Shaping yourself, to what agenda?
As we look to the future, we can envision an environment where AI may have continued to expand in its sophistication and become intertwined in our lives. At the same time, we may see a continued exploration, and advancement and adoption of biotechnology, which integrates digital tools and performance enhancing into our bodies.
We explore these ideas through the lens of two propositions that investigate how these advancements offer people the opportunity to enhance themselves, tune their lives, improve their performance and edit the way that they operate in the world. These services offer people the capacity to alter themselves in new ways. Thus, we explore how that may work and what might happen if they were to proliferate in society.
What might be down the path?
The integration of such powerful technology in our lives could potentially enable a radical new capacity to shape individuals and tackle ubiquitous problems at scale, whether it is diet, wellbeing, concentration, sleep or physical fitness. Some services may work to build a person’s ability to control their own lives without the service, while there may well be other services that could result in people’s dependence on them. In both instances, it’s likely that services will amass huge amounts of data that may result in the capacity to make highly accurate and customised recommendations for people about how to tackle whatever issues they’re facing —the opportunities are vast.
Although these ideas and attitudes are optimistic and positive, they are typical of a solutionist approach to humanity. In other words, they imply that each problem we face can be solved with technology. Not only is that obviously incorrect, but when the approach is applied to people as individuals, their characters, identities or behaviours, we are forced to ask which ‘problems’ should be solved. Should one enhance their sleep, or reduce their predilection to argue, optimise their ability to communicate, build their physical strength or lengthen their capacity to concentrate? Maybe yes, if that makes them happy, but when could editing oneself over-reach? One could argue that the approach and it’s philosophy provoke or even force an impulse to maximise oneself for performance, whether it is performance at the gym or at work, or in their social lives. Could extending the intent to maximise yourself ever prevent you enjoying yourself? When does self-improvement become self-harm?
Both propositions give people new powers to adapt who they are. Edit (a DIY behavioural habit changer) is a less drastic proposal than Pyro (a biotech performance enhancing service), but it shows a glimpse of a service that may one day become more potent, offering behavioural tweaks that could radically change how someone acts.
One could argue that it is a fairly ubiquitous aspiration for people to want to increase their available choices about who they are and what capacities they have in life. But, is there a risk for people when they are offered these choices? Is this a paternalistic or pastoral concern? Clearly, within the biotech proposal, there is a need to protect people physiologically, but within both concepts there are potential risks to a person’s psychology or sense of identity. There may be potential problems in working conditions, workers’ rights or societal tensions. Who has the capacity to minimise the dangers here? At what point should an authority decide that people do not have the capacity to make radical decisions about self-improvement?
Within this space, we return to the topic of agency and ask to what extent do these services improve it? Sociology defines agency as the ability to act independently and make free choices. Therefore, to improve agency, we can increase available options, increase capacity to access those options and liberate individuals from structures that determine or limit their choice between options. If our general objective is to improve agency, we demonstrate our belief that decisions made with agency are preferable. But the above discussion around protecting people, and many of the proposals within this project, operate under the assumption that people are frequently irrational and in many cases we see future services that support the user in overcoming those irrationalities. Therefore, we are extending our ambition beyond simply giving people independence in choice, to also try to enhance people’s capacity to make those choices well? It is not clear how people should be supported to make decisions about improving themselves when their powers are more radical and the pressures on them may be heightened.
More significantly than in other categories of proposition, we are forced to consider what contribution these services offer to people’s agency. They are self-editing services, which potentially give people unprecedented power over themselves, but do not enhance their capacity to wield that power. When does that become a problem?
Each proposition below is a vehicle that helps us map this territory
Pyro has the best access to the latest and safest physical and mental augmentations on the market. As soon as these products and services are on the market, you can get them from us.
Edit is a lifestyle service that helps you edit things in and out of your life through enriched tracking and mini-experiments.
Other Proposition types
Platforms as facilitators and brokers of value judgements. It’s possible that in the future we could foresee an advancement of AI with the ability to codify and model the highly complex ethical parameters of everyday life.