So Dutch students ages 16-17 went to the Brave New World Conference at Naturalis Museum in the city of Leiden. Here you will find their reports of Conference Day 1 and Day 2.
“Most of the observable crowd seemed to be in their 30s or late 20s, leaving us as the odd ones out.
Conference was opened by a man named Jim Stolze, who decided that the taxidermied dog on stage needed a name, which would be decided by a few of the speakers.
Then, he used an internet-connected survey to gauge the audience’s perspective on the future, which looked to be cautiously optimistic, though the majority believed that humanity would go extinct through climate change.
The first question of this survey was a simple ‘are you connected?’ on which he commented “If you’re confused or just f#cking with the system, answer ‘I don’t know’.
Future of Species: Peter Paul Verbeek
I completely forgot. None of my notes are clear enough.
Human Chimeras: Jeroen Gouman
This lecture mostly focused on the use of chimeras for medicinal purposes.
When we speak of chimeras in this instance, we talk about animals that are capable of growing human organs, rather than the humans with animal parts often shown in fiction when discussing this topic.
Chimeras as animals would be useful for creating an easier organ transplantation system, in which organs can be grown at a quicker pace without actually harming human lives. Pigs were used as an example animal, with the human-pig chimeras being dubbed “Oinkubators”.
These creatures are achieved through a process known as Interspecies Blastocyst Complementation, where an animal is grown with human DNA, by injecting the animal Embryo with human Pluripotent Stem Cells. Then, certain genomes are knocked out to get rid of certain organs, which can be replaced with the stem cells of a specific human, which will then take the place of it.
“The dog says bark. The cow says moo. The pig says oink. But what does the human-pig chimera say?”
If the human-pig chimera says “End me” we have a serious problem.
It was questioned at which point this practice would no longer be ethical, if it’s even ethical in the first place. What kind of rights do these beings, who are essentially part human, have? I myself concluded that once such a being is created for the purpose of growing a human brain, it is unethical.
It is debatable what kind of rights a chimera would have, as it’s not sure what species it belongs to. Most of the time, we decide animal rights by their cognitive power, which is why we often prefer smarter animals, and why humans have so many rights.
“Would it be worse to be Socrates dissatisfied than to be a human pig treated like a pig?”
Organoids – Sarah Boers
This one was partially a discussion, not just a lecture. The audience, including myself, got to ask questions.
Dr. Boers explained organoids as immortal pieces of tissue, that can be used for transplants. While currently, this is already used to create miniature organs for medicine test, to expand it into the transplant ‘business’ is a set goal.
One of the questions asked by Boers during this session was whether these creations are objects, humans, or neither. Unless they create a functioning brain, I firmly believe that these are objects, as that’s what organs are. To be a human, you need more than just an organ, as was stated by Verbeek a few lectures back.
While I will admit that the other questions slip my mind, I do remember my own question, concerning the ethics of brain organoids. The reply was fairly expected on my part, as she said that it was a very sensitive case, which I’ll agree on since it would also be based on the brain’s capability of thought.
One thing I had not been able to ask, since I only recently thought of it: There have been cases where organ transplants caused noticeable changes in personality, even for organs such as the lungs or livers, which has been dubbed cellular memory. I am rather curious whether something similar could be done through organoids, and if such a thing could be abused.
Transhumanism – Ella Sotiriadis
“What does it mean if biology is the new digital?”
This lecture started of with an explanation of biohacking, mentions of literature that portray this in an interesting way (Michael Chrichton – The Andromeda Strain) and the possible commercialization of this idea, mentioning a price of about 1000 dollars for a human genome sequencing.
Then, the lecture continued into what I will call a second part, ‘Science-Fiction becomes reality.’ It’s somewhat notable that I have heard this phrase or something similar at least 6 times during the course of this conference.
“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
There was mention of various interesting combinations of technology and nature, showing mushroom lamps that could be grown with spores as the memorable example.
A problem with the advancement of technology is that we think linearly, while technology grows exponentially, making it difficult for us to properly utilize the tools we have.
Then, it moved into a third portion, called ‘Dystopia vs Utopia’, which is a rather fitting question when it comes to access to human genetic code.
Genetic alteration could be used to get rid of things like fat, while it could at the same time be used by the government to keep more track of things like fat, with a smart fridge having such data on you and not allowing you to eat.
There was the question of Designer Babies vs. More simple genetic hacking to get out genetic diseases. Somewhere in the crowd, a person that was totally not me muttered the words ‘Gucci Babies.’
“You like my diamond ring? It’s my grandma!”
Can’t quite remember why this was included again, but I found it a humorous quote. It was mostly about the processing of the dead, which didn’t seem quite fitting. Perhaps I tuned something out.
There was discussion of an A.I. Helper implanted into the brain, capable of manipulating it in parts. It would be able to temporarily mute certain parts of the brain where it sought necessary. But, since this A.I. would have to be sentient to understand all of these situations, it would be self-learning and thus eventually be able to reach drastic actions, such as deleting parts of the personality out of a ‘kindness’, not understanding why human should have to deal with it.
Human Evolution Has Stopped – Hanneke Schuitemaker
Not enough viable notes, wait on the rest.
Reprodutiopia – Joyce Nabuurs
Joyce Nabuurs mainly talked about the idea of an artificial womb, which would also be discussed in the following lecture. She listed Tarnier’s Incubator as an early example, as well as modern-day incubators, but was more interested in one that would replace the entire pregnancy process.
Childbirth and its methods could be finely manipulated. She mentioned a woman who was interested in giving birth to a dolphin, and the fact that this could be possible.
Along with this discussion, she showed a graph. On the x-axis, one could see the distinction between ‘born’ and ‘made’, while the distinction between ‘beyond control’ and ‘controlled’ was shown on the Y-axis. The extremes for ‘born’ were the Weather (beyond control) and bananas (controlled), while the extremes for ‘made’ were the Internet (beyond control) and the Phone (controlled). While the concept for birth was, at the moment, close to the middle, it was implied that through the various methods of artificial wombs and altered childbirth, pregnancy as a whole could be controlled. Through genetic manipulation, it would even be possible to create babies for same-sex couples, which could be birthed either in a person or through ectogenesis, a process mentioned here but also elaborated upon in the following lecture.
Babies in Bubbles – Dr. Lily Frank
A distinction was made between hard and soft impacts of tech, though for this lecture, we will only need to describe one:
Soft Impacts of technology are qualitative, unpredictable, and morally ambiguous effects that technological advancements have on this world.
Technology is shaped by values and norms, but also shapes values and norms. This is why the idea of ectogenesis, out-of-body pregnancy, would have a significant effect on how we think. Ectogenesis was imagined as ‘Babies in Bubbles’ connected to life support systems.
It could be possible that we create a sort of “moral obligation” to comply with such an idea, that women ‘need to’ make use of ectogenesis. Many maternal choices would suddenly have moralization attached to them.
Because the fetus would no longer be reliant on its mother, the say the parents have over this fetus becomes 50/50 when dealing with things such as abortion, causing the position of the mother and father within a family to slightly shift. It is always said that biological mothers share an unreplicable bond with their child because it grows within them. This concept will also be shifted as these ectogenesis devices evolve and a fetus can grow up in a bubble next to your bed. While this bond can still exist, fathers will also be able to have it and the bond in general might be lessened due to the fact that there is less contact between fetus and parent, since the ectogenesis device could be left at home.
Maternal leave would absolutely be wrecked, which is a bit of a bummer.
The views on abortion would also begin to differ. A common argument of abortion is that, even under the assumption that the fetus has a right to life, a woman would still have the right to get an abortion because the right to life does not guarantee that one can use another person’s body to sustain one’s life, against that other person’s will. When transferring a fetus to an ectogenesis device becomes possible, this argument falls by the wayside and would make it more difficult for a woman who doesn’t want a child to have the right to secure fetus death. I hope that by then, the pro-choice movement has already advanced far enough to get rid of this idea.
Challenging Medical Paradigms with Art – Kuang-Yi Ku
Kuang-Yi Ku, using his degrees in dentistry, social design and communication design, constructed futuristic apparati and buildings that he would imagine in the future, all with a focus on the concept of sexuality.
The first portion of his presentation went towards the explanations of the various functions the mouth has: Aesthetics, Eating and Speaking. He has a degree in dentistry made a lot of sense here, but it was swiftly afterwards that he added his own, fourth function to this, with the words:
“The function of “Sex” of oral cavity has never been mentioned in textbooks.”
This part of the presentation went on to explore the idea of technological advancements geared specifically towards sexual interaction, including a short showcase of his ‘Fellatio Modification Project’, which have received multiple international awards. The ideas ranged from click-on objects to genetical and plastic alterations, which I will dub the tongue piercing of the plastic surgery era.
A few of these were showcased with scientific drawings, while the physical alterations were displayed through pornography. While most of the latter flashed by in the span of 2-3 seconds, I did catch on to the fact that not all of those looked like they were involved with the aforementioned project.
Then, the lecture went on towards simpler topics: the sexuality of animals, particularly dogs and dolphins. He showed a large blueprint for a dog’s love hotel, including various ideas such as dog spray-on condoms. While it is harder to describe the whole concept in words, I found this one quite creative and well-constructed.
Then, he drifted away from his main topic slightly by talking about recreational centers for dolphins, though that did eventually loop back into it. The recreational center would have pufferfish so dolphins could get high, as well as various places where they could relieve sexual tension, including a place where visitors could help. I consider this less wise.
A notable quote was “How do we know if dolphins are experiencing sexual abuse?” I would not know, but it’s a thing worth thinking on.
This presentation was the strangest out of all of them, but it was definitely memorable.