Tag Archives: Andy Miah

Human enhancement, brains, and transhumanism: what does nano have to do with it?

A Sept. 14, 2011 conversation on Slate.com about Extreme Human Enhancement started with this provocative title, Should We Use Nanotech, Genetics, Pharmaceuticals, and Augmentations To Go Above and Beyond Our Biology? The official discussants are Kyle Munkittrick, Brad Allenby, and Nicholas Agar. Here’s a little more about Kyle, Brad, and Nicholas, from page one of the the Slate discussion,

Nicholas Agar is an associate professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. He is the author, among other things, of Humanity’s End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement (2010) and Liberal Eugenics: In Defense of Human Enhancement (2004).

Brad Allenby is the Lincoln professor of engineering and ethics; a professor of civil, environmental, and sustainable engineering; and the founding director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management at Arizona State University. He is co-author with Daniel Sarewitz of The Techno-Human Condition.

Kyle Munkittrick is a bioethicist and a program director at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology. He blogs at Pop Bioethics and Discover magazine’s Science Not Fiction. [Note: I have made some formatting changes.]

Nanotechnology and the other technologies are mentioned in passing, the focus of the discussion is ‘should we or shouldn’t we enhance ourselves’ along with some comments as to whether or not humans have a biological imperative to create and apply technology to the planet and to ourselves.

This Slate discussion is a way of publicizing a Future Tense event in Washington, DC being held today, Sept. 15, 2011.

This conversation is part of a Future Tense, a partnership between Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State. On Thursday, Sept. 15, Future Tense will be hosting an event in Washington, D.C., on the boundaries between humans and machines, “Is Our Techno-Human Marriage in Need of Counseling?” [I removed the RSVP]

You can watch the livestreamed event here.

Coincidentally, Brain Gear is opening today. From the host’s (University of Groningen in The Netherlands) website page,

BRAIN GEAR, A conference in Groningen on September 15 and 16.
Neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, regulators and artists discuss the available and emerging technologies to repair and enhance the brain.

Professor Andy Miah, one of the invited speakers at Brain Gear, has made his presentation, Neurodevices for the Posthuman Mind,  available for viewing at Prezi.

I find all this quite exciting given my paper, Whose electric brain? about memristors, artificial synapses, and cognitive entanglement. I have currently raised $460 towards my presentation at ISEA 2011 (International Symposium Electronic Arts). Thank you to everyone who has given funds toward my dream at DreamBank.

May 2010 issue of The Nano Bite, the NISE Net newsletter

It’s National Children’s Book Week in the US this week which I know because of the NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) May 2010 newsletter. From the newsletter,

What’s Smaller than a Pygmy Shrew? by Robert E. Wells An examination of the very small, down to molecules, atoms, electrons, and quarks.  In addition, the University of Wisconsin-Madison MRSEC developed a lesson plan for middle schoolers based on the book.
Is that Robot Real? by Rae Ostman, Catherine McCarthy, Emily Maletz and Stephen Hale. Learn what makes a robot a robot, then step down in size and find out which robots are real and which are science fiction.  You can download Is that Robot Real for free from the nisenet.org catalog here or purchase it from lulu.com or amazon.com.   In other robot- and children’s book-related news: Kim Duncan adapted the NISE Net’s Shrinking Robots! program for Story Time Science at the Madison Children’s Museum.  The adaptation includes a reading of Hello, Robots by Bob Staacke.  You can find the full adaptation in the comments section of the Shrinking Robots! program on nisenet.org.
→ How Small is Nano: Measuring Different Things by Catherine McCarthy, Rae Ostman, Emily Maletz and Stephen Hale. This book can also be downloaded for free from the nisenet.org catalog or purchased at lulu.com or amazon.com.

For interested parties, NISE Net offers a program complete with lesson plan and images called Shrinking Robots, from the Shrinking Robots program,

Stickybot, photo and video: Mark Cutkosky, Stanford University

They have added something new to their catalog,

We recently posted a new program to the nisenet.org catalog: Nanosilver: Breakthrough or Biohazard? The presentation guides visitors through the questions What is nanosilver? Why is it used in consumer products such as teddy bears and food containers? and How safe is nanosilver, and how might it affect the environment?

This month’s Nano Haiku seems more like a NISE Net haiku,

Nano Haiku

Network friends, hello.
Are you social? Tell us where!
In your profile, please.
By Karen Pollard of the Science Museum of Minnesota.

One last item, Clark Miller has posted about human enhancement on the NISE Net blog. Miller is the Associate Director of the Arizona State University (ASU), Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. From his April 27, 2010 post,

The pursuit of science to enhance human performance raises profound questions for society. Yet, according to a recent study we conducted at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU, knowledge about nanotechnology and human enhancement is extremely low. This suggests the topic might be a good one for science museums to tackle. The full results of our survey will be published soon, but if any of you would like to find out more about the findings or are thinking about developing an exhibit or program around human enhancement, I’d be glad to talk further.

Perhaps the most important finding from the study is that the US public is, overall, quite skeptical regarding the prospect of human enhancement. This might be expected of sports, given the negative press that steroid use has gotten in recent years, but survey respondents also strongly objected to the use of enhancement technologies that would help in getting a job, taking a college entrance exam, or running for public office.

I have posted on this topic most recently here and in a four part series July 22, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009 and  July 27, 2009. Gregor Wolbring at the University of Calgary writes on this issue extensively (from his blog called: Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem…),

Hi everybody, My name is Gregor Wolbring. I am an Ableism ethics and governance scholar, a biochemist, ethicist, governance of science and technology scholar , ability studies and governance scholar, disability studies,health research, implications of Nanotechnology, Converging Technologies, Synthetic Biology scholar. Beside that I am interested in social entrepreneurship, working with youth, social implications, human rights. My webpage is here; My biweekly column at innovationwatch.com is here ; My new blog on Ableism Ethics and Governance; A blog to which I also contribute called What Sorts of People

Andy Miah from the University of the West of Scotland also writes extensively on the topic of human enhancement here. From his About page,

“Andy Miah is the Renaissance man of the enhancement enlightenment”
Kristi Scott, H+ Magazine, 2009

My research is informed by an interest in applied ethics and policy related to emerging technology. I have spent considerable time researching the Internet along with human enhancement technologies. This includes the implications of pervasive wireless connectivity and the convergence of technological systems and the modification of biological matter through nanotechnology and gene transfer. Many of these studies are increasingly transdisciplinary and being characterised as NBIC (nano-bio-info-cognitive) inquiries. Recent work has particularly examined the role of art and design in an era of biotechnology, often described as bioart or transgenic art.

I have published over 100, solo-authored academic articles in refereed journals, books, e-zines, and national media press, recently including Bioethics and Film, Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, and Politics and Leisure. I also write for leading newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, the Times Higher Education Supplement. …

Both Gregor and Andy offer some thought-provoking perspectives for anyone interested in the area of human enhancement.

New media (the social kind) at the Vancouver Olympics, is it cohesive or isolating?

There is a passage in The Diamond Age Or, A Young lady’s Illustrated Primer a 1995 science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson that states this,

Now nanotechnology had made nearly anything possible, and so the cultural role in deciding what should be done with it had become far more important than imagining what could be done with it. One of the insights of the Victorian Revival was that it was not necessarily a good thing for everyone to read a completely different newspaper in the morning; so the higher one rose in the society, the more similar one’s Times became to one’s peers’. (p. 37, Bantam Books, trade paperback, Sept. 2000 reissue)

It’s haunted me since I first read it about three years ago while preparing to write an academic paper I titled Writing Nanotechnology; first investigation where I was linking my nanotechnology interests to my writing and new media interests.

As I followed these interests, I discovered that the period of the Industrial Revolution was, in addition to being a period of tremendous interest and discovery in science and technology, a period of great upheaval amongst purveyors of the written word. For example, Sir Walter Scott, known today as a writer of historical novels such as Ivanhoe, was too embarrassed to have his name published in his first books. At the time, Scott was known foremost as a poet and writing novels was considered beneath a poet’s dignity. From Frankenstein; A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock,

Meanwhile Walter Scott, already revered for poems that sang of his native Scotland was suspected of being the author of Waverley. What a shock if it were true—that a popular poet would descend to write a novel, a new and not altogether respected literary form. (p. 24, 2007, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc, NY & London)

There are some striking parallels between the 19th century, during which much of the Industrial Revolution played itself out and which is also known as the Victorian period, and our own time. We too are obsessed with science and finding new ways to tell stories. Both of which occurred to me during Andy Miah’s session at the Fresh Media Olympics Conference I attended on Feb. 22, 2010 in Vancouver at W2 Culture + Media House.

During the discussion about the impact that social media (part & parcel of what is sometimes called new media) is having on the games and the discussion about the games themselves. I’d estimate 40 – 50 people were there, most of them part of the social media/citizen journalist community and/or academics.

Apparently the Vancouver games are becoming known as the Twitter Olympics. Andy Miah, an academic, who has been following and researching the Olympic games since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia) asked (paraphrased)  if we thought that the social media we use creates ‘silos’. (For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, the word silo in this context means isolated group.  e.g. a business where the engineers exist in their silo and the sales team in their silo with virtually no communication between the two)

I found it to be a thought-provoking question which returned me to the The Diamond Age passage I quoted previously  and that led me to reframe the question this way, Is social media going to be a cohesive force or an isolating force? At this point, I can make a case for both using the information and comments shared at the conference.

Earlier in the conference Andy suggested (paraphrased) that the friction provided by the official games story and the reporters and IOC (International Olympic Committee) structures is useful and necessary for the unofficial games stories and social media as promoted by activists. In this case, social media provides cohesion for the activists and a means of distribution.

Social media can also be isolating. As one participant noted (in another context not meant to support the case I’m building), it is your responsibility to find and develop your networks for information (as opposed to turning on the television or radio at the right time). It seems to me that this responsibility could be a problem when you need to extend past your natural networks.

In real life, extending beyond your personal network can be very difficult. Yes, there are times when it’s easier, i.e., going to a new school, starting a new job, moving to a new place are all situations where this happens naturally or you’re forced to do it. But in the general way once your networks are established there’s not much need to extend past them and it’s not easy to do. Academics tend to know other academics; scientists know other scientists, business owners know other business owners.You may have multiple networks (work, neighbourhood, friends from high school, etc.) but they don’t intersect. These kinds of silos exist in social media too. For example, there’s a Linked In network, a Facebook network, a Twitter network and these all breakdown into every smaller networks within networks. Plus there’s the assumption that you know it exists. How do you connect to network if you don’t know it exists? Or, you suspect there’s something out there but you don’t know how to find it.

Now, I want to add another element to the mix. One of the participants discussed how she uses Twitter and used as an example (as best I can remember) a fire near where she lived. She saw the fire, tweeted the info. and within minutes her followers sent pictures and shared stories about the building that were burning and the people who lived there. The next day, the local paper accorded the incident a single paragraph. What struck me about her story wasn’t difference in what she valued as news as opposed to a traditional outlet valued but rather how individual her experience was and how dependent it was on her network.  Another person with different followers would have had a different news experience and that may or may not be a good thing as suggested in The Diamond Age.

Finally, a comment I registered (but didn’t immediately place in the context of media,  social cohesion and isolation) was made by someone discussing the reasons for why the activist communities in Vancouver have not been more effective at working together (a situation I was unaware of). If the activist groups have not been as effective as they could have been, I wonder whether or not part of the issue (in addition to the suggestions the participant made)  might be the social media used to organize those networks.

I suspect social media  is both cohesive and isolating to a greater degree than the older broadcast media. In some odd way (I am being poetical here), I don’t believe it’s an accident that we are refining our understanding of matter at ever more infinitesimal scales (e.g. micro, nano, femto, and atto scales) and that we seem to be experiencing increasing fragmentation (e.g. tweets are called micro-blogging).

Enough now, I’m off to do some more thinking.

Tomorrow: NSERC gives SFU (Simon Fraser University) some money.

Patenting and copyrighting intellectual property; the role of technical innovation; more on London’s digital cloud

I keep expecting someone to try patenting/copyrighting/trademarking a nanoparticle or some such nanoscale object. If you believe that to be unthinkable, I suggest you read this (from TechDirt’s  Mike Masnick’s news item here),

We’ve seen a few ridiculous cases whereby local governments claim copyright on a law [emphasis mine], but it’s still stunning to see what’s going on in Liberia. Tom sends in the news that no one knows what the law covers in Liberia, because one man, leading a small group of lawyers, claims to hold the copyright on the laws of the country and won’t share them unless people (or, rather, the government of Liberia) is willing to pay. Oh, and did we mention that the US government paid for some of this?

Masnick’s article provides a link to more information in the story, He’s got the law (literally) in his hands, by Jina Moore and Glenna Gordon. While I find the situation extreme what strikes me first in Masnick’s piece is that it’s not unusual. So if people are actually going to try and copyright a law, why not a nanoparticle?

Coincidentally, China and India have made a proposal to eschew intellectual property rights with regard to green/clean technologies prior to the big climate talks during December (2009) in Copenhagen.  From the news item on Nanowerk,

As world leaders prepare for climate talks in Copenhagen next month, developing nations have tabled a controversial proposal which would effectively end patent protection for clean technologies.
China and India have floated the idea of making new green technology subject to ‘compulsory licensing’, which critics say amounts to waiving intellectual property rights.
The idea of adapting or liberalising patent rules for crucial new inventions which can help reduce carbon emissions is not new, but the EU and US are unhappy with compulsory licensing, fearing it would dramatically reduce the incentive for businesses to innovate and stifle green job creation.
Compulsory licensing has to date only been used in emergency situations where patent-protected pharmaceuticals were seen as prohibitively expensive. The Thai government used the mechanism to allow local medicines factories [to] produce HIV drugs at a fraction of the cost.

I’m guessing the reason that this item was posted on Nanowerk is that nanotechnology is often featured as an enabler of cleaner/greener products.

On a related theme, Andrew Maynard has posted his thoughts on the World Economic Forum that he attended last week in Dubai (from his Nov.22.09 posting),

Developing appropriate technology-based solutions to global challenges is only possible if  technology innovation policy is integrated into the decision-making process at the highest levels in government, industry and other relevant organizations.  Without such high-level oversight, there is a tendency to use the technology that’s available, rather than to develop the technology that’s needed.  And as the challenges of living in an over-populated and under-resourced world [emphasis mine] escalate, this will only exacerbate the disconnect between critical challenges and technology-based solutions.

The importance of technology innovation – and emerging technologies in particular – was highlighted by Lord Malloch-Brown in his closing remarks at this year’s Summit on the Global Agenda.  Yet there is still a way to go before technology innovation is integrated into the global agenda dialogue, rather than being tacked on to it

Maynard provides an intriguing insight into some of the international agenda which includes a much broader range of discussion topics that I would have expected from something called an ‘economic’ forum.  You can read more about the World Economic Forum organization and its latest meeting here.

I wasn’t expecting to find out more about London Olympics 2012”s digital cloud proposed project on Andy Miah’s website as I tend to associate him with human enhancement, Olympic sports, post humanism, and nanotechnology topics. I keep forgetting about his media interests. Here’s his latest (Nov.22.09) posting on the Digital Olympics (title of his new book) where he includes images and a video about the architectural project.

ISEA 2009 and bioart (part 1); Nano-Society book

I’m mentioning a bioart panel discussion that I attended at the 2009 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) as a precursor to part 4  of my series on Science Communication in Canada.

The panel discussion, Is the (Art) World Ready for Bioart?, held on Saturday, August 29, 2009 was moderated by Andy Miah and featured  Tagny Duff with Kathy Rae Huffman, Laura Sillars, Kerstin Mey, and Anna Dumitriu.  The panel arose as a consequence of a controversy that erupted after Duff’s art work was accepted for exhibition. Duff had proposed a showing of her work with a modified (dead) HIV/AIDS virus injected into pig tissue and also into human breast tissue with resultant ‘bruising’ marks in the tissue.

First off, the only comment I’m going to make about the art aspect to this project is that it’s highly conceptual and not my kind of thing. There are many people who find these kinds of works (bioart) important and worthwhile.

Duff is a Canadian and an assistant professor in communication studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and has an extensive background in media and studio arts.  About her latest work (from the faculty page at Concordia),

The research-creation project “The Cryobook Archives investigates the strangeness of wet and cryo-suspended bodies in an era when art and science is increasingly turning to computer generated and digitized bodies to extend human knowledge (and life). In particular, the project considers how book form is evolving from the skin of trees (paper) and animals (leather), digital pages via the internet and computation screens, to biotechnological applications and cryogenic tissue banks. The creation of limited edition book/ sculptures series made from human and animal tissue, biological viruses and immunohistochemical staining is the means for thinking through the changing status of bodies in the postbiological era. This project is funded by The Canada Council for The Arts.

I wish Duff had mentioned this description when she spoke at the panel as this helps me to understand her work much better. At the panel, she was focused on the process that occurred after her work was accepted for exhibition. Because the exhibition was being held in Northern Ireland the laws of the United Kingdom came into effect when Duff applied to send her artwork to Belfast for the exhibition.

There is a law/regulation which is unique to the UK. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the dead virus or the tissues that form Duff’s art pieces but a government bureaucrat misapplied a set of rules which pertain to this law/regulation and refused Duff’s art work entry in the UK.

Duff did some detective work and determined that the law/regulation did not apply to her art work and the government official reversed the decision. However, the institution that was hosting the exhibition had some concerns and wanted to exhibit the work in a room that was removed from the other exhibits and (if I remember rightly) would require that a visitor open the door to the exhibit with a key. The artist agreed and then somehow the institution (or perhaps it was the ISEA 2009 organizers?) decided that this particular art work could not be exhibited.

All of this led to the panel discussion where Duff discussed the entire process and the chief ISEA 2009 organizer (Kerstin May) talked about some of the difficulties from her perspective.  ISEA 2009 is organized by various committees and it’s those committees which make the decisions about who will and won’t present and/or exhibit. There are many, many potential exhibitors and conference presenters from around the world making submissions so it’s already quite demanding. The symposium was further complicated by the fact that it took place in Belfast, Londonderry/Derry, Coleraine, Dundalk, and Dublin. I also had the impression that much of this transpired in the last few months (if not weeks) before the conference and anybody who’s organized anything will tell you, you can’t deal with this kind of a problem at what is effectively the last minute.

I found the whole discussion quite illuminating. First, Duff displayed a mindset that I associate with scientists. She presented a logical, well-reasoned case. She’d gotten permission from the patient who donated her breast tissue for the project and the virus she used is a dead virus commonly used by researchers around the world, including the UK. She mentioned that she’s a professor and she noted a couple of papers (along with a list of her co-authors) that will be published soon. All of it identical to behaviour I’d expect from the science mindset I mentioned earlier right down to the fact that Duff did not seem to grasp the nature of the concerns (panic) she had set off.

We (not just scientists) sometimes forget that other people are not us. They have different experiences, reference points, and opinions. I can’t be certain of my insights but I do think the ‘mad cow’ disease in the UK has had a profound effect on how the population there views any number of issues associated with science. As well, the GM food (aka frankenfood) controversies affected European populations in a way that I don’t think Canadians understand very well.

More on this tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Michael Berger of Nanowerk has written Nano-Society – Pushing the boundaries of technology. You can read more about it by clicking the link (Nano-Society). I imagine that the book is an expansion of the articles he’s written on the Nanowerk site. I’ve always found Berger’s writing to be very clear and informative, presumably the book will be the same.