On a balmy spring evening in San Francisco Arc Fusion launched its first ever gathering in a warehouse turned theater with 70 guests seated at an X-shaped table – an idea conceived of by dinner producer Michael Hebb. He was helped with the dinner by Bobby Chang and Yrmis Barroeta. We discussed the emergence of technologies to treat and repair injured and sick people that may one day allow healthy humans to become enhanced. Before the dinner we asked everyone to vote on how far they personally would go to enhance themselves. Guests were seated according to how they voted. See below for the results.
SF Arc Fusion Dinner, 2014
Theme: INNOVATION: Should we build a better human?"
6:30 pm Reception: Z Space Atrium
Dana Loeng, Cello
“Lifeforms”, Videos by Stanza
7:30 pm Dinner: Z Space Main Stage
Welcome from David Ewing Duncan, Stephen Petranek, Seema Kumar
About the Meal: Michael Hebb, Bobby Chang, Yrmis Barroeta
Arc Fusion Talks: Matthew Holt, Michael Weiner, Jessica Richman
Dana Loeng, Cello
8:30 pm Discussion: “Should we build a better human?”
Juan Enriquez, Eric Schadt
David Ewing Duncan, Moderator
Table Discussion: Participation by Everyone
9:30 pm Whisky Around the (virtual) Fireplace
Check out the complete program here.
After hearing our Arc Fusion Talks, and listening to Juan Enriquez and Eric Schadt discuss bio-enhancement, David Ewing Duncan hosted a discussion with everyone sitting at our X-shaped table who wanted to participate. We had a lively conversation about why or why not people would want to enhance themselves, and ultimately what this meant in terms of wanting to extend a healthy lifespan. Below are excerpts from this conversation.
"There’s an element of self-engineering that we’re implying with these questions. The broader question for me is about should we engineer each other to create a better society?” - Christine Mason, Nowlabs
"I think it’s a good question but on 2 levels. Could we build better humans? Does that mean we build ourselves as better humans, we build our children as better humans, or that we are enhancing our societies, our governments, our collective? Those are two different questions. Framing effects are really important on how you ask questions."
"I think the question should be, ‘Are there good reasons to prevent people from building better children, or from building better people?’ That’s the collective question. That I think is the right way to frame it. Not, ‘Should we, as a whole, do it?’ But: ‘Should we prevent what we want to try?’ And there are some reasons we might, but you look at it that way and I think it looks different." - Kevin Kelly, Long Now
"If I couldn’t drink beer and eat chocolate I wouldn’t do it. If I could keep those sensations back into me I’d do it." "Can I ask a question? If you are going to download yourself into a supercomputer and make yourself basically immortal, is it just your mind or is it some aspect of your sensations that also come with you? That was the bit that would stop me.” - Matthew Holt, Health 2.0
"People always ask me how I get so much done, and I always answer, ‘ Because I’ve had so much time in every second.’ So if we could think about that, and enjoy, and learn how to enjoy today, these thoughts about immortality tend to go away." - Kevin Stone, MD, orthopedic surgeon
"I’ll preface this by saying that I’m the daughter of scientists, but I chose 1 [Answer 1 to the evening’s question: how far would you go to enhance yourself?”] because I think that if anything is possible, then nothing is prejudice. Also, I want to mention the importance of this discussion to poetry, which is grown out of mortality, suffering. When you read a dystopian novel, so much of that comes from life’s imperfections. I’m all for cures, but I think that there is something really beautiful in not being able to have exactly what you want when you want it." - Tamsin Smith
“My fear would be that we don’t really have a really good idea of what to optimize. We pick a few dimensions that we think are super important now, nd we’re going to take ourselves down that trajectory. We’re going to narrow [evolutionary] variation down to something that has no wobble, that doesn’t allow us to select as things are changing. We’ll extinct ourselves because we say things like beauty and intelligence are what we want to select for, but is intelligence really the right thing to select for? Look what intelligence has done for us so far. We build more machines to pollute the environment, we create higher population densities because we can grow food per square acre at higher densities. So it’s, so it’s not clear to me that that’s the right thing to be optimizing.” - Eric Schadt, Mt. Sinai
"We already have people going for plastic surgery, it’s medically acceptable. This is enhancement right now, right? But here’s the funny thing - people tend to want to look the same. It’s not creating creating greater diversity. People tend to want the same nose, the same cheeks, the same butt. So when lots of people have the choice and the wherewithal to be able to pay for enhancement and the technology is available, people don’t want to look different, they don’t want to try something new." - David Ewing Duncan, Arc Fusion
"I’m curious as to what the motivation is of certain elites that want to go for full enhancement. To paraphrase Davy Jones, ‘Do you fear death?’ Is that what’s going on? Or is it more of the line that: ‘Hey, I’m really enjoying this life; I think that I can continue to contribute.'"
"So if you turn it around and say that: ‘No, death is not inevitable, it’s really not;' if you postulate that, then it actually really sink in. And if you’re really willing to take that chance. Right? It all becomes this trade off where you don’t get to the perfect technology on day one. I mean, the answer [to the evening’s question: how far would you go?"] is I think all of the above. You’ll have bionic stuff, and you’ll have AI helping augment your cognition, and many other things happening over time in a progression towards a goal. So the interesting question for me to invest in technology that’s in in the intermediate path, right?" - Barney Pell, Moon Express
"I want you to think about the two positions we’re hearing tonight in the context of a postcard and a poet. So for those who voted number 1 [who don’t want radical enhancement] the postcard that’s sitting out there is a postcard with a picture of a smiling Buddha that says, ‘Enjoy this life, it might be your last.’ For those of you who voted number 5 [who want to rid themselves of their frail human body and download themselves in to a machine], I want you to think about Jorge Luis Borges, one of the greatest poets, who was being threatened by the [Peronist] junta in Argentina and they said basically, ‘We’re going to torture you and kill you.’ And he smiled and said, ‘If you really want to scare me, don’t threaten me with death, threaten me with immortality.’ That’s a very different proposal, very different consequences." - Juan Enriquez, Excel Ventures
"I think that’s beautifully said because there’s no patient that comes to me and asks me to rebuild their knees so they can live forever. They ask me to rebuild their knees so they can play well today. So if you spent all your effort, all this straight thought, on how to live well today, rather than focusing on immortality, you would have such an eternally wonderful life so that by the time you drop dead at 100, playing some sport, you will have been exhausted. So I would encourage you to think about how to take these wonderful resources and thoughts, and to think like Buddha. This may be your last life and if we could all be better about controlling every second, every moment." - Kevin Stone, MD, orthopedic surgeon
*Arc Fusion regrets that the video of Dr. Weiner’s talk is unavailable due to technical reasons.