Worldchanging Interviews Archives

August 19, 2004

Solving Tough Problems -- A Conversation with Adam Kahane

Adam Kahane is not a man you'd pick out of a crowd as having helped move post-Apartheid South Africa towards a peaceful resolution, or helped post-dictatorship Guatemala move beyond the longest civil war in the history of the Americas. He's a quiet man -- very much showing his Canadian roots -- and tends to thoughtful consideration of his words when he speaks. But listen to him for a moment, and you know you're dealing with someone who has a vision of what it takes to build a better world. He's seen how good organizations can take fatal missteps, and how seemingly-implacable enemies can embrace the need for peaceful change. He knows that avoiding the missteps and getting to the peaceful change is simple -- but by no means easy.

Adam Kahane's new book, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities,is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to understand how to grapple with deep-rooted dilemmas. Solving Tough Problems is not a guidebook so much as a travelogue, a set of stories about how Kahane came to understand the mechanisms of communication which allow some groups to overcome their differences when others, in equally dire situations, might fail. From his work on the 1991 Mont Fleur scenario project (PDF), which gave leaders from a number of South African factions a compelling, cooperative vision of a new nation, to the 1998 VisiĆ³n Guatemala project, which broke new ground in getting political and social rivals to embrace a post-civil war democracy, Kahane has managed to help exhausted opponents see choices other than military force and political dominance. The stories serve as vivid reminders to those of us trying to figure out how to solve seemingly-overwhelming crises that success is possible.

Many of the book's stories come from Kahane's work as a founding partner of Generon Consulting, where WorldChanging's Zaid Hassan now works (Zaid and Adam are collaborating on a guidebook for facilitators to accompany Solving Tough Problems). I've known Adam since the mid-late 1990s, through my work at GBN, and I saw him speak there last night about the book. I had a chance to sit down with him today to talk about his work, his ideas, and just what it might take to solve some of the problems for which WorldChanging is seeking solutions.

Read the extended entry for my interview with Adam Kahane, and some excerpts from Solving Tough Problems.

Continue reading "Solving Tough Problems -- A Conversation with Adam Kahane" »

December 2, 2004

A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes (part 3 of 3)

Concluding the conversation with Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College, founder of the Democratic Transhumanism movement.

Read Part I.
Read Part II.

While it may be difficult to see in the aftermath of last month's election, the compositions of the post-World War II coalitions on both the Left and the Right are changing. Emerging issues, from globalization to climate disruption to intellectual property rights on the Internet, are starting to push some traditional allies apart and traditional opponents together. For Dr. Hughes, human enhancement technologies will likely prove to be another axis for new political friction. From his democratic transhumanism treatise:

The biopolitical spectrum is still emerging, starting first among intellectuals and activists. Self-described “transhumanists” and “Luddites” are the most advanced and self-conscious of an emerging wave of the public’s ideological crystallization. We are at the same place in the crystallization of biopolitics as left-right economic politics was when Marx helped found the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864, or when the Fabian Society was founded in England in 1884: intellectuals and activists struggling to make explicit the battle lines that are already emerging, before popular parties have been organized and masses rallied to their banners.

Will transhumanism -- or human enhancement technology -- be a key line of conflict for the 21st century? It's possible, although I suspect it will be part of a larger struggle both over the direction of human technology and the nature of "personhood." If the core philosophical struggle of the 20th century was over "how we live," the core philosophical struggle of the 21st may be "who we are."

I also suspect, moreover profoundly hope, that the "transhuman" meme falls to the wayside, and that tools and techniques that help us live healthier, longer, happier lives are seen as human technologies, something rightly available to us all, not something that implicitly divides us. Progressives are thinking a lot about "framing" these days, and rightly so: how we describe something imparts a great deal of meaning. Just as Dr. Hughes wishes (as said in Part I of the interview) that, in due time, "democratic transhumanism" will shed "democratic" in the name because the need for equitable, fair, and full distribution of enhancement technologies will be obvious to all, I hope that "democratic transhumanism" will shed "transhumanism," because the realization that enhancement technologies are simply part of our cultural birthright as humans will be equally obvious.

In the final installment of my interview with James Hughes, we talk a bit about what the future may hold for the democratic transhumanist movement and humankind in general.

Continue reading "A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes (part 3 of 3)" »

May 25, 2005

Human Changing

vitruvian-man.jpgThe question of how society changes when we can enhance aspects of human capabilities is something we touch on regularly at WorldChanging. It's at least as important a question as how society adapts to climate change or embraces new tools for networking and communication; some of us would argue it may be even more important. As a topic of discussion, it has often been relegated to fringe culture and science fictional musing, but a series of books over the last year have brought the idea ever closer to the mainstream -- and the most recent may be set to make the question of how humankind evolves a front page issue.

Dr. James Hughes, bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College and director of the World Transhumanist Association, published Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Futurein late 2004, examining the ways in which the technological enhancement of human capabilities and lives can strengthen liberal democratic cultures, not threaten them. (I interviewed Dr. Hughes last November, shortly after Citizen Cyborg was released: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) In March of this year, Ramez Naam, software engineer and technology consultant, brought out More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biologiccal Enhancement, focusing on the ways in which biomedical treatments can and will improve human abilities and happiness. Both of these books -- which I highly recommend reading, even if you're a skeptic about the implications of human augmentation technologies -- received highly positive reviews and greatly advanced the conversation over whether and how to enhance human capabilities through technological intervention.

But I suspect it's the most recent book in this line which will have the greatest mainstream impact. Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- And What It Means To Be Human just came out a few days ago, and I expect it to end up on the summer reading lists of policy-makers and pundits everywhere. If Joel's name is familiar, it could be because he's a senior writer for the Washington Post, covering technology and society; it also could be because of his highly-regarded earlier books, The Nine Nations of North America and Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Joel approaches his subjects with a journalist's detachment but a partisan's passion; I've known him for about a decade (he's a part of the GBN "Remarkable People" network), and he's never failed to have his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. If Joel's covering it, there's little doubt it will soon be a regular part of our cultural conversation.

Earlier this month, I had the extreme pleasure of hosting a conversation between James Hughes, Ramez Naam and Joel Garreau, exploring the implications of human enhancement technologies. While none of the three could be termed a "bio-conservative," there are clear differences between their perspectives on how society can and should respond to new technologies (the lack of a bio-conservative in the discussion was intentional; I wanted the group to be able to explore the edges of implications, not get tied up in arguments over terminology or moral standing). The conversation ran over two-and-a-half hours; the resulting transcript is correspondingly lengthy. But I expect that you'll find the discussion compelling and fascinating, and well worth your time.

And, as always, we appreciate your comments to continue the discussion.

(Please note that the interview was sufficiently lengthy that Movable Type was unable to hold it in a single post; the continuation of the interview follows at a link at the bottom of this post.)

Continue reading "Human Changing" »

September 22, 2005

What Is A "Climate Forcing?"

We've recommended that WorldChanging readers check out the Real Climate website numerous times. Run by real, working climatologists, it takes a science-based approach to discussions of climate issues (global warming in particular). Today's post on climate forcings is particularly useful, as it helps to peel back some of the apparent fuzziness about how scientists determine the relative importance of different interacting forces when looking at a changing environment. This post is also a good example of how scientific disagreements should be handled -- with respect for another scientist's view, a reasonable explanation of why that view might be held, and details of why the author sees things differently.

February 6, 2006

Revolution in a Box: the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Chris Phoenix and Mike TrederFounded in December 2002, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has a modest goal: to ensure that the planet navigates the emerging nanotech era safely. That's a lot for a couple of volunteers to shoulder, but Mike Treder and Chris Phoenix have carried their burden well, and done much to raise awareness of the potential risks and benefits of molecular manufacturing, including a major presentation at the US Environmental Protection Agency on the impacts of nanotechnology. We first linked to CRN back in October of 2003, and have long considered them a real WorldChanging ally.

We conducted this interview as a series of email exchanges over the last few months. This post captures (and organizes) the highlights of that conversation.

Mike, Chris -- thank you. Your work is one of the reasons we have optimism for the future.

WorldChanging: So, to start -- what is the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology hoping to make happen?

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: We want to help create a world in which advanced nanotechnology -- molecular manufacturing -- is widely used for beneficial purposes, and in which the risks are responsibly managed. The ability to manufacture highly advanced nanotech products at an exponentially accelerating pace will have profound and perilous implications for all of society, and our goal is to lay a foundation for handling them wisely.

Continue reading "Revolution in a Box: the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology" »

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