VALID: Value in Design

Natasha Vita-More

The New Human - Primo (3M+ = human - transhuman - posthuman)

Engineering the new human will occur, but not in one fell swoop. The new human, Primo," will occur sequentially by replacing the human body bit by bit with generated parts. Despite the fact that "Primo" is a huge undertaking, the sequential process is already taking place. From electronic prosthetics and cochlear implants to neurological pharmaceuticals, we are realizing the full potential of the human form, its skeletal system and the brain, with innovative technologies that will reduce the vulnerability of our body and mental processes.

If we consider the possibility that every human is disabled in some way, the gap between disabled and healthy is narrowed. While one person may have a physical disability such as deafness, blindness, and immobility, another person may have mental or emotion disabilities such as memory loss, intellectual shortcomings, or phobias. Even being overweight is considered a handicap. Disease has no favorites and eventually every human will succumb to one of its maladies. Overcoming human diseases, as many and as varied as they are, enables all humanity.

In this paper I will address the new human as a specific genre in the editing and redaction of the human body. Who will design the new human body, and what social issues will affect the design process? What is natural and how far is too far when augmenting our bodies with smart technologies? Will there be major ideological shifts accumulating in an elite social class? To answer these and other questions, I will use the prototype "Primo" to describe the evolving science and the tools available in extending human lifespan. Our emotions, the guidepost for our human evolution, will undergo successive upgrades for interactive sensory experiences. Herein, it is imperative to address the role of artists and designers in challenging conventional assumptions which may inhibit and restrict futuristic philosophical views and technical innovations.

Recent technological applications such as nanomedicine and nano neurons, AI systems to assist the brain's processing power, and enhanced sense controllers are on the drawing board. Engineering programmable blood, respiratory and digestive systems, and building a human-like frame comprised of nanobots, are just a few possibilities. Finally, there is little reason for engineering the new human without emphasizing positive values which may be the key to alleviating apprehensive reactions to radical designs.

The multidisciplinary methods, such as conceptual art, biological architecture, virtual design, engineering, robotics, science, and biotechnology, will come into play. The fundamental design patterns for the full contour of the new body will become a resounding public issue. The public wants to be involved in the arts and will certainly want to be involved in the shape of their own future. Even today, the public viewing

of such art forms as painting, sculpture, symphony or dance can affect the prosperity of the artist. Consider the effect on society when it is the artist designing the look of the new human! This new art medium, the human body, will not be the sole design problem or creative resolve of the artist. The new human body will be looked at as every person's design challenge. The mounting public sentiment and rising conflicts of ethical views must be addressed by the artistic conceptualizes and designers of the new human body.

The design community, comprised of fine artists with technological prowess and technicians with an aesthetic sensibility may face head-on collision with sub-cultures that foresee sweeping alterations to the human psychology. For example, extropian transhumanist who are known for encouraging improvement of the human condition and overcoming the disease of death may press designers to push further than what social standards can accept. We see instances of this happening today. Individuals such as actor Christopher Reeves who is pushing for the research and experimentation of stem cells which will be used to repair nerve cell damage in the spinal column. Leon Kass, (President's Bioethics Council), and religious fundamentalists opposing Reeves's ethical values based on their own moral standards.

While the most radical concept to propose to society is extending life and redesigning the human form, simply adding new gadgetry to our bodies will not make us modern or evolved. As we grow more chameleon-like and change our characteristics and the characteristics of our environments, we will still have to learn about life from our own experiences. The enhancing and augmenting of the body and the senses has been and will be the leading edge of collaborative innovations in both the arts and the sciences and will produce a definitive shift in culture. Although the ethical ramifications of viewing the human body as a design piece will affect social networks whose imprinting deems the human as perfect and hold human limitations as a given, by and large humans want to be healthy and enjoy life.

In summary, it is precipitous for artists to continually question the status quo. Should we listen to biological conservatives such as Leon Kass? Listen, yes, but also challenge with more adventurous, visionary thinking. Should we shy away from augmenting physical, emotional, and intellectual qualities on the grounds that some will have more than others? Primo embodies values that instead urge us to help the less fortunate also become artists-of-the-self rather than holding everyone else down.

Regardless, the overriding social assumption is that human limitations are natural. We see biotechnologies such as genetic engineering or stem cell therapies accepted and promoted by one segment of society, and opposed to as immoral by another segment of society. These tensions could affect the innovations of designers who are at the mercy of what can and will be marketable. Strong opposition and ethical concerns will cross over cultural lines from generation to generation passing on the baton of prejudice. However, the new human body and its enormous advantages to humanity can surmount the major ideological issues that will inevitably occur.