Transhumanism Meets Design: Part 1

Humanity+’s upcoming conference, “Transhumanism Meets Design” in New York City, will take place at the design university Parsons: The New School for Design on May 14th and 15th. By partnering with Parsons, Humanity+ is reaching into the field of industrial design, applied design, interactive media, graphical design and architecture by looking at how the transhumanist narrative can be realized in the world of design.

“Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” — Steve Jobs

Why is design a necessary element of transhumanist thinking? As I wrote on the conference website, “[t]echnological innovation permeates all aspects of society—from tiny water purification packets and portable LifeStraw filters, to GPS tracking devices, wearable Timex iPods and Gel-Kinsei high-tech running shoes. Because technology and society evolve together, it has become increasingly important to develop a greater understanding of how technology is shaping the course of our lives. We are faced with a need to continuously become more innovative in harnessing and controlling technology’s acceleration. Nevertheless, innovation develops in stages. When it speeds up, we are faced with an urge to become ever more resourceful. When it slows down there is an impending impatience to compete with the exuberance of China. There is no doubt that even the most conservative thinkers agree that we have stepped into an era of a massive change. The good news is that our human diversity continues to spawn inventiveness and novelty.”

And spawn it does! Although sometimes not in the best of ways. Yet even the less-than-best situations can turn into interesting propositions:

Today I received a book in the mail — H+/-: Transhumanism and Its Critics, a collection of essays by those who found great fault with transhumanism ,and those who found deep holes and sloppy logic in the thinking of those who found fault with transhumanism. This book has a little history: it is the result of a special issue on transhumanism produced by The Global Spiral, an academic journal. I happened to read this journal, and was astounded by the deep holes and sloppy logic. In defense of transhumanism, I emailed the managing editor. We exchanged emails and ended up getting along very well. He invited me to be Guest Editor of a special edition, which became a formal response to the critics and their criticism. I brought together several well-known transhumanist academics, and we responded carefully, diplomatically and as nondefensive as possible in our respective essays. The result is the book that I received in the mail today.

This book is an example of design in action, a process that builds from a rational model and sets out to solve a problem through a sequence of steps:

  • Know the constraints and objectives of what the problem is that needs to be solved
    • Develop a sound rebuttal to the misinformation espoused by the critics
  • Clarify intentions
    • Provide reliable and well-researched information in defense of transhumanism
  • Practice restraint
    • Advise contributing authors that the goal is to educate, not bonk critics on the head
  • Sharpen vision and curiosity
    • Why is there such misinformation about transhumanism permeating academia?
  • Know the rules and when to break them
    • How to diplomatically call a spade a spade in a kind and clear manner
  • Become a master storyteller
    • Suggest authors write responsive essays as experiential narratives

In short, design thinking process incites us to define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement and learn, as suggested by Simon Herbert in The Sciences of the Artificial.

For “Transhumanism Meets Design“, the goal is to reach into our own imaginations and consider how our individual fields can become more acquainted with and invested in the process of design. Those unfamiliar with design may want to investigate the deep holes and sloppy logic within their own fields, because if truth be told, no field, profession, skill, or knowledge is off the hook. It is human nature – we learn from our mistakes and we set out again to refine who we are and what we do. This in and of itself is a design process.

“A design isn’t finished until somebody is using it.” — Brenda Laurel, author of Computers as Theater (1991)

1 Comment

  1. I still have your two last articles opened on my computer, I ‘m coming to a way of thinking where I wish to understand what does design really mean for you (for me it was some kind of yellow armchair or blue desk) cause it might be the most important part… Thanks for your insighfull permeating advices

Leave a Reply