Supernature

One last word about CES and then we'll move on. Here's a controversial statement: 2016 may have been
Changeist
Supernature
By Changeist • Issue #9
One last word about CES and then we’ll move on. Here’s a controversial statement: 2016 may have been the first year human augmentation technologies featured at CES. 
No, switch that around. 
2016 was probably the first year existing technologies were pitched under the banner of human augmentation at CES. Among probably a handful of companies flogging their wares as augmentative, exoskeleton company Ekso waved the supernature banner in Las Vegas, according to the Guardian. We’re at that point (hell, there are even research reports sizing the market for human augmentation now. Strap into the hype cycle, it’s going to be a bumpy ride). 
The discourse of human extension has truly reached the dinner table, pounded into the average person’s consciousness by mainstream supermarket checkout journalists looking for a gee-golly angle, and waves of extended cable TV shows talking up bat-like hearing, bionic legs, life extension and on and on.  
Having barely had time to peruse an IoT catalog, consumers are being asked to grapple with the feasibility, the desirability, and in some cases, the morality of adding to their original nature (not realizing they started sliding down that slope years ago with their first cup of coffee, first pair of trainers, or first paper address book). But here it is. Everything else is possible. Technology is abundance. Why not this? 
At the end of 2015, we poked at this topic in an interview with Paul Graham Raven and Lydia Nicholas, hoping to get past the fandom aspect and at least give voice to more critical viewpoints. This past week I had the pleasure of spending time with dozens of other critical works looking at human augmentation at Human+, a new exhibition at CCCB in Barcelona. Along with friend and colleague Fabien Girardin, I spent an hour or so taking in the impressive range of works probing many corners of what makes us human, where that humanity begins, and where we think the outer boundaries of what defines us as human may lie. 
But we aren’t all that is being questioned. The nature of nature itself is increasingly being challenged, and not only as a parlor game for ethicists, but as a business model canvas for an emerging landscape of companies seeking to “disrupt” the inefficiencies of nature, leapfrog Mother Nature’s design imperfections, poor resource management or time-to-market failures, and establish new norms of, well, normality. Biotech companies, “food” engineers, AI specialists…the list is growing longer. 
So, with Human+ as inspiration, I thought I’d take this week to point to some questions about emergent supernature. If Barcelona is on your travel schedule before the end of April, I encourage you to visit the show.
Oh yeah, this week’s newsletter is in full color! 

As a sidenote, one of my favorite parts of Human+ was not a new piece of robotics, but the painting shown here, The Flight of Icarus (1636), by Dutch artist Jacob Peter Gowy. One of the first pieces in the show, this depiction of the myth of Icarus, the ambitious youth who’s wax-secured wings melted as he flew too close to the sun, reminds us these techno-ethical questions are not new.
What We've Been Up To
Working, working… More to share soon. Also starting to shape upcoming talks and workshops. London and Amsterdam off and on the next month or so.
Supernature
Having just come back from Humans+, I stumbled into this conversation with Stephanie Rieger about the very same topic. It reminded me of the aforementioned historical aspect of the debate around human augmentation, which has probably raged since the first tools emerged. We debate less about the religious or spiritual aspects of human augmentation today, but that debate was certainly a feature of the middle ages and Renaissance… 
…which led me to this interesting work looking at vision enhancement in Renaissance art. The section highlighted here looks at the mockery and derision that surrounded the early introduction of this new technology, including depicting it as a tool of the devil (per the Eco reference above), a means of accessing pointless knowledge. Apparently the Renaissance had its own Scobles in the shower with Glass.
Beef! Magazine, encountered at Barcelona’s El Prat airport. 
I have a deep interest in the redefinition of nature as it pertains to food. This piece from the New Inquiry usefully lays out some of the more salient critical points around the newest food/tech nexus. Having done qualitative research into the social and commercial culture of meat consumption, one of the things I learned quite clearly was how complex and multifaceted our social relationship is to meat, as one example. Not just as a foodstuff or product, but as quite complicated social currency. 
“THE in vitro meat startup relies upon a dual discourse: it must portray itself as “natural,” while also calling upon a cybernetic logic of transcendence,” writes author Sam Smith, but this point applies to much of what the supernature industry offers us: tools, products and capabilities that are at once nature’s next step (as taken by us) and the epitome of synthetic achievement. 
As if on cue, Soylent presents us with a Grade A example of the subtle push to reframe what nature is, quietly depositing its biodegradable bottles in our new cybernetic meadows. After all, who has time for the social conventions of eating when you’re busy coding the newest communication platform?
This piece from WIRED subtly questions going against the nature of the fully mechanized supply chain to mass distribute clean, non-modified food. You could interpret this article several different ways, but the weak rhetorical signal feels like it’s there.
Don’t just wear Capitalism 2.0 on your outside, invite it to coat your innards. Long the fetish of nanotech futurophiles, Intel Inside will soon be more than just a sticker on a laptop.
This piece comes via Jay Owens. While we’re at molecular level, why not go full pre-conception and augment our little swimmy friends? 
The Network
Compatriot Wesley Goatley has produced this new project in response to temporarily losing something quite valuable to him in his work as a critical sound artist: stereo hearing. I highly recommend taking a tour through Wes’s recent work
Re-produce
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