The Prevail Project is aimed at becoming the global gathering place for those coming together in novel ways to imagine – and then create – a human future we can thrive in, rather than simply reacting to technologies transforming what it means to be human.
Thought leaders in the field – including Bruce Sterling, Jamais Cascio, Bill McKibben, Witold Rybczynski and Jay Oglivy – will kick-start the launch by blogging about what “prevailing” means to them. Readers will be encouraged to become authors and help direct the discussion in groups devoted to everything from “Creating Stronger, Faster Communities” and “Human Enhancement” to “Revolutionizing Learning” and “Foresight – How Can We Think Critically About the Future?”
“Prevailproject.org will be a place for everybody from my mother to technologists inventing the future to grapple with some of the most pressing questions of our time: How are the genetics, robotics, information and nano revolutions changing human nature, and how can we shape our own futures, toward our own ends, rather than being the pawns of these explosively powerful technologies?” said Joel Garreau, the Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and director of The Prevail Project: Wise Governance for Challenging Futures.
“The Prevail Project is a collaborative effort, worldwide, to see if we can help accelerate this social response to match or exceed the pace of technological change,” Garreau said. “The fate of human nature hangs in the balance.”
The website is a natural extension of the Project’s efforts to be at the cutting edge of thought about how our humanity can be maintained amidst rapidly growing scientific innovation, said Garreau, a former longtime editor and reporter at The Washington Post, and author of Radical Evolution, The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, Our Bodies — And What It Means to Be Human.
“The Prevail Project reflects core values of the College of Law,” said Douglas Sylvester, Interim Dean. “A strong focus on where law and society are going has been a central feature of the College’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation as well as its cutting-edge technology. Partnering with the Prevail Project will continue to push our intellectual endeavors towards the horizon while reminding us that the future is not far away.”
Michael M. Crow, President of Arizona State University, called the website a bold experiment.
“Here at ASU, we are obsessed with the future, the challenges it holds, and our ability as active participants to shape the responses to these challenges,” Crow said. “The Prevail Project is perhaps our most intellectually open exercise in that regard, pondering the most fundamental questions of what it means to be human, how that definition will morph as technology changes, and how society will manage that change.
“I look forward to watching and participating in the conversation.”
The launch will include essays on what “prevailing” means from several of the most respected thinkers in the field, including:
Bruce Sterling, internationally recognized as a cyberspace theorist, one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction, and the prize-winning author of The Difference Engine, an alternate history novel, and Holy Fire that, like our world today, occupies the nexus of the strange and the terrifying.
In Sterling’s post for prevailproject.org, he writes that prevailing is a “moral act” because it “is about peering through the keyhole of Pandora’s Box, but whoever breaks that box has to own it. They will not be relieved from ‘law, culture and values;’ they will merely have the awful quandary of creating their own.”
Jamais Cascio, selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers, founder of worldchanging.org, and author of Hacking the Earth: Understanding the Consequences of Geoengineering. Cascio’s work focuses on the intersection of emerging technologies, environmental dilemmas and cultural transformation, especially the design and creation of plausible scenarios of the future.
Cascio writes that, for him, prevailing involves seeing technologies as expressions of ourselves, not alterations or degradations of human nature. “To prevail is to see something subtle and important that both critics and cheerleaders of technological evolution often miss: our technologies will, as they always have, make us who we are.”
Bill McKibben, author of a dozen books about the environment, including Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, about the existential dangers of genetic engineering, and founder of 350.org, a climate-change advocacy group.
McKibben is currently working on “prevailing” through non-violent resistance to a tar-sands oil pipeline. “That doesn’t mean we’ll carry the day; the odds are still against us, since money remains awfully powerful,” McKibben writes. “But we’ve begun rebuilding this retro technology for a new day; it will be fascinating to see how it turns out.”
Witold Rybczynski, an award-winning critic who has been called “architecture’s voice in the world of letters,” and who has been thinking and writing about humanity and technology since the 1980s.
Rybczynski, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Paper Heroes: Appropriate Technology: Panacea or Pipe Dream? and Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology, argues for prevailproject.org that a pre-technological Golden Age is a dangerous myth, and that technologies are enabling a world that already exists.
Jay Oglivy, author of Creating Better Futures: Scenario Planning as a Tool for a Better Tomorrow, and one of the founders of the pioneering scenario-planning firm Global Business Network.
Ogilvy, whose work has focused on the role human values and changing motivations play in business decisionmaking and strategy, writes about how we can create a place for real human empathy and connection in a digital world, stating that, “Connectedness is crucial: ‘a gradual ramp of increased bridging of the interpersonal gap.’ ”
The website is aimed at sparking idea-filled conversations among its members about how to take control of the future, fueled by videos, essays, blogs and Tweets. It also offers recommended resources, such as the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other,” by Sherry Turkle, and links to “change agents,” like MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, which studies how individuals, groups and computers can act more intelligently than they ever have before; TEDx, an organization for promoting “ideas worth spreading,” and Edutopia, focused on sharing news of “what works” in education.
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