Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin Madison
On March 27, 2009 the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin Madison held a symposium titled “What is Human?” devoted to “exploring the limits and excesses of the human across the division of the humanities and the sciences.” These are some of the talks from that seminar.
Cary Wolfe, Professor of English, Rice University
“Introducing Posthumanism Again” MP3
Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind” MP3
Jay Martin and Walt Schalick
“Engineering the Human Body” MP3
Alastair Hunt, Jon McKenzie, Stephanie Youngblood
“The Futures and the Pasts of the Posthuman” MP3
Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy, Temple University
“Theorizing the Human: A Pedagogical Imperative of a Philosophical Anthropology” MP3
The old cliché that the “future is not written” is an allusion to free will and the indeterminate nature of the self. Invoking hope and courage, the implicit corollary is “for we are in the process of writing it.” We may yet, it seems, create progress in spite of the looming obstacles before us.
The schism over global climate change (GCC) has become an intellectual chasm, across which everyone perceives the other side as Koolaid-drinkers. Although I have mixed views of my own about the science of GCC, and have closely grilled a number of colleagues who are front-line atmospheric scientists (some at JPL), I’m afraid all the anecdotes and politics-drenched "questions" flying about right now aren’t shedding light. They are, in fact, quite beside the point. That is because science itself is the main issue: its relevance and utility as a decision-making tool.
Take a long view of humanity. See the centuries of quotidian drudgery between periods of roiling tumult, flashes of genius amidst endless toil, billions upon billions who barely live and silently die. Ask how we are not the same.
The Enlightenment thinkers proposed that all men should be accorded the Rights of Man. Eventually this assertion of moral universalism would spread to spark campaigns for the legal equality for women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and the disabled. Some transhumanists have similarly asserted that a transhuman democracy can ensure the legal equality of ur-human and posthuman citizens, and promote the rights of all persons regardless of species. But respect for diversity and self-determination, an awareness that ethical views are historically situated and not absolute, and the belief that future generations will inevitably develop a new ethics make other transhumanists hostile to the idea of any effort to impose Enlightenment values on other societies, posthumans, or animals. We need to renew our commitment to a subtler, limited form of moral universalism, and to the global political institutions it requires.
Dr. J. chats with Arika Okrent, author of In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers who tried to Build a Perfect Language. Dr. Okrent holds a doctorate in linguisitics and cognitive neuroscience from the University of Chicago. MP3
The current discussion on transhumanism concerns human use of NBIC1 technologies and sciences to enhance human biology and to radically extend human life. I address this concern by bringing arts/sciences and design into the discussion. Artists and designers have been altering the human form-perceptually, conceptually and in actuality-from existing states to envisioned, preferred states. The perception of an ideal human is evident in the construction of statuesque sculptures. The conception of an enhanced human is evident in imagined mechanism in providing electronic senses and robotic extensions. The central issue now is that both the opponent and the advocate of transhumanism realize that the actuality of altering the human form is practicable, that duplicating the mind is probable, and that extending life is feasible.
What properties of consciousness and mind will remain the same in a posthuman world? Will enhanced minds look at themselves and reality like we do? What can we learn from cognitive science and consciousness studies to help answer these questions? What are some ethical consequences of enhancing the brain/mind?
Dr. Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has accepted an appointment as Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies for 2010.
Geoengineering, the concept of altering the environment to mitigate climate change, has gone from fringe idea to the subject of Congressional hearings. Yet many scientists remain skeptical that it can be done safely. IEET Senior Fellow Jamais Cascio, author of Hacking the Earth, tells NPR’s “Living the Earth” program that geoengineering is ripe for ethical problems, chief among them international political conflict. Read the transcript
Three dynamic expert presenters will address the topics of anti-aging research, genetically tailored medicine, and brain enhancement during the IEET’s “Future of Medicine” event, coming in October 2010.
Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from how we learn and work to how we communicate and even conduct war. On WNYC Radio in New York, IEET Fellow Doug Rushkoff and producer Rachel Dretzin discuss their new PBS documentary, “Digital Nation,” which investigates whether technology is moving faster than we can adapt to it.
What is this thing called “self”—this inner image of “Ben Goertzel” that I carry around with me (that, in a sense, constitutes “me”), that I use to guide my actions and inferences and structure my memories?
Mike Treder, managing director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a prolific writer, speaker, and activist with a background in media and communications. Mr. Treder co-founded the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) with Chris Phoenix in 2002, and served as its executive director for six years. Mr. Treder currently sits on the Board of Advisors for CRN. Mr. Treder is a consultant to the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University, serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Lifeboat Foundation, is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, a consultant to the Future Technologies Advisory Group, and a member of the World Future Society. As an accomplished presenter on the societal implications of emerging technologies, Mr. Treder has addressed conferences and groups around the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.
Visions in science fiction films that portray dystopic futures involving emerging technologies, i.e. Nano, Bio, Information, robotic, etc. I argue can actually be good for both society and the emerging technologies they portray. For example, dystopic images portrayed in films such as AI: Artificial Intelligence, Gattaca, 2001: Space Odyssey, Minority Report and others paint imagined futures that, while they are both scary and unfamiliar, also serve as an exposure to these emerging technologies that might otherwise not exist without the cinematic lens to expose them. These images and scenarios put up on the screen serve a potentially valuable and positive good for society because they not only open up the minds of the viewers to the imagination of the filmmakers but also to a reality, real or imagined, that they might otherwise not have considered.
Kristi Scott is working on her PhD in Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University. Her specific interest is in the body and how it is technologically mediated. She has served an IEET intern, writer/blogger, volunteer, teaching assistant and coordinator since 2007 and also a reviewer, copyeditor, and layout editor for the Journal of Evolution and Technology. She is a member of Humanity+ and the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, a Futurist Board member for the Lifeboat Foundation, reviewer for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, and a contributor and blogger for the Women’s Bioethics Project.
Are humans being replaced in media arts and entertainment? If so, what new types life forms will arise? Artists and designers are delving more deeply into immersive environments and creating bio-artificial life forms. This panel of media experts will discuss the role of emergence, hybridity, artificial life systems, adaptive AI agents, temporal representatives, and full-body immersivity which are forming a new and evolving visual system of social synthetics in film, TV, gaming, and other mechanism of entertainment and interactivity.
Matthew Patrick (matthewpatrick.tv) is a director of feature films, TV movies and short films.
Michael Masucci is an acknowledged pioneer in the desktop and digital video movement, and an award-winning writer, producer, director, photographer, editor and musician, whose work has been seen on the BBC, BRAVO, PBS as well as in such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art ( New York ), the Institute of Contemporary Art ( London ) and the American Film Institute, who honored Masucci, and his company EZTV, a 27 year-old media arts organization. Masucci has produced in China, the U.K., Mexico, Croatia, Canada, Thailand, and throughout the United States, He has served as the international chair for Digital Video for SIGGRAPH, served on the Advisory Board for DV Expo, and has lectured and major conferences and universities internationally, as well as been profiled in various print & electronic media, including on the Discovery Channel, PBS, TechTV, the LA Times, Variety, the LA Weekly, Wired.com and Internet.com.
Natasha Vita-More is a media artist/designer and theorist, and a prominent proponent of ethical means for achieving human enhancement for the purpose of radical life extension. She has spoken world-wide on futurism and art for two decades. Currently a PhD candidate at the Planetary Collegium, University of Plymouth, UK, where she is working on the post-biological transformations of the human through the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive/neuro science (NBIC). Natasha has a background in film and video, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and was a filmmaker in residence at the Inter’l film Archive, worked with Zoetrope and Twentieth Century Fox studios, has exhibited performative and directed works in Women in Video, US Film Festival, BBC Films, Moscow Film Festival, and National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad. Her works have been featured in The New York Times, Wired, U.S. News & World Report, Net Business, Village Voice and Teleopolis, and in more than 24 televised documentaries. She is an advisor for several non-profit organizations and is fellow of IEET.
Jeannie Novak is the founder of Indiespace—one of the first companies to promote and distribute interactive entertainment online—where she provides social networking, project management, and consulting services for educators, game developers, and independent creative professionals in the game, music, and film industries. Jeannie is Lead Author and Series Editor of the widely acclaimed Game Development Essentials series (with 12 titles currently on the market), co-author of Play the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Video Games, and co-author of three pioneering books on the interactive entertainment industry, including Creating Internet Entertainment. Jeannie was Online Program Director for the Game Art & Design and Media Arts & Animation programs at the Art Institute Online, where she was also Producer & Lead Designer on an educational business simulation game that was built within the Second Life environment. She has also been a game instructor and curriculum development expert at UCLA Extension, Art Center College of Design, Academy of Entertainment and Technology at Santa Monica College, DeVry University, Westwood College, and ITT Technical Institute—and she has consulted for the UC Berkeley Center for New Media and Alelo Tactical Language & Culture. Jeannie has developed or participated in game workshops and panels in association with events such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Macworld Expo, Digital Hollywood, and Digital Music Forum. She is Game Conference Chair for the upcoming ANIMIAMI conference, member of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and member of the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) and Online Excellence Awards selection committees for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) DICE Awards. Jeannie was chosen as one of the 100 most influential people in high-technology by MicroTimes magazine—and she has been profiled by CNN, Billboard Magazine, Sundance Channel, Daily Variety, and the Los Angeles Times. She received an M.A. in Communication Management from USC, where she focused on using MMOGs as online distance learning applications. Jeannie is also an accomplished composer, recording artist, and performer (piano/voice). More information is available at http://indiespace.com and http://jeannie.com.