Last year, we kicked off Futurisms with liveblogging from the 2009 Singularity Summit in New York City. This weekend, Ari Schulman will be liveblogging for us again, this time covering the H+ Summit at Harvard. The announced theme of the conference — isn’t “summit” a bit too grandiloquent for such a gathering? — is the “Rise of the Citizen-Scientist.” It’s an odd theme, since (1) most of the subjects that will actually be discussed are very distant from the concerns and interests of ordinary citizens, and (2) the very concept of “citizenship,” that is, of being a member of a nation or polity, is something the transhumanists want to leave far behind. Still, it looks like there will some intriguing talks, so please stay tuned for regular coverage and commentary throughout the weekend.
[UPDATE on Saturday morning: In his remarks kicking off the conference, Alex Lightman, the conference impresario, explains that the theme is supposed to suggest that science is getting easier for laymen to participate in. He divides the world of scientific research into “big science” (like the Manhattan Project, the Apollo Project, or the Large Hadron Collider), “small science” (most university-funded research), and “citizen science.” The latter has nothing to do with citizenship per se, and so he should probably have called it “amateur science” or “science-for-the-masses.” The core idea is that new technologies — both scientific instruments and tools of communication — make it easier for non-university-funded researchers to participate in the enterprise. This is true to an extent, but the examples he gives are pretty weak (Newton, Franklin, and Einstein were hardly John Q. Public enticed by cash prizes and enabled by Facebook; they were exceptional geniuses who transformed the scientific landscape). The picture is more mixed than Mr. Lightman suggests — some realms of research are now, as always, within easy reach of the layman, while the cutting-edge in some realms is becoming ever more expensive and abstruse. At any rate, it remains an odd theme for a conference about transhumanism.]
Indeed, what an extraordinary theme for a conference of transhumanists! Does the awareness of their dependence on others for the realization of their fondest hope trouble the transhumanists? The longing to remake oneself in accord with one's own prayers, to be self-made and thus radically one's own, bespeaks a deep desire for independence. And yet, any conceivable realization of such a wish, clearly requires the work of others. The transhumanist thus wants to feel a part of the grand project, to have done some crucial work in bringing about the realization of their own greatest good, to have thus deserved it.
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