead of growing it through lived beings. This would reduce the carbon footprint of our food considerably.

-       We can staple our stomachs to reduce the feeling of hunger, which is said to drive us to eat more than we need – with the caveat that feelings of hunger may also have become a matter of social ritual, rather than biological need.

-       We can use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to identify and select for healthier embryos, which may allow us to create a population that is less reliant on already overburdened health care system.

-       We can modify seeds to ensure a crop yield is more able to withstand harmful climatic realities, such as harsh winds, low rainfall, and so on – themselves a product of climate change.

 

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So, while our inefficiency is supreme among the animal kingdom, we are incredibly well endowed in our capacity to think up efficiency saving devices. Our cognitive capacity allows us to discover ways of transforming our environment to optimize efficiencies, such as by controlling water flow and generating power with hydroelectric dams, or by creating wind turbines or solar cells, which draw from renewable sources of energy.

 

However, the worry of those who criticise any such technological solutions is that technology has a habit of biting back. We don’t trust the technological solution.

 

There is a feeling of mistrust in these solutions because we believe that human habits have a tendency to continue, despite such changes. We may staple our stomachs, but we will continue to stretch them, eating more – because hunger is no longer simply a biological response, but a cultural need born out of changes to our modern life – the time we get up, the time we go to bed and what happens in between.

 

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So, we may find more ways of generating energy from renewable resources, but our species will continue to escalate the number of things it seeks to power, more rockets to fuel, more discoveries to be made, more artifacts to consume, more devices to connect – 50bn by 2020 if the predictions about the Internet of Things are accurate.

 

We also worry that environmental interventions may have unforeseen consequences, which could be even more catastrophic than if we just left things alone and accept what Erik Parens describes as the ‘goodness of our fragility’. In closing his critique of pursuing Paradise – through biotechnological enhancements, he quotes writer Milan Kundera who says,

 

“Humankind’s longing for Paradise is humankind’s longing not to be human’

 

and goes on to write about the peril of this longing.

 

Yet, the pursuit of a posthuman form of existence seems also written into our DNA.  As a species, we seem bound to the pursuit of transcendence - physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

 

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To this end, finding a solution to our problem of resource limitation – how we make more out of less - relies in part on how we curtail this ambition, which is no simple task, especially when we also believe that its presence in our lives – the fact that we are ambitious, in the positive sense – seems also to be the currency that allows us to flourish as individuals, populations, or as a species.

 

Many of our kind aspire to live healthier, longer lives, which involve a boundless thirst for enjoyment, happiness, fulfilment, and satisfaction. We have employed medicine, science and technology to make this possible. We have used it to bring more people into the world, to make their lives less subject to suffering, to allow us to traverse the world more fully, to experience more of what it has to offer – even if we have failed to distribute these goods evenly across our populations.

 

Indeed, let’s be honest, it’s not working for everyone.  Far from it.

 

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In any case, take a look at your own life and consider where you could make efficiencies. Write down 3 things that you could do that would ensure that you make a difference to this problem, bearing in mind Lovelock’s 20 year prediction. Here’s some examples.

 

I will reduce the amount of food waste in my home.

I will ensure I recycle more of what I use.

I will use public transport more frequently.

I will get off my bus/train one stop before the one I typically use, to walk a little more each day.

 

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These are really simple goals and pretty easy to achieve, but if 50% of you leave today and make even 1 such change, I would be surprised.

 

But that’s ok, because it’s not just about you.

 

It’s also about the institutions around you who make it harder for you to be more efficient. And this is where your list may need to change. Instead of focusing on what you can do to change your lifestyle, you might focus on what you can do to change those institutions.

But, the last thing I want to tell you is that we should curtail our desire to transcend.

 

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So here’s an alternative for Future Everything to consider:

 

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Could we engineer our biology to be more environmentally friendly?

 

I’m not sure anyone has asked this question before and I’m not sure many environmentalists would endorse this approach at all.  The idea of tampering with nature seems fundamentally in conflict with environmental philosophy, assuming that such beliefs consider the human species to be mostly an unwelcome disruptive force on our planet, capable of introducing artificial and intractable imbalances within the ecosystem.

 

Nevertheless, it may be time to stop thinking about science as being in the service of ourselves and more how it can help us serve the environment better.

 

So many of the debates about HE have focused on functionality and the capacity of HE to improve the range of options in our lives. Its primary purpose is about our individual freedom to determine our futures and quality of life.

 

It is all about us.

 

But could this be different?

Could human enhancement environmentally friendly?

 

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A few years ago, this document came my way via a US based professor.

 

PERFECT PEOPLE 2020

 

I didn’t really know what to make of it, but so much made sense.

It talked of how

·      human enhancement would be a step towards realising the perfect soldier and perfect astronaut.

·      How the blurring distinction between therapy and enhancement was state sponsored to promote complicity, with support from the media

·      How bioethicists were part of the process by which complicity and experimentation could take place

·      How limitless life extension would be enabled by a ‘magic’ pill that would call for a need to recognise suicide as a legitimate means of exiting our lives

 

But of course, human enhancement was in the national interests in terms of security, defence, and economic prosperity.

 

Of course, the human genome project race was about the proprietary interests in cell lines and our growing reliance on genetically modified biological matter.

 

And of course human experimentation didn’t stop with Nuermberg.

 

 

I just didn’t realise how extensive the ethical recklessness was back then, nor how complicit the bioethics community were in endorsing such work. It seemed almost as if bioethics was invented in order to allow science to become more reckless.

 

Perfect people 2020 made me realise that we needed a new strategy for human enhancement.

 

But what would an enhanced human look like, where the basis for such changes is all about supporting the environment?

 

27 2.0

 

So, LIFE 2.0 approaches things a little differently

 

I propose a form of what may be called Human offsetting

 

If a carbon offset is a ‘reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere.”

 

Then

 

a human offset is an ‘efficiency gain in consumption or generation of resource, made in order to compensate for some other resource expenditure”

 

The manner of this offset could vary and I don’t want to separate out a biotechnological fix from any other kind.

 

In fact, I think there’s a lot we can change about how we currently do things, which could quickly change the equation of who gets what and how much.

 

Consider organ and blood donation.  Why is there a shortage of either? There should not be, but we’ve allowed people to think of such needs among our species as acceptable to not meet. This is completely wrong and, back in 2007, the Big Donor Show in the Netherlands spoke eloquently of this social failure.

 

Human offsetting is the process by which we modify biology in order to provide an exponential return on our actions as depleting natural resources.

 

But here’s another problem, exemplified by a simple fact: The single biggest contribution you can make to reducing your use of resources is to not have children, but will you stop having children just because of this? No, you won’t!

 

All being well, having children is one significant aspect of what gives life value and, even the prospect that these children may have worse of lives by us all having too many of them does not dissuade us from pursuing this selfish act. And just to be clear, even if our act is born out of a desire to nurture life from a position of care or even altruism, it still remains a selfish act. It is about us and what we need.

 

Lovelock may provide some basis for thinking that this could be a good strategy. He recognises that there is a precedent for this, albeit simply synthesised food like quorn – hardly, hardcore human enhancement – but then it may be a starting point for a game changing intervention.

 

Going back to that Perfect People 2020 document – creating people who have gills and the capacity to live underwater was one proposition for figuring out how to live on this planet.

 

We are not quite there yet, but advances in using graphene may allow us to at least start to desalify sea water more efficiently, providing a new source of drinkable water for us.

-       Desalination technologyhttp://news.mit.edu/2015/desalination-gets-graphene-boost-jeffrey-grossman-1102

 

We constantly make discoveries that were previously thought impossible to achieve and this alone makes it hard to write off even the wackiest of ideas.

 

It’s also important to recognise that more radical transhumanist applications have roots in longer-term pursuits in design. We may yet use gene editing to modify our germ-line and ready us for a time and some of the ethical concerns we have about this will diminish as the need to undertake such modifications grows, as a result of other environmental factors that limit our ability to thrive.

 

But the bigger picture around all of this has to do with the history of innovation around any one design proposition and unravelling that to more adeautely see why technological solutions are not absent of sociology.

 

28-40Patents

 

Let’s take one example, which is pertinent to our inquiry

 

Could we modify our capacity to regulate our body heat better, so that we need not rely on heating or air conditioning as much? Could we engineer ourselves to store heat, when we are warm, to later be used when we are cold?

 

We have tried figuring out this problem for over a century

-       1882 – water filled tubes

-       1930 - hat

-       1967 – space suit

-       1970 – cooling suit

-       2012 – cooling device dramatically affects performance capacity

-       2014 - Wristify – does away with Air Con using electrical pulses which make u feel warmer/colder

-       2016 – store solar heat in clothing

-        http://news.mit.edu/2016/store-solar-heat-0107 - eg to heat an internal wire mesh within the clothes - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aenm.201502006/abstract;jsessionid=FB1102B5EBE3D32249FE440CEF1EBB65.f02t02

 

In fact, the technological fix that we are often so mistrustful of, is in fact a complex web of trajectories that tells us that technology is first and foremost a social solution – with every design increment, we get closer towards fixing a problem and that boot strapping happens across decades and across the globe.

 

So, to conclude, when we think about what it is to operate as a posthuman – to think beyond the human – we first need to think beyond our species, not beyond our species typical functioning.

 

Life 2.0 denotes a break not just in our evolutionary trajectory, but in our beliefs about what we think we should be doing on this planet. We are so focused on putting to work other aspects of our environment – the wind, the water, the sun – that we have omitted to consider ourselves as vehicles of resource regeneration.

 

This shift in how we regard what could be done, will inform more deeply our sense of what needs to be done to ensure the longer term survivability of our species and those around us whose existence enables our own.

 

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“If we can’t reverse our catastrophic impact on the environment by being more careful, then we need to reverse engineer ourselves”

 

And if you want to summarise this talk in less than 140 characters, here you go

 

“More bees, less drone beetles!” Thx #Futr16 @andymiah”

 

 

#futureday @thisisGorilla #MSF

#futureday @thisisGorilla #MSF

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My first contribution to the Manchester Science Festival is this amazing screening of Back to the Future 2, a trilogy that was certainly defining of my teenage years. I'm so excited to have been able to produce this with #MSF15 and that Gorilla in Manchester is screening. Here is my presentation from the night.

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Drones in the House of Lords

Drones in the House of Lords

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This week, I received a report from Lord Haskell, detailing the House of Lords debate of 8th September, in which he kindly mentioned my work on drones. This is an important citation for Project Daedalus and great to have made a link there for NESTA. Here's the report, crucial reading for all UAV/drone users. Our online toolkit is also online now! Here's a link to get started on learning about drones.

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Case for Posthumanity

Justifying Human Enhancement: The Case for Posthumanity

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Presentation given for the 'Imagining the (Post-) Human Future: Meaning, Critique, and Consequences.

Along with the manuscript...

This paper argues on behalf of a posthuman future that is intimately tied to the use of human enhancement technology. It presents three principal justifications for enhancement, which focus on functionality, creative expression, and the ritual of re-making the self through biological modification. Collectively, these aspirations articulate the values surrounding posthuman life and the pursuit of biocultural capital. 

When Christopher told me I would have the opening slot for the conference, I thought there was some merit in trying to deliver a polemic that would set the tone for our subsequent discussions. In part, this is why I decided to consider arguing on behalf of a posthuman existence, as it seems to me to be the most crucial dimension of what we need to consider, in order for this debate to have any merit. After all, if we are not prepared to embrace a posthuman life, then we may as well go home. That’s not to say we all need to embrace own inner posthuman for the project of posthumanism to have merit. Rather, if we conclude that posthumanism is a topic of no political or social urgency, then its currency as a contemporary debate is lost. Indeed, within some applied context, this is catastrophic, as it is a way for the professions to dismiss or ignore the long term implications of their work.

I want to present the case for thinking of ourselves as already posthuman and consider that the pursuit of human enhancements are a definingfeature of that life. One of the rather awkward questions one faces upon making such a statement is ‘when exactly did we become posthuman’, either that or, scholars conclude we have always been posthuman, or – even worse – we have never been human.

Other moral philosophers critique the idea of humanness at all as a defining characteristic of our species, utilizing the concept of ‘personhood’ as a non-speciesist, richer interpretation of the sentient condition, even affording similar moral status to animals, when they exhibit such intellectual capacities. Alternatively, some scholars appeal to such ideas as ‘dignity’ or capacities to experience certain second order psychological states, such as shame or embarrassment, as indicative of our uniqueness.

Moral philosophers have each employed these ideas to argue about a number of beginning and end of life issues, such as infanticide or assisted suicide. Indeed, bioethics has broadly been a place where this debate has found considerable traction, as many authors find themselves debating the merits of life and the conditions that give it value.

You might conclude already that, then, the debate about posthumanism need not be about human enhancements at all. Indeed, the literature outlines a much more complex set of relationship and behaviors that interpret the posthuman condition as intimately tied to discussions about our place within the ecosystem, rather than our identity as technological agents. Posthumanism may also be about the way in which human communities recognize the moral status of certain kinds of lives or lifestyles. For example, I think Chris Hables Gray’s appeal to ‘Cyborg Citizenship’ is crucially about the way that societies fail to give legitimacy to certain forms of sexual identity. We live in a world where still society is reticent to acknowledge the value of certain lifestyles and so posthumanism may be seen as a rejection of certain prejudices and be a project principally about the promotion of freedom of lifestyle. Indeed, I had a conversation last week about whether the contraceptive pill was a human enhancement or not. I think it is and we can debate why later, if you like.

I anticipate that many of the papers we hear over the next two days will explain just how much more complex is our relationship with posthumanism than we first imagined. When I think of this relationship, I draw on what Jacques Ellul refers to as la technique – that complex arrangement of technics, techniques and technologies through our humanness is made and remade. In this sense, being posthuman is to operatewithinthis complexity and to navigate through it, for better or worse.

Nevertheless, there seems something crucial to me about the human enhancement debate, as a defining characteristic of posthumanism and I don’t think I’m alone in making this case. Even authors who reject posthumanism as a worthy direction for humanity, recognize that this mau be the long term goal of Western science – Steve Fuller may talk to us more about that later (but that doesn’t mean I consider Steve as someone rejects his inner posthuman. Steve’s on Twitter for goodness sake.).

Recognising the human species as a ‘work in progress’ is inextricable from this project. However, it’s crucial that we understand the many ways in which human enhancement takes place and the broad social and cultural fascinations we may have with it. In this respect, I think we can identify at least three crucial trends that explain the pursuit of HE.

First, we can talk about the functional benefit that arises from human enhancement. Good examples of this are laser eye surgery, cognitive enhancers and gene transfer.

Second, we can discuss enhancements as a form of creative expression, as a way of exploring new aesthetic experiences. For example, we might look to make up as an early form of this, then to cosmetic surgery as a more radical and permanent change.

Third, we can talk about enhancements as rituals, as ways of marking out ourselves from others or as part of a community. Scarification, tattoo, and body piercing may be like this. More recent examples may ‘bagel heads’ in Japan.

There are examples that fit across these three types in different ways. For example, the use of LSD or other lifestyle drugs like ecstasy may be ways of trying to access new kinds of physical or mental experiences that could be seen as engaging all three of these parameters. If you take ecstasy when going to a nightclub, you might be seeking to enhance your capacity to dance all night.

Of course, many of these examples seem quite close to the present day. There is nothing controversial about laser eye surgery or body piercing.

Collectively, I want to talk about these values as indicative of how people pursue the accumulation of biocultural capital throughout their lives. Drawing on Bourdieu, it is apparent that we seek to enrich our lives today by modifying ourselves. We may have done this in the past by education or leisure. Each similarly reconfigures our mental and physical capacities, hopefully improving our lives by providing greater health or making us feel more capable.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they will, but we shouldn’t be too worried this. Those who argue against human enhancement, like Michael Hauskellar, seem to require us to have certainty over whether our choices will lead to an improvement in our circumstances. I can’t guarantee that. I can’t guarantee that your being able to run faster by genetically increasing your proportion of fast twitch muscle fibre count will mean that your life will be better off over all. Similarly, I can’t guarantee that having television, motor cars, or the telephone makes the world a better place or being human any richer. But we shouldn’t place too much stock in the critique from certainty. Most of what we do in life is a risk. We exercise judgment as to whether something will improve our lives in some way, or not and we for it. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. If you have a tattoo, there’s no guarantee that you won’t regret it when you are 60 years old.

So, why do I think the pursuit of HE is crucial to the case for posthumanity? Going back to the start of my talk, I wanted us to begin this inquiry by asking into the merit of a posthuman life. If we seek to live as posthumans, what ought that entail? How will we justify employing that term, rather than simply conclude that humans have always been on this trajectory – that what defines our species is this endless pursuit of pushing back the limits of biology and nature?

We have always done that, but if you look at the industries that guard against these posthumanist aspirations, they stillendeavor to stay at the top of the slippery slope, claiming that there are such things as biostatistical norms that explain why medicine should be used only for repair or therapy. They don’t.

Furthermore , we live in a world where such things as dwarf corn exist and where 66% of all cotton is genetically modified. Next year, the first commercial space flights will take place, while the ‘bottom billion’ people are still trying to get above the poverty line.

There is no selfless justification for pursuing longer, healthier lives, while millions of people barely have the resources to promote a healthy-ish lifestyle, or any reasonable expectation of living a long life. There is credible no system of justice that can reasonably argue that a broad social system that fails to protect fundamental needs is justified in trying to raise the upper level of human functioning. Indeed, the biggest collective human enhancement would arise from engaging more people in the democratic process, or in society generally. Providing greater chances to perform as citizens in a world where less than 20% of an electoral register turn up to vote would be a major enhancement for society ,the value of which is beyond measure.

But neither should we assume that these systems of human enhancement would be jeopardized or frustrated by their biotechnological counterparts, or vice versa. We should be vigilient over how such systems are used mosrly because of their efficiency, which may lead to us medicalizing certain problems or prioritizing a quick fix, rather than the best fix.

Yet, societies are moving targets. We edge closer to 9 billion people. James Lovelock – of Gaia theory – thought the planet should be able to sustain just 1 billion. So, we can’t look at the increase in people suffering as an explanation for the world having been made worse.

Neither can we assume that enhancements would benefit only the privileged few, as is commonly assumed. Some research that indicates that the larger benefits to enhancing IQ, for instance, are for those at the lower end of the income scale. Quite simply, being smarter improves your life.

But there are no guarantees that human enhancement will bring us happier lives as individuals. Being an ‘unhappy Socrates’ may be the consequence of our pursuit of betterment.

We ought not get too carried away with the idea that human enhancement is a project that seeks to pursue perfection or control. It is more likely to bring us more opportunities to screw up our lives, than greater certainty about it being better! But, I would rather have that opportunity, than to leave things to chance.

We do have to wise up. Last week, I had a conversation with a nutritional scientist and a dedicated body builder. The body builder asked the scientist which supplements he should be using to bulk up. He went through a list of the ones he had tried and, after each one, the scientists said ‘waste of time’ or ‘does nothing at all’.

So, it’s important we are not ignorant about what actually does what it says on the tin. We need to understand the limits of science and technology and the way that enhancement technologies operate within an unregulated commercial system that and may promise things it cannot deliver, yet. Genetic tests for performance genes claim to identify whether you are more likely to be good at one kind of sport over another, but presently they have no predictive value. Laser eye surgery promises High Definition vision, but only if you are lucky. Modafinil may boost your cognitive alertness, but only in certain situations and not necessarily in situations of high demand. In this sense, it may enhance your humanness, but may not be an enhancement of the human species as a whole.

I’m conscious of having just spent 20 minutes explaining the value of HE, but the last 5 telling you that nothing actually works and it may not be worth the bother! That’s not really how it is, but my main point is that we should not conclude that you can just download a mobile app for enhancement. (Although already people with prosthetic limbs are controlling them with mobile apps.)

Rather, any form of body modification operates within a complex system of experiences thatdetermine the value we attribute to it and derive from it. Moreover, we can’t expect enhancements to be universally sought, unless they are broadly pure biological dimensions, such as the pursuit of making our gums and teeth healthier by using fluoride in our tap water. When HE is like this, then it can be justified on the basis of promoting public health – and many examples may eventually be like this. After all, the WHO talks less about health and illness as a distinguishing factor in health care rationing decisions and much more about ‘well being’. Furthermore, doctors and scientists talk now of ageing as a disease. These shifts in belief systems are intimately tied to the human enhancement project. Recognising that life cannot be just about the alleviation of suffering is a crucial part of this.

So, the language of our posthuman future is already embedded into the professions, which previously just made us well, rather than ‘better than well’ as Peter Kramer’s patient put it when describing her state of health when using Prozac. The project of modern medicine has always led us towards human enhancement because of our desire to stave off death and promote freedom throughout life. Freedom from ill health or the debilitating limits of our bodies is, therefore, the principal justification for human enhancement and the most important argument on behalf of posthumanity. The expansion of this commitment to the eradication of all sufferingis a logical step, but we ought not presume to achieve this, or that life would be better if we could remove all of it. I’m not convinced that a life without suffering would be well lived. However, I do think we can shift the kind of suffering we experience away from that associated with biological illness and disease. Unlike Martha Nussbaum, I don’t believe in the goodness of our fragility.

In due course, the twenty first century may be likened to the swinging sixties, not for its sexual liberation, but for its anthropomorphic liberation. However, it’s important to remember, that the conventional explanation for the sexual revolution misleads us. For while many have tied it to the birth of the contraceptive pill, others point out it was the discovery of penicillin bringing about greater freedom from disease that was more crucial.

For the present day, it may not be the radical transhumanist technologies that usher in a posthuman present, not the botox parties, the cosmetic surgery, or the life extension. In other words, it may not be the pursuit of immortality that allows us to live forever

Instead, it might be the least technological innovations, like DNA biobanks for stem cell harvesting, or selecting out disabilities through PGD. It might be granting certain civil rights that gives birth to a posthuman generation, a generation less worried about the ‘yuck factor’ of biotechnological change; more willing to donate their organs to those in need; more likely to give blood.

This is my kind of posthuman future and throughout all of it, there is no loss of humanity one can presume. If anything, we will become more morally conscious agents.

Thank you very much.

Neohumanitas #bioethics

Neohumanitas #bioethics

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I've recently joined the ad board of this new think tank in Switzerland. They've got an awesome amount of materials online already and publish in both English and French. Keep your eyes peeled for some cool things.

Troubling Classifications: Categorizing Chimeras and Enacting Species Preservation (2009, Jun 11, London)

Troubling Classifications: Categorizing Chimeras and Enacting Species PreservationDr Carrie Friese Lecturer in the Sociology of the Life Sciences and Biomedicine LSE 11th June 2009 5pm - 7pm H102 (First Floor, Connaught House)

This paper asks how chimeras, particularly puzzling biological organisms that have garnered significant attention as of late, are being officially classified in the specific situation of endangered species preservation.  Based on a qualitative study of endeavours to clone endangered animals in the United States, I contend that biology alone cannot determine the classification of these interspecies organisms.  Rather, categorizing chimeras requires metaphoric, schematic references to more familiar entities.  Here culture and biology are tools for classification.  Building on Adele Clarke’s method of positional mapping, I show that positions on classification represent an intermediary space between thought and action in elaborating a discourse of cloning endangered wildlife, which shapes the meaning of wildlife animals, the practices of preservation and zoos, and the materiality of endangered species.

All welcome, no ticket required. Seats allocated on a first-come, first served basis. Map of LSE and surrounding area: http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/mapsAndDirections/

This seminar will be followed by a drinks reception in the BIOS Centre, V1100 (11th floor, Tower 2).

Nanotechnology and Postmodern Culture (2009, Jun 9)

Giving talk at Sheffield Uni on 9 June - Nanotechnology and Postmodern CultureWhat kind of future is nanotechnology creating for us? What will it mean to be human in the twenty-first century?Professor Richard Jones (Physics and Astronomy), Dr Alex Houen (English), and Professor Andy Miah (Media, Language and Music, University of the West of Scotland)

http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/english/arts-science/events.html#June+2009

Human Enhancement in Brussels (2009, Feb 24)

February 24, 2009Brussels, Belgium

IEET fellow Andy Miah will be speaking at the one day workshop for the European Parliament in Brussels, on Tuesday 24 February 2009

Sponsored by the Rathenau Institute

Human enhancement is the trend to improve the body & mind of human beings by technological means. Examples are the use of “smart pills” to improve concentration or cosmetic surgery. Other examples are selecting embryos that are genetically disease-free to use in an IVF procedure, mood brightening drugs or devices.

These and other technologies promise benefits for the individual using them, but what are the long-term effects? Will human enhancement enlarge social and economic differences? And will the health care remain affordable? Should research into such technologies be stimulated or not? We believe that there are three strategies that the EU could take in response to the challenges human enhancement will pose to the EU. We think that human enhancement raises serious challenges to the EU, and we have identified three strategies that the EU could take to respond to these.

These strategies will be presented by and discussed with experts during the workshop. Some more information on human enhancement, the challenges it poses, the three strategies, and the workshop can be found in the attached information folder.

The workshop is a part of our project on human enhancement. The goal of the project is to provide policy options on human enhancement to the European Parliament. This project is commissioned by the European Parliament and is carried out by ITAS and the Rathenau Institute. We will incorporate the debate during the workshop in the final report.

The workshop will be held on 24 February 2009 in the European Parliament (Rue Wiertz 60, 1047 Brussels). The first part of the workshop will be from 12.45 to 14.15 in room ASP 5F385 and will explore which of the three strategies will be most suitable for the EU. During this part of the workshop, a sandwich lunch will be provided.

The second part of the workshop will be held in room ASP 5G2 from 14.45 to 16.30. In this part, the strategies will be put to the test and will be thoroughly debated – hopefully by you as well!

If you want to attend the workshop, you need to register by sending an e-mail with subject “workshop human enhancement” to info @ rathenau.nl before 16 February 2009. This e-mail should include your name, nationality and date of birth. This information is necessary to ensure your access to the European Parliament and will be treated confidentially.

Please do not hesitate to contact us in case you have any questions about the workshop or our project.

Yours sincerely,

Martijntje Smits and Mirjam Schuijff Rathenau Institute

E-mail: m.smits @ rathenau.nl or m.schuijff @ rathenau.nl Telephone: + 31 70 342 15 42

Yours faithfully,

Mirjam Schuijff, Researcher Technology Assessment Rathenau Institute

Phone: (0031) 70 34 21 524

Address: Anna van Saksenlaan 51 2593 HW The Hague

Postal address: Postbus 95366 2509 CJ THE HAGUE (NL)

The Rathenau Institute focuses on the influence of science and technology on our daily lives and maps its dynamics; through independent research and debate.

Synthetic Times (Exhibition, Beijing, Jun 10 -July 3, 2008)

A BEIJING OLYMPICS CULTURAL PROJECT

namoc2.jpg

National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) No. 1 Wusi Street Dongcheng District Beijing 100010 P.R.ChinaJun 10, 2008 -July 3, 2008

During the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the National Art Museum of China will present “SYNTHETIC TIMES – Media Art China 2008” in its current location at the center of Beijing. NAMOC is the only national art museum in China that is dedicated to research, presentation and promotion of modern and contemporary arts. “SYNTHETIC TIMES – Media Art China 2008”, scheduled from June 10th to July 3rd, will be one of the most important cultural events leading up to the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The exhibition will occupy approximately 4500 square meters (48000 square feet) of the museum gallery space and an additional outdoor area of ca. 2000 square meters (22000 square feet). The internationally recognized Dutch architecture firm NOX/Lars Spuybroek will architecturally transform the entire first floor of the museum in response to the nature of the works on display. A full-color catalogue will be co-published by NAMOC and the MIT Press to accompany the opening (with international distribution). An online forum dedicated to the discourse of the respective exhibition themes and beyond will be created prior to the opening of the event. A pre-Exhibition symposium will be held in New York City in collaboration with MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and other major cultural and educational institutions. The forum and the subsequent symposia will be moderated by a group of distinguished scholars and media arts professionals. Selected discussion essays will be included in the catalogue. Meanwhile, a number of satellite exhibition venues have been planed within the greater Beijing art community, engaging prominent galleries of the booming Beijing art scene. In addition, a number of special evening events during the opening days of the Exhibition are conceived to celebrate countries with significant contribution to the development of media art and culture.

Synthetic Times – Media Art China 2008 will showcase both established and emerging artists from approximately thirty countries, and over fifty media art installation works will be on view along with performances, workshops, presentations and discussion panels. To complement the theme exhibitions, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will contribute a special screening program consisting of seminal video art works. Ars Electronica is set to present the award winning Animation Festival while European Media Art Festival will bring in an edition of International Emerging Video Art. The Exhibition is envisaged as a landmark event in the history of contemporary Chinese art dedicated to embracing the most innovative artistic production and theorization to date, and aspiring to foster and advance new modes of thinking and novel ways of artistic engagement in an increasingly technologically immersed society and global cultural landscape, resonating with the leitmotifs of “Cultural Olympics” and “Hi-Tech Olympics” put forward by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Supported by the Chinese government, international cultural foundations as well as embassies from the participating countries, renowned museums and media art institutions worldwide will collaborate with NAMOC to produce the Exhibition and its related events.

Human Dignity and Bioethics

I just received my copy of the new publication from the US President's Council on Bioethics. This volume looks like a great addition to the literature. Human dignity featured heavily in my Genetically Modified Athletes and is a concept I am continually drawn back to when thinking about the range of issues arising from discussions about human enhancement.

Future Ethics (Manchester, 2008-9)

Future Ethics: Climate Change, Political Action and the Future of the Human An interdisciplinary workshop series, June 2008 - January 2009, held in Manchester. www.manchester.ac.uk/futureethics <https://owa.liv.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.manchester.ac.uk/futureethics>

3 one day workshops to explore the ideas, beliefs and motivations underpinning  political responses to climate change.

A chance for activists, academics, practitioners, and concerned individuals working on political responses to climate change to come together with questions, solutions, experience, and ideas.

Workshop 1: "What is to be done?  Apocalyptic Rhetoric and Political Action" June 13, 2008

Workshop 2: "What Price Security?  New Issues in the Ethics of Risk" September 19, 2008

Workshop 3: "A World Without Us?  Imagining the End of the Human" January 16, 2009

Free to attend, but places limited!  See the website for registration.

Short abstracts for 'starter papers' invited for each  workshop.  See the website for submission deadlines

All Workshops held at Bridge 5 Mill (MERCi) <https://owa.liv.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.merci.org.uk/merci.php> , Manchester's own centre for sustainable living

Please circulate widely!

Many thanks

Stefan Skrimshire

Dr. Stefan Skrimshire Post Doctoral Research Associate in Religion and Politics School of Arts, Histories and Cultures Samuel Alexander Building The University of Manchester Manchester M13 9PL

stefan.skrimshire@manchester.ac.uk tel: 0161 306 1663

Transhuman minds? Is cognitive enhancement a human right? (London, 11 March, 2008)

Transhuman minds? Is cognitive enhancement a human right? Tuesday 11th March 2008, 3-6pm

The Royal Society of Medicine, London W1G 0AE

The development of cognitive enhancement has meant the phrase "give your brain a boost" now brings with it a range of connotations which have never been experienced thus far in human history. The convergence of nano-, bio- and information technology with cognitive science promises many interesting forms of cognitive enhancement. Neurobiology is expanding our understanding of how the brain works in association with neural systems and information technology is providing vastly improved signal processing capabilities for use in neurobiological research. Accompanying such advances, cognitive neuroscience is pushing back the traditional boundaries of cognitive psychology to broaden understanding with regard to the interaction between brain structure, function and cognition.

The prospect of being able to enhance human cognition presents a nexus of questions associated with future ambitions, hopes and concerns. Should individuals be allowed the freedom and the right to decide for themselves how best to use enhancement technologies? Is government intervention and regulation required in order for both individuals and society to thrive through the use of enhancement technologies? Or does the very notion of human essence prohibit enhancement in all its forms?

BioCentre invites you to an assessment of what cognitive enhancement promises and how best to harness its potential informed by leading specialists in the field.

Speakers will include:

Professor Ruud ter Meulen Professor of Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol

Dr. Anders Sandberg James Martin Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

Dr. Daniela Cerqui Social and Cultural anthropologist, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Dr. Donald Fitzmaurice (tbc) Director of ePlanet Ventures, former Professor of Nanotechnology, University College Dublin

The discussion will be chaired by Professor Nigel M de S Cameron, Executive Chairman of BioCentre: Centre for Bioethics & Public Policy.

RSVPs are required. Please include your name and the organisation that you represent in your response. There is no charge for the event.

To RSVP:

e: info@bioethics.ac.uk / t: 0207 227 4706

Human Futures @ FACT launch

Yann MarussichLast night was the launch of the Human Futures exhibit SK-interfaces at FACT. It was really extraordinary and nice to see some friends come over for the event. The highlight was the performance of http://www.yannmarussich.ch 'Blue Remix'. Photos are in my Flickr photoset. this image is of his assistant and I was moved by the care and attention this man gave to the whole process. Made me wish i could take better photographs.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVSPw1XrRK0]

ORLAN at Goldsmiths (5 February, 208)

ORLAN at Goldsmiths Tuesday 5 February 2008 6.15pm THE THEATRE Department of Drama

The Department of Drama's Performance Research Forum and the Digital Studios' (Department of Computing) Thursday Club are delighted to co-host this special event, aTALK by one of the most original and provocative woman artists working today in what she calls CARNAL ART.

"Unlike 'Body Art', from which I set it apart, Carnal Art does not desire pain as a means of redemption, or to attain purification. Carnal Art does not wish to achieve a final 'plastic' result, but rather seeks to modify the body, and engage in public debate=E2=80=A6=E2=80=A6=E2=80=A6Carnal Ar= t is not against cosmetic surgery but, rather against the conventions carried by it and their subsequent inscription, within female flesh in particular, but also male. Carnal Art is feminist, that is necessary. It is interested not onl= y in cosmetic surgery, but also advanced techniques in medicine and biology that question the status of the body and the ethical questions posed by them" ORLAN

All welcome. Entrance free. Latecomers will not be admitted.

To book this event, call 020 7919 7422

<http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/drama/orlan.php>

sk-interfaces (Liverpool, FACT, Feb 2008)

New exhibition and conference starting the FACT programme. Looks good!

"Designer hymens, a composite coat made of blended skin cultures by legendary French artist ORLAN, a brain infused with glowing moss and non-animal ‘leather’ growing in the galleries, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) presents a ground-breaking UK exhibition exploring the idea of skin as a place where art, science, philosophy and social culture meet.

sk-interfaces opens 01 February until 31 March 2008.

Curated by Jens Hauser, sk-interfaces launches FACT’s Human Futures programme in Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture and as an interdisciplinary exhibition will feature works from 15 international artists, including 2007’s Golden Nica winners at Ars Electronica.

“What used to be understood as a surface that represents the limit of the self and between the inside and the outside can today be seen as an unstable border. sk-interfaces is ideally placed within the cultural programme of Liverpool 08: Artists are exploring trans-species relationships, xenotransplantation, satellite bodies, endogene design, telepresence, permeable architecture and the ever pushed limits of art itself,” says curator Jens Hauser.

Formerly known for her surgery-performances in which she refigured her face and created new images referring to non-Western cultures, ORLAN presents her new work Harlequin Coat, a patchwork life-size mantle, which contains fusing in vitro skin cells from various cultures and species. This prototype of a biotechnological coat is made to symbolise cultural cross breeding.

The Tissue Culture and Art Project’s Victimless Leather investigates the possibility of producing ‘leather’ without killing an animal. Three miniature stitch-less garments are tissue-cultured live in the gallery. Artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr are behind the award-winning lab project SymbioticA (Golden Nica in Hybrid Art 2007 Prix Ars Electronica), the Australian–based research facility dedicated to artistic enquiry.

French duo Art Orienté objet has created biopsied, cultured, hybridized and tattooed skin made from their own epidermis and pig derma to create living biotechnological self-portraits. Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoît Mangin’s work is intended to be grafted onto collectors themselves so they can physically wear and absorb an artists’ piece.

American artist Julia Reodica’s hymNext Designer Hymen Series confronts the values of purity and gender roles using the artist’s own vaginal tissue and animal muscle cells to create designer hymens. The sculptures pose as products to be marketed and are intended as objects of novelty for ‘re-virginisation’ thus addressing the issue of how different cultures value female virginity and the associated pressures.

Zbigniew Oksiuta from Poland will come to Liverpool to create a new version of his project Breeding Spaces in which a large 3D sphere of gelatin is grown in situ. The artist proposes the possibilities of designing biological spatial structures that can serve as a new kind of habitat and presents a new form of spatial coexistence between man and nature.

sk-interfaces will also feature further commissioned and existing projects from international artists such as Eduardo Kac, Jun Takita, Wim Delvoye, Olivier Goulet, Zane Berzina and Neal White among others.

Mike Stubbs, Director and CEO of FACT says, “FACT opens its 08 programme committed to pushing at the boundaries of how and what creative technologies and art can be. Touching on some of the biggest issues of our day FACT invites debate and conversation around life sciences and our changing relationships with our bodies and technology"."