Tag Archives: 2012 S.NET Conference

FrogHeart at the 2012 S.NET conference, part 5: informal public dialogue/science education and transhuman narratives

Anne Dijkstra’s presentation (at the 2012 S.NET [Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies] conference on “Science Cafés and scientific citizens. The Nanotrail project as a case” provided a contrast to the local (Vancouver, Canada) science café scene I wasn’t expecting. The Dutch science cafés Dijkstra described were formal both in tone and organization.  She featured five science cafés focussed on discussions of nanotechnology. The most striking image in Dijkstra’s presentation was of someone taking notes at one of the meetings. By contrast, the Vancouver café scientifique get togethers take place in a local bar/pub (The Railway Club) and are organized by members of the local science community. (There are some life science café scientifique Vancouver meetings which may be more formal as they take place at the University of British Columbia.)

I was quite fascinated to hear about the Dutch children’s science cafés that have been organized by the parents featuring presentations by children to their peers. It’s a grassroots effort/community-based initiative.

The next and final presentation set was when I presented my work on ‘Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements’. (People at the conference kept laughing when I told them when my presentation was scheduled.) Briefly, my area of interest is in neuromorphic engineering (artificial brains), memristors and other devices which can mimic synaptic plasticity, pop culture (zombies), and something I’ve termed ‘cognitive entanglement’. My basic question is: what does it mean to be human at a time when notions about what constitutes life and nonlife are being obliterated? In addition, although I didn’t do this deliberately, this passage from my Oct. 31, 2012 posting (Part 1 of this series) touches on a related issue,

His [Chris Groves' plenary] quote from Hannah Arendt, “What we make remakes us” brought home the notion that there is a feedback loop and that science and invention are not unidirectional pursuits, i.e., we do not create the world and stand apart from it; the world we create, in turn, recreates us.

I have more about this ‘conversation’ regarding artificial brains taking place in business, pop culture, philosophy, advertising, science, engineering, and elsewhere but I think I need to write up a paper. Once I do that I”ll post it. As for the response from the conference goers, there were no questions but there were a few comments (I’m not the only one interested in zombies and the living dead) and a suggestion to me for further reading (Andrew Pickering, The cybernetic brain: sketches of another future).

Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements at the 4th annual S.NET conference

My proposal, Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements, for the 4th annual S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) conference was accepted. Mentioned in my Feb. 9, 2012 posting, the conference will be held at the University of Twente (Netherlands) from Oct. 22 – 25, 2012.

Here’s the abstract I provided,

The convergence between popular culture’s current fascination with zombies and their appetite for human brains (first established in the 1985 movie, Night of the Living Dead) and an extraordinarily high level of engagement in brain research by various medical and engineering groups around the world is no coincidence

Amongst other recent discoveries, the memristor (a concept from nanoelectronics) is collapsing the boundaries between humans and machines/robots and ushering in an age where humanistic discourse must grapple with cognitive entanglements.

Perceptible only at the level of molecular electronics (nanoelectronics), the memristor was a theoretical concept until 2008. Traditionally in electrical engineering, there are three circuit elements: resistors, inductors, and capacitors. The new circuit element, the memristor, was postulated in a paper by Dr. Leon Chua in 1971 to account for anomalies that had been experienced and described in the literature since the 1950s.

According to Chua’s theory and confirmed by the research team headed by R. Stanley Williams, the memristor remembers how much and when current has been flowing. The memristor is capable of an in-between state similar to certain brain states and this capacity lends itself to learning. As some have described it, the memristor is a synapse on a chip making neural computing a reality and/or the possibility of repairing brains stricken with neurological conditions. In other words, with post-human engineering exploiting discoveries such as the memristor we will have machines/robots that can learn and think and human brains that could incorporate machines.

As Jacques Derrida used the zombie to describe a state that this is neither life nor death as undecidable, the memristor can be described as an agent of transformation conferring robots with the ability to learn (a human trait) thereby rendering them as undecidable, i.e., neither machine nor life. Mirroring its transformative agency in robots, the memristor could also confer the human brain with machine/robot status and undecidability when used for repair or enhancement.

The memristor moves us past Jacques Derrida’s notion of undecidability as largely theoretical to a world where we confront this reality in a type of cognitive entanglement on a daily basis.

You can find the preliminary programme here.  My talk is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 in one of the last sessions for the conference, 11 – 12:30 pm in the Tracing Transhuman Narratives strand.

I do see a few names I recognize, Wickson, Pat (Roy)  Mooney and Youtie. I believe Wickson is Fern Wickson from the University of Bergen last mentioned here in a Jul;y 7, 2010 posting about nature, nanotechnology, and metaphors. Pat Roy Mooney is from The ETC Group (an activist or civil society group) and was last mentioned here in my Oct. 7, 2011 posting), and I believe Youtie is Jan Youtie who wss mentioned in my March 29, 2012 posting about nanotechnology, economic impacts, and full life cycle assessments.

S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) 2012 call for proposals

The conference (4th annual is upcoming in Oct. 2012) and the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies are more oriented to folks in the humanities and social sciences. I don’t think they preclude other participants but the topic areas for the conference (which reflects the society’s interests) will tend to appeal to those audiences.

Here’s the invitation to the conference from their home page,

S.NET invites contributions to the Fourth Annual meeting of The Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies (S.NET), to be held at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, on October 22-25, 2012. The four-day conference will assemble scholars, practitioners and policy makers from around the world interested in the development and implications of emerging technologies.

There is an invitation for proposals (from the How to apply page),

Proposals will be accepted on the basis of a submitted abstract, which will be refereed. Abstracts must be between 250 and 400 words in length. Proposals for panel sessions should include a general introduction and abstracts of the separate contributions. All proposals should include the strand to which the abstract/panel session is submitted. If an abstract fits more strands, or does not fit the existing strands, simply note that in your submission.

Proposals should be submitted online before April 2, 2012. All submitters will be notified about the results of the review process by the end of May 2012.

Possible topics/themes include (from the Themes, Topics, and Conference Strands page),

Possible themes and topics have been organized into six ‘strands’. While applicants are asked to indicate the strand relevant to the topic of their paper, submissions dealing with themes or topics outside the present strands are also welcome.

1. R&D practices and the dynamics of new and emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Research networks & collaborations, emerging research fields, practices of ‘doing’ nano or other emerging fields of science and technology, including historical and philosophical studies of these practices.

2. Innovation and the use of new and emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Innovation networks and systems, commercialization, implications for industry structures, translation from lab to practice, application and use of nano-based products and other innovations, critical analyses of growth and consumption, including economic, social and cultural approaches of innovation processes

3. Governance of newly emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Regulations, anticipatory governance practices, risk assessment, risk concerns, (constructive) TA , forms of public participation and engagement, including critical evaluation of forms of governance

4. Visions and cultural imaginaries of newly emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Promises, expectations, visions, science fiction, imagination, socio-technical change, moral change, role of media, including assessments of such visions and analyses of their role in innovation processes.

5. Publics and their relations to newly emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Science communication, risk communication, public engagement, participation and discourses on NEST, science museums, informal science learning initiatives, including critical evaluation of such initiatives and the notion of ‘publics’.

6. Politics and ethics of newly emerging sciences and technologies

E.g. Responsible innovation, (in)equality, equity, development, global and social distribution of benefits and risks, sustainability, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ impacts of emerging technologies, including theoretical perspectives on NEST and global developments


S.NET encourages proposals for individual papers, posters, traditional panels, roundtable discussions and other innovative formats. All proposals for panels, roundtables and other formats, should clearly specify topic, order and timing of the different contributions.

The first conference was in Seattle in 2009.