In recent years, the long-term future of humanity has become of particular concern to various governance bodies and scholarly institutions. This is due to the many biological transgressions that have begun to occur through emerging technologies, such as genetic modification, cloning, stem cell research and much more. These transgressions call into question the foundations of social order, thus creating a complex, multifaceted imperative for humanity as a whole to foresee.
During this period, new communities of academic inquiry have emerged, including the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, the Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, the Methuselah Foundation programme, and the Singularity Summit. Their explorations are accompanied by well-funded research programmes, which have investigated such issues as human enhancement and life extension. Equally, there has been remarkable and varied expansion in studies of the links between art and science, some of which investigate the challenges these technologies provoke. Yet the collaborative spaces within which various disciplines can explore future visions of humanity remain sparse and individual disciplinary perspectives have been disempowered by their isolation.
This conference and the accompanying book establishes a new environment of interrogation to inform our understanding of humanity’s future. The authors present work that situates discussions about human futures within the social and political sphere. Moreover, many of their contributions consist of works that extend their expertise to new terrain. This demonstrates the distinctiveness of the contributors and their commitment to speak across disciplines in order to initiate debates among wider publics.
We also connect the design work of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby with the ongoing discussions in bioethics and biolaw about genetic selection and testing. These examples speak to our intention to broaden the range of imaginations that are brought to discussions about the future. Additionally, the artists and designers presented here undertake their work in a time when fundamental parameters of human existence are in question, due to the prospect of commercialized space exploration or the creation of synthetic biological life forms, for instance. Our uncertainty about the merit of such pursuits is mirrored in the work of new media artists and designers, whose explorations with biological matter re-constitute the terms through which our uncertain future is imagined.
The contributions should be seen in the context of the last 20 years of research into public engagement with science, during which time a broad biopolitical commitment towards creating a democratized future has emerged. Human Futures empowers various voices to actively shape conversations about the future – artists, scientists, philosophers, designers, sociologists and science fiction writers. In this sense, it engages with the imperative of inter-disciplinarity and recognizes that various knowledge economies operate around discussions on the future, some of which are more able than others to shape the agenda of social concern. In response, Human Futures re-negotiates this economy.
The futures conceived here are not constructed as wholly utopian or dystopian environments. Their composition resists such polarization – as either technoprogressive or bioconservative – to allow the playful exploration of other possibilities. Moreover, the version of humanity’s future they present is constituted by the dual processes of the mundane integration of technology within society and the omnipresence of radical transgressions that are implied by these interactions. As such, this volume re-tells future scenarios, connecting the inquiries of artistic and design endeavours with various textual forms. The impossibility of arriving at the future, and our perpetual uncertainty over the present, governs these various contributions.
At the forefront of our concerns – and FACT’s Human Futures programme more broadly – has been the aim to reconcile the role of artists and designers in dealing with the social and political challenges that are an integral part of these collective imaginations, but also to interrogate the concept of the artist. A central part of this analysis questions what we understand by authorship, either as an individual or collective act, where each presumes a certain level of attributive responsibility and culpability.
The age of uncertainty portrayed within our subtitle articulates the moral, political and social uncertainty that surrounds the development of science and technology. It acknowledges that discussions about radical transhuman enhancements will take place alongside conversations about how to improve the conditions of fundamental human needs; the management of pain, mobility in later life, and so on. This duality is central to our Human Futures and it governs the focus of this conference.