This end of year appeal for support comes a little later than usual because I (J. Hughes) was rocked by the recent Sandy Hook school shooting, about 25 miles from my office at Trinity College. As a social scientist and public policy person I try to keep my eye on the big picture, the tens of thousands of people who are killed every day by violence, treatable disease, poverty and inadequate infrastructure. I try not to let my proximity to some tragedies distract from the larger and more persistent needs of the world. But as a parent and someone with many small connections to Sandy Hook I was left stunned and tearful for days. And angry that the balance of forces in American politics has prevented us from having the simple and effective public policies around guns and mental health that have kept the incidence of gun violence and mass killings lower in other industrialized countries.
When we started the IEET seven years ago it was our goal to bring futurists and techno-optimists to the struggle for sane public policies. We have worked to reach out to academe, policy makers and the public to inform progressive social movements about the threats and promises of emerging technologies. Advocates of both gun control and arms control need to be thinking about how we can keep automatic weapons and weapons of mass destruction from proliferating in a world with ubiquitous desktop manufacturing. Advocates of improved mental health screening and treatment need to be thinking about how genetic testing and brain fingerprinting will be used to identify potential psychopaths, and how psychopharmaceuticals and brain prosthetics will be used to treat them. How much cognitive liberty will we need to give up to obligatory moral enhancement in a world where individuals can wreak mass havoc with readily accessible weapons?
Directly addressing that question, in March of 2012 we held a day-long seminar on moral enhancement at New York University as part of a co-sponsored meeting on the Moral Brain. We conferred with leaders in moral neurology like Paul Bloom, Molly Crockett, Josh Greene, Jon Haidt and Josh Knobe about whether our new insights into the role of chemicals like oxytocin, or syndromes like autism, were giving us ways to treat psychopathy and enhance ordinary moral cognition.
A couple months before that meeting Hank Pellissier joined us as Managing Director with a fresh, Bay area, Web 3.0 approach to increasing the visibility of the IEET’s work. Over the last year Hank recruited dozens of new writers and thinkers, such as Dick Pelletier, Piero Scaruffi, Evan Selinger, Rachel Armstrong and Valerie Tarico, and boosted our web traffic to the level of major Washington D.C. thinktanks with thousands of times our budget. Thanks to Hank’s efforts in just ten months we published more articles (731), put up more video and audio links (517), and signed on more new contributors (67) than we had published, posted and signed in all of 2010 and 2011. We began publishing short science fiction exploring our themes and issues, while our active community of commenters grew as well, requiring the adoption of a Right Speech policy to ensure civil discourse, moderated by members Reverand Alex McGilvery and Peter Wicks. Hank launched our project to collect cell phones to send to Madagascar, and started planning for a volume on technoprogressive approaches to African futures.
Hank was also a very popular writer. I don’t want to ruin the countdown of our top articles for the year, but suffice it to say that essays Hank wrote for the IEET will be among the most widely read for 2012 as they were for 2011. Since our mission is the cultivation and amplification of technoprogressive public intellectuals, even when they are our own staff, we were bittersweet about Hank’s decision to spin off and start his own Transhumanity website in October of this year. But we are already finding synergies in our new relationship.
We are fortunate however that a former intern and aspiring philosophy graduate student, Kris Notaro, was very eager to jump into Hank’s shoes. Kris has been a political activist in a number of progressive movements, and is very familiar with the world of policy-oriented nonprofit organizations. Unlike our previous managing directors he lives nearby here in Connecticut which comes in handy for meeting face-to-face, and for our upcoming Personhood conference at Yale University April 26-28. We will be roaring out of the gate to build that conference in the next week or so, along with our collaborators in the Nonhuman Rights Project and the Yale Bioethics Program. Then in May we are co-sponsoring a conference at Arizona State University on the Governance of Emerging Technologies, part of ASU’s new Program on Governance of Emerging Technologies.
Meanwhile our Fellows and Affiliate Scholars have been very busy, with hundreds of speaking engagements, articles and books. The Chair of the IEET Board of Directors, George Dvorsky, joined the staff of the website io9.com, and has been writing up a storm there on many topics of IEET concern. Among the books produced by IEETers this year there were works on biopolitics such as Martine Rothblatt’s From Transgender to Transhuman and Art Caplan’s Smart Mice, Not-So-Smart People; books on futurism such as Doug Rushkoff’s Present Shock, Ayesha Khanna’s Hybrid Reality, Marshall Brain’s Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future; and speculative fiction such as David Brin’s Existence, Ramez Naam’s Nexus, and Marcelo Rinesi’s Time of Punishment, as well as Andy Miah’s The Olympics, Milan Ćirković’s The Astrobiological Landscape and Russell Blackford’s Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. (Now that I’m finally an empty nester I’m hoping to finish Cyborg Buddha, for realz.)
After the Personhood conference Kris, Marcelo and I have been talking about the opening we perceive for pushing forward the conversation about structural unemployment and the need for a basic income guarantee. The Right wants to whittle away at the safety net and impose more austerity, while automation, globalization and demographics continue to push down the proportion of people in the industrialized world who can find paid employment. It is time to begin talking about a model for fair and sustainable economic growth that ensures technological innovation without widespread impoverishment.
We appreciate your previous support, and look forward to working with you in 2013.
James J. Hughes Ph.D. Kris Notaro Marcelo Rinesi
Executive Director Managing Director Assistant Director