Category: Essays

Next Nature

Letter to Humanity

The Letter to Humanity is addressed to all 7 billion people on Earth and available in twenty-five languages. It encourages a new perspective on the role of humanity on Earth. The letter urges humans not to be slaves or victims of technology, but to use technology to enhance humanity.

Dear Humanity,

It feels strange writing you a letter, I admit. Letters are generally addressed to an individual or a limited group of people. It’s unusual to write to humanity as a whole. You don’t even have a postal address, and I doubt you get much correspondence. Still, I thought it was time I wrote.

Obviously, I realise I can’t possibly reach you completely – if only because humanity not only consists of every person who’s alive right now but also of everyone who’s ever lived. That’s an estimated 107 billion people. And then there are all the others who haven’t been born yet – hopefully there will be a great many of them. I’ll return to that later, but before we talk about the future, I’d like to look back.

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Meat the Future

But Will Lab-Grown Meat Be Kosher?

Jews, at least some Jews, have been asking if artificial flesh is kosher for a very long time. You can even find debates on the subject in the Talmud, depending on how you define “flesh” and “artificial.” In the Tractate Sanhedrin (65b), two Rabbis, Chanina and Oshaia, spend every Sabbath evening studying the Kabbalistic Book of Creation (Sefer Yetzirah). They use its teachings to create a calf, which they then eat, evidently without slaughtering it according to kosher law, or kashrut. Interpreters of the Tractate debated whether kashrut had been violated, a questionable point given the special genesis of the animal in question.

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Read Nicholas Carr's essay on the transhumanist dream of having wings.
Augmented Bodies

I Want Wings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I. Angels and Superheroes

In 2008, Samuel O. Poore, a plastic surgeon who teaches at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school, published an article in the Journal of Hand Surgery titled “The Morphological Basis of the Arm-to-Wing Transition.” Drawing on evolutionary and anatomical evidence, he laid out a workable method for using the techniques of modern reconstructive surgery, including bone fusing and skin and muscle grafting, to “fabricate human wings from human arms.” Although the wings, in the doctor’s estimation, would not be capable of generating the lift needed to get a person off the ground, they might nonetheless serve “as cosmetic features simulating, for example, the nonfunctional wings of flightless birds.”

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Silk Pavilion
Wild Systems

The Enlightenment Is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement

We humans are changing. We have become so intertwined with what we have created that we are no longer separate from it. We have outgrown the distinction between the natural and the artificial. We are what we make. We are our thoughts, whether they are created by our neurons, by our electronically augmented minds, by our technologically mediated social interactions, or by our machines themselves. We are our bodies, whether they are born in womb or test tube, our genes inherited or designed, organs augmented, repaired, transplanted, or manufactured.

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Wild Systems

The Biosphere Code Manifesto

As a result of a discussions that took place during the event The Biosphere Code in Stockholm on 4th October 2015, Stockholm University researcher Victor Galaz and colleagues outlined a manifesto for algorithms in the environment.

The precepts for an in-progress Biosphere Code Manifesto are a recommendation for using algorithms borne out of growing awareness that they so deeply permeate our technology “they consistently and subtly shape human behavior and our influence on the world’s landscapes, oceans, air, and ecosystems” as The Guardian wrote in an extensive article.

We are just starting to understand the effects that algorithms have on our lives. But their environmental impact may be even greater, demanding public scrutiny. Here the Biosphere Code Manifesto v1.0, with its seven principles.

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Intimate Technology

Intimate Technology: the Battle for Our Body and Behaviour

Technology is nestling itself within us and between us, has knowledge about us and can act just like us. Think of brain implants, artificial balancing organs and bio-cultured heart valves. Technology therefore becomes a part of our bodies and our identities. It places itself between us on a large scale; we use social media to show ourselves to the outside world and to communicate with each other.

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In Vitro Meat Cookbook
Meat the Future

The Carnery – A Cultured Future with In Vitro Meat

Imagine London 2025. The first in vitro carnery ‘Counter Culture’ opens its doors. The restored 1970s-era English brewpub boasts an expansive bar of reclaimed mahogany and booths upholstered with magnificent in vitro leather. Steaks are grown to precision inside giant steel vats, decorated (functionally) with illuminated green algae tanks. A disorienting mingling of global spices flavor varieties of exotic and heritage meats like boar and Berkshire, all of which are cultured on site. The large charcuterie board, consisting of mushroom-media duck foie gras, coriander mortadella and crispy lobes of sweetbread pairs perfectly with a shortlist of probiotic cocktails (try the rum and kombucha).

In vitro meat has the capacity to transform meat production as we know it, not only offering new and diverse types of product but also introducing an entirely new way of thinking about and interacting with food. One day, growing meat may seem as natural as making cheese or beer.

By ISHA DATAR and ROBERT BOLTON – From The In Vitro Meat Cookbook

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In Vitro Meat Cookbook
Meat the Future

In Vitro Meat: Animal Liberation?

Perhaps the most uplifting promise of in vitro meat is that it will be good for animals. Animal cells are needed to make it, but only in small amounts, and if algae can be used to feed these cells, no animals need to suffer for this meat. In 2008, the animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) offered one million dollars to whoever could develop marketable in vitro chicken by 2012 (1).As that deadline proved to be too tight, PETA used the money to subsidize in vitro meat research. Many other people, too, welcome in vitro meat primarily because of what it may mean for animals. Even though they often find the idea strange and perhaps even a bit uncanny, the promise for animals is widely felt as a source of hope.

By COR VAN DER WEELE and CLEMENS DRIESSEN – From The In Vitro Meat Cookbook

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In Vitro Meat
Meat the Future

Growing the Future of Meat

Biology grows. In petri dishes or bodies, cells grow and multiply, self-regulating and self-repairing. By taking advantage of the power of biological growth, a single stem cell can theoretically be nurtured to grow indefinitely. Outside of the limits imposed by the edges of an animal’s body, the cells can reproduce and multiply until they exhaust the nutrients and space provided, filling petri dishes and vats to grow the future of meat.

By CHRISTINA AGAPAKIS – From The In Vitro Meat Cookbook

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Anthropocene

The Anthropocene Explosion

Biologically, there is nothing remarkable in the fact that humans are agents of ecological change and environmental upset. All species transform their surroundings. The dizzying complexity of landscapes on Earth is not just a happy accident of geology and climate, but the result of billions of years of organisms grazing, excavating, defecating, and decomposing. Nor is it unusual that certain lucky species are able to outcompete and eventually entirely displace other species. The Great American Interchange, when North American fauna crossed the newly formed isthmus of Panama to conquer South America three million years ago1 is just one among countless examples of swift, large-scale extinctions resulting from competition and predation.

What is remarkable, however, is the stunning speed of human adaptation relative to other species, and that our adaptation is self-directed. From sonar and flight to disease immunity, humans can “evolve” exquisite new traits in a single generation. The Anthropocene represents a catastrophic mismatch between the pace of human technological evolution and the genetic evolution of nearly every other species on Earth. As with many other geological epochs, the Anthropocene has been heralded with a mass extinction, one which is generally accepted to be the sixth great one to occur on Earth.2

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