Human augmentation – the process of integrating organic bodies with foreign devices intended to carry those bodies far beyond their perceived limits – is an endless source of fascination that only continues to grow as medical technology advances. It was a core tenet of cyberpunk literature due to the questions it raises about human individuality and identity, and it continues to pervade science fiction today as humans are put into closer and closer contact with the diverse, unique identities that humankind offers.
But which video game company is bold enough to intertwine the ethical debates surrounding human augmentation with public relations and gaming itself? Square Enix, apparently, who has collaborated with CNN’s brand studio, Courageous, to host a “first-of-its-kind conference” on human augmentation as part of its marketing campaign for Eidos-Montréal’s upcoming RPG, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
The conference is titled Human by Design, and will be held at the Paley Center for Media in New York City on August 3, 2016. According to its official press release, the conference will “explore the intersection of technology and humanity with the objective of bringing together top minds to debate, question, and challenge what it means to be human.”
In Mankind Divided, players are placed in the role of special ops agent Adam Jensen, who is thrust into a turbulent future where humans are learning to cope with cybernetic augmentations. This brave new world is one “that has become so divided by hatred, prejudice, and fear that many countries are enacting harsh laws aimed at segregating mechanically augmented humans and “Naturals” from each other.” Both Square Enix and Courageous feel that the themes explored in Mankind Divided will “engage a deeper conversation around the issues of human augmentation while reflecting the specific views of those involved.”
Senior product marketing manager at Square Enix, Jon Grant, noted that the Human by Design conference will transcend bringing Mankind Divided’s themes to life. He hopes that the conference will get the “gaming world” involved with exploring complex ethical issues. In his words, he wishes for Human by Design to be “a special opportunity for a video game to take pause from the limitless world we play in, and to drive the conversation around what is really happening in the space of human augmentation.”
Below is an itinerary of the topics that will be discussed at Human by Design, along with the individuals who will leading each panel. Keep in mind that the conference is not meant to be an exhaustive platform for learning everything there is to know about human augmentation. Rather, Human by Design intends to open doors for future discussion not only within the gaming community, but in the “highest levels of healthcare, technology, and government” as well.
Is Augmentation a Human Right?: How can augmentation be accessible to everyone on the planet?
• E. Christian Brugger, Cardinal Stafford Professor of Christian Ethics at John Vianney Major Seminary in Colorado and author of hundreds of articles on topics in bioethics, natural law theory and the interdisciplinary field of psychology and Christian anthropology.
• Dr. Natasha Vita-More, Designer, researcher, and scientist who explores the intervention of biological limited lifespans, selective enhancement, and related socio-political issues.
• Adam Arabian, Ph.D PE, Technical Director of multiple nonprofits and Professor of Engineering at Seattle Pacific University, focused on supporting refugees and underserved communities globally.
• Dr. Steve Mann, Chief Scientist at California-based Metavision, Inventor of HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging, Founder of MIT Media Lab Wearable Computing project and widely regarded as “The Father of Wearable Computing.”
Selective vs. Therapeutic Augmentation: Who should have the final say on augmentation procedures — doctors or individuals?
• Neil Harbisson, British-born cyborg artist and activist best known for having an antenna implanted in his skull to perceive visible and invisible colors such as infrareds and ultraviolets via sound waves.
• Dr. Michael Chorost, Author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human, the groundbreaking “cyborg memoir” about getting a cochlear implant.
• Samantha Payne, Co-Founder of Open Bionics, an award-winning startup developing low-cost bionic hands for amputees or those born without a hand.
• Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also serves as Director of the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory.
The Future of the Far Far Next: What will medical advances enable 10 years from now?
• Will Rosellini, IP Expert and serial entrepreneur with three companies in progress that focus on repairing the nervous system using active electrical devices.
• Lucy McRae, Science-Fiction Artist, Director, Body Architect, and TED Fellow probing the frontiers of the body, health and human adaptability.
• Zoltan Istvan, Futurist, Author of best-selling philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party.
• Tan Le, Founder and CEO of EMOTIV, a bioinformatics company advancing the understanding of the human brain through electroencephalography (EEG).
In addition, The Code of Ethics on Human Augmentation will be presented at the conference, as drafted by the Human by Design Board itself.
The conference will be streamed live from Twitch.tv, on Deus Ex’s official channel.
Will the Human by Design conference encourage other gaming companies to tackle controversial topics through similar means? Only time will tell, but we can say for sure that someone at either Square Enix or Courageous was very, very clever.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is set to release on August 23, 2016 in North America for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. You can visit its official website here. If you’d like to know more about the Human by Design conference, you can also read about it on its official site.