Interview with Koert VonMensvoort, PhD
30 April 2015
(MT) In your talk you discussed how every human being is engaged with technology in terms of our utilization of technology but also in the evolution of technology. You also discussed how most people are blissfully unaware of just how connected they are to the technology found in their everyday lives. In that regard, you have proposed the concept of the Pyramid of Technology, which brilliantly describes how technology becomes nature. Turning our attention to the Netherlands and zooming out in scale, it has been said that the Dutch have an inescapable relationship with water. This relationship is predicated on the use of technology in the form of a network of dykes, dams, sluices and pumps. I am curious where you would place the Dutch network of water technology on your Pyramid of Technology and why?
A profound question to begin with! In fact I would place the Dutch network of water technology definitely at a vital level (removing it would be a big crisis) and arguably at the invisible level (as most people are barely aware they are living below sea level). It is not yet naturalized as it needs constant maintaining.
I’m increasingly convinced that acknowledgement of the Anthropocene epoch is a catalyst for paradigm change. We are seeing expansion of the sciences and humanities into entirely new questions and responses to pressing global ecological dilemmas. One such dilemma is how we feed the ever-expanding population of the world. In your talk you discussed the very real need to revolutionize our food sources by considering moving agriculture from the land to the lab. Specifically, you proposed the technological evolution of in-vitro meat. I am curious what potential next nature evolution you see emerging in response to other pressing issues, say for example equitable access to clean water, carbon sequestration or arresting nutrient pollution?
I agree that the Anthropocene notion can help us to change our paradigm towards better questions and strategies. Regarding your question on next nature solutions, I think the understanding that technology in itself has a 'natural' evolutionary dynamics (which isn't necessarily geared at a healthier biosphere, but rather at a vibrant technosphere) may also to help understand the root of the issues we are facing. If you consider an Oil company as a next nature species that wants to feed (on oil and money, rather than oxygen) and survive, you also understand that in its activity transforms the landscape and heats up the planet. This is not a problem for the oil company as such, but of course it is a problem for people and our fellow biological species. On the other hand corporations also feed us, keep us healthy and can improve our live. Technology can pollute the water, but also clean it. As I see it, it is our human assignment to balance the biosphere with the technosphere, towards a better future.
What is the role of nanotechnology in the addressing these global ecological dilemmas?
Nanotechnology and emerging technologies in general, may help us to cope with some of the ecological dilemmas we are facing. Think for instance access to clean water. This is an important issue in which emerging nano technology might help us forward. It is important to realize as well, however, we cannot simply trust on technological fixes to save us from the problems we are faces. We need both change of systems, morals, and most of all a change in our perspective on our relationship with technology.
You have written: "We are currently living in a time in which the relationship between people, nature and technology is being redefined: while our original natural environment is turned into a world of design, our technological environment becomes a nature of its own." Based on this fundamental principle of Next Nature, I am curious what you think our world will look and feel like in 2065?
The only thing we can predict regarding the future is that things will change – or otherwise you are dead. I am keen on not selling a future vision like a cars salesman, but what I can do is share my hope. I hope that in 2065 we will have found a better balance between biosphere and technosphere. The city is already the norm as a habitat for human beings. That will only progress. Perhaps we can grow cities in more organic, dynamic and sustainable ways than the modernistic 20th century approach of construction based on blueprints and masterplans. In general I hope we will be surrounded by more humane technologies, that take human needs as a starting point and realize the dreams we have of ourselves. In 2065 we might have developed a planetary intelligence. This we need to cope with planetary issues like climate change. Humans are notoriously weak at this, due to our smaller biological perspective. Hence the planetary intelligence may very well be artificial, or rather nextnatural. But that's OK as long as it works, and preferably will be humane. In the end technology is our a self portrait of humanity and I hope it will be a beautiful picture.