Thursday, June 14, 2007

James Hughes on TransVision (William Shatner? Really?)

This is the first few graphs from Better Humans:

With keynote speakers William Shatner, Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey, this year's TransVision conference promises to be the best yet. Focusing on nothing less ambitious than "saving humanity," the World Transhumanist Association's annual conference will cover everything from sustainable energy to antiaging medicine. To get the details, Betterhumans Editor Simon Smith caught up with James Hughes, Secretary of the WTA and Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Engage.

BH: So, another TransVision approaches. With how many TransVisions have you personally been involved?

I organized the first TransVision I attended. After we elected our first Board of Directors in the winter of 2002-2003 we organized the 2003 TransVision at Yale University, since Nick Bostrom was teaching there at the time and we could get some benefits through sponsorship from the Yale folks. I was the main organizer, and it was pretty successful, turning a profit and bringing about 100 transhumanists together with about one hundred non-transhumanist folks doing or interested in bioethics.

BH: In what ways have the conferences changed in nearly a decade since they started?

The first couple of TransVisions in Europe in the 1990s were small gatherings for a couple dozen transhumanist guys to meet and bounce ideas off one another. Then TV03 at Yale kicked that up to the 100-200 attendance mark, based around an academic conference model that held through TV04 in Toronto, TV05 in Caracas and TV06 in Helsinki. I don't want to make a prediction about how many we'll have at the gala event we're going to have in Chicago, but it promises to kick us up to yet another level, with carefully selected speakers, professional conference planners working year-round, real (as opposed to transhumanist) VIPs like Shatner and Arianna Huffington. It's going to be cool.

BH: TransVision 2003 was particularly significant in being held at a major university campus, Yale, and in raising public attention of issues and developments in cutting-edge science and technology. Looking back, what would you say were that conference's big successes and failures?

The strategic focus of the 2003 TransVision was to draw in friendly bioethicists and philosophers to meet our community, and orient our community to bioethics as a contestable terrain for transhumanist ideas. Most transhumanists, I think, believed bioethicists were uniformly opposed to the H+ project, while few bioethicists had heard of transhumanism, and those that had thought we were a nutty fringe. We needed to demonstrate to the H+ that, in fact, most bioethicists were closer to us than to Leon Kass, the President's Council and bioconservativism, and to the bioethicists that transhumanists were radical but serious thinkers. I think that meeting succeeded, and we continue to see its fruits as the folks we met there have gone on to write about us, join our projects, and invite us to their meetings and projects. Transhumanism is now recognized as a popular and influential player in the bioethics/biopolitics terrain, and not just a Star Trek fan club.

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