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About the programme

Human futures is a faculty research programme at the Faculty of Arts, Aarhus University.

We are living in exceptional times that call for a new and more actively intervening role of the Humanities in technology design and development. Technological development in the 21st century enables the design of critical areas of human life: human reproduction, the human body, and human sociality.  Whether or not this development threatens humankind, as some researchers in AI and robotics currently alert to, it is in any case a challenge to  ‘humanity’ — the complex category of our self-comprehension.  For many of the technologies we currently produce are no longer tools; they are part of our bodies, part of our minds, or engage us into social interactions. Such technologies not merely disrupt familiar socio-cultural practices—they change all dimensions of the ‘human condition’ in fundamental ways, including our existential conditions. Whether viewed in utopian or dystopian perspective, the new target areas of technological change question our ideas of what it is to be human more profoundly than ever before:

  • Increasingly technology is coupled with our natural body, exploring new alliances between body and machine.  The developmental path runs from integrated medical prosthesis to the design of bodily enhancement and the creation of inseparable units, cyborgs where machines are incorporated into the human body.  
  • Advances in reproductional technology, including related technologies such as screening, gene modification, and gene therapy soon will make the three-parent model a common phenomenon, to protect children against hereditary illnesses.  But possibilities of genetic design raise difficult questions about the relationship between humanity as biological and moral category, about the concept of nature and values and disvalues of interfering with natural origins.
  • There are strong indications that due to new forms and time-scales of information processing enabled by the digital media our cognitive constitution is evolving.  These changes in the workings of the human mind need to be monitored and mapped relative to past information-technological revolutions.
  • The so-called robotics revolution will not only have far-reaching economic repercussions (catastrophic job loss); rapid advances in social robotics, including remote interaction, could disrupt all core areas of human social interactions.  When robots are developed to act as caretakers, teachers, domestic assistants, and sexual partners, changing patterns of social interaction will entail changes in our value-system. Moreover, to the extent to which artificial agents increasingly exhibit characteristically human capacities—such as creativity, empathy, and normative understanding—they are a direct challenge to the thesis of ‘human exceptionalism’ which so far has been central to our self-understanding.

In short, the increasing technologization of human nature calls for the unique perspectives and competences of the Humanities. These also include a continuous re-assessment of past cultural developments, sorting out deeper-reaching evolutionary potentials, since future developments always concern becomings on different time scales, some concerning decades, others centuries and millennia. A more pro-active role of the Humanities thus also concerns inclusion of new large-scale historical perspectives such as the Anthropocene, Deep History and Big History.  Never before were these competences so urgently needed and of such relevance.

Furthermore, changes in information technology, biotechnology, and robot technology, happen at accelerating pace, i.e., at time-scales that scientific research on socio-cultural implications cannot keep up with. Thus we need to abandon the classical model of ‘macro feedback,’ i.e., the traditional reflective stance of the Humanities, analyzing past and present to provide orientation for policy-makers.  Instead, the Humanities must turn towards the future and become pro-active—the new model of “integrative technology development” engages the Humanities with ‘continuous micro feedback’ at all (and especially initial) phases of technological design and developments.

The Human Futures research programme at Arts will further research and research communication on these issues building on a number of strong collective and individual research projects at Arts.