Tag: techno-futures

Quantum Arms Race

A lot has been said and written about the impending unleashing of quantum technology in the world. Whereas many sing paeans to the potential of the technology to better the world, many a soothsayers forebode a much grimmer reality. While the future might sound alien, it evokes, frankly, familiar feelings in the minds of those who imagine. We’ve all witnessed the world transform in front of our eyes in the past century, from this tech revolution to that, from nuclear promises of infinite power to laser-sharp visions of cameras better than the human eye; such is the oxymoronic, remarkable mundaneness of technological progress that the more the world changes, the more it remains the same. One might even be forgiven for feeling a sense of security at the thought of a world run by quantum technology. After all, the great leaps forward have all served us well and promise more. (read more...)

Critical Imagination at the Intersection of STS Pedagogy and Research

*This post was co-authored by Emily York and Shannon Conley*   In 2017, we established the STS Futures Lab—a space to critically interrogate plausible sociotechnical futures and to develop strategies for integrating pedagogy and research. But why a lab, and why a ‘futures’ lab? In a broader societal context in which futures thinking and futures labs are often subsumed within innovation speak, entrepreneurialism, and implicit bias regarding whose futures matter, it might seem counter-intuitive to establish a futures lab as a space for critical pedagogies. And yet, it is precisely because of our concern with the politics and ethics of technological world-making that we are inspired to intervene in this space. A futures lab, as we conceive it, is a space to cultivate capacities for critical and moral imagination that serve to check dominant assumptions about the future. “In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits…. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.” (Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Operating Instructions”)   We believe STS pedagogies are at their best when they are at the same time critical pedagogies—connected to the politics of knowledge production (Freire, 2018), and congruent with education as a ‘practice of freedom’ (hooks 1994, 4). Moreover, STS understandings of the messiness of knowledge production align well with reflexive practices of learning with our students in the classroom. However, to develop critical STS pedagogies that effectively engage our students, we have to start where we are in terms of our particular location and the students with whom we are working. The STS Futures Lab is an example of how critical STS pedagogies can, and perhaps must, emerge as a situated practice. One of the factors that makes STS pedagogies such a rich and varied set of practices is that they are developed and implemented in a wide array of disciplinary, institutional, and geographically diverse spaces, often heavily shaped by these spaces as faculty attempt to make material relevant to their students and aligned with learning objectives. This is to say, the very factors that constrain approaches to implementing critical STS pedagogies also constitute an opportunity. (read more...)

Social Science, Socialist Scientists, and the Future of Utopias

As space colonization becomes a more serious project and an influential utopian imaginary, I am reminded of British scientist and communist JD Bernal’s 1929 warning about “human dimorphism”: Bernal wondered about a future in which “mechanizers” would live an enhanced, technoscientifically-evolved form of life, separated from the “humanizers,” the masses whose physical needs would be equally gratified thanks to scientific advancements—but who would prefer to exist in an atavistic human way, enjoying mundanities such as friendliness, poetry, dancing, drinking, singing, and art. His figure for that version of the good life seems to have been filched from whatever exposure he had to colonial anthropology—he calls it the “idyllic, Melanesian existence.” The mechanizers, on the other hand, would transform themselves biologically and psychologically, moving down a different evolutionary path towards a different destiny—a vision dear to present-day transhumanists, who from early on were among the strongest advocates of space colonization, and have been involved in various aspects of it, through NASA and DARPA as well as a number of smaller, more esoteric organizations. The word transhumanist was, in fact, coined by Bernal’s more famous acquaintance, Julian Huxley—Julian was Aldous’ socialist brother, who had his own visions of a quasi-eugenicist utopia. There are alternative and instructive histories, as well as an important present, buried in these entanglements with utopia, science, and the left. It seems worthwhile to reconsider some of the visions and insights embedded in that history and, possibly, to find a lens that might point a way out of the directionless quagmire we find ourselves in as we try to think beyond the black box of market capitalism. I wonder whether, in our over-determined rejection of utopianism, we have not also thrown out something valuable, or maybe simply useful. In putting forward a “recombinant tale of social and scientific consciousness” (a phrase I steal from Debbora Battaglia), I am especially interested in utopianism and forms of teleology [rationalization based on end-goals], because telos seems to matter, somehow, and I am interested in finding out not so much why it matters, but how it matters in thinking politically and morally. (read more...)