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What does it mean to be human today?

October 5th, 2015 1 Comment

What does it mean to be human today? From conception to death (and beyond), people’s lives are mediated and shaped by our tools and technologies. There are many advancements that, depending on your beliefs, are utterly frightening or totally exciting, but the most massive changes are happening subtly, in the everyday. From the moment your alarm wakes you in the morning (which is most likely also your mobile phone), personalized, social and ambient technologies are an integral part of our everyday lives, many of which were unimaginable 10-20 years ago. You proceed to check emails and social media. The technological revolution is embedded in our everyday lived experience, and deserves reflection. But there is no time. Another friend request. Another poke, like, comment, prod. Multi-tasking, tele-communicating, upgrades and uploads, surfing, trolling, meme making, soylent eating, adaptation. evolution. revolution.

Being a human in 2015 is radically different to being a human in 1915, 1815 or the 15th century. Can you imagine what time will feel like in a future with insistent requests to upgrade software and hardware, not on your computer, but in your body? With radical life extension, will we have all the time in the world, or will there just be new expectations on how time is spent? HUMAN+: The Future of Our Species is an exhibition that explores potential future trajectories of humankind by considering the implications of both historical and emerging technologies. How do new technologies redefine human culture, and what novel ethical questions do they raise? What are the futures we expect and desire? What will it feel like to be a human 100 years from now?

In asking all of these questions, four overarching themes have been developed to create a framework for this exhibition: Augmented Abilities, Encountering Others, Authoring Environments and Life at the Edges. Each theme is represented by artworks, historical artifacts, videos, scientific research and commercial products, with the intention of showing the complex, messy, and sometimes contradictory perspectives that these topics can evoke.

Yves Gellie. Human version

The ‘plus’ symbol in Human+ implies a positive direction for the future of our species. But what is that direction? For the majority of the 20th Century progress has been measured by speed and efficiency–faster, better, stronger–but the side effects have been fatter, sadder and exhausted. Perhaps the narrative of progress should be soft, slow and simple or happier and healthier. Our definition of success needs to be recalibrated. What are we striving for? What is our ideal?

Many of the works in this exhibition present technology as something that can improve or enhance our lives, but just as many present unexpected uses of technologies and unevenly distributed futures. One powerful counter narrative to a future of human+ is a future of zero humans. The massive capabilities and rapid advancements of military technologies combined with political instability and resource depletion force us to consider a future where humankind is destroyed by its own inventions. So which potential futures should we focus on? Human+ is not a blind celebration of technology, but presents a range of real and imagined possibilities with emergent technologies front and center. Rather than dictating a specific path, this collection of ideas invites you to imagine, consider, articulate and choose your desires for the future of the human species.

Cathrine Kramer is the executive curator of Human+.

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