More than Human?

A few years ago, I put together a very basic sketch of a course proposal for a writing course. This fall, I get a chance to teach an interdisciplinary class of my own devising. I am going to revisit some of the themes I considered in 2014. Following are a few paragraphs outlining topics and perspectives.


Do the technologies we use determine who we are? Would integrating technologies into our bodies change what it means to be human? How ought we make decisions about our technologies and our bodies? A June 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Riley v. California, raises critical questions regarding human-technology relationships, and even the potential of cyborg law. In this course, we will explore the ethical, legal and social implications/applications of human enhancement. As we learn about recent technological developments that permit such augmentations, we will pose and investigate questions invoked by these opportunities and challenges. For instance, we will examine issues raised by technologies such as cognitive enhancement pharmaceuticals, and predictive technologies such as autotype. Ours is a time of incredible, yet often incremental, technological change.  We must carefully consider the creations that help shape us, and our world, if we wish to be more than passive recipients of technological change.


In this course, students will encounter academic writing from disciplines like history, philosophy, and political science, but texts will also range from science fiction to socio-technical commentary to film. Current controversies over specific emerging technologies will provide a basis for exploring the social, economic, political, and environmental roots and branches of these developments. These texts will draw students into taking, defending, and critiquing positions as they learn to imagine the implications of their chosen positions, analyzing them in relation to those of their peers. The semester-long writing project, of roughly 12 pages, will begin with a series of short pieces that result from research and comparative analysis of particular emerging technologies that students may choose.


Arguments serve as our course scaffolding: we will articulate our own; we will interpret and parse professionals’ work; and, we will learn to polish our prose through workshopping, revising and editing. Focusing on the gaps, inconsistencies, and complexities in the arguments we read, whether from professionals, peers, or our own texts, will strengthen our critical and analytical reading and writing skills. Students will practice communicating ideas effectively, coherently and concisely by engaging a variety of academic and non-academic audiences because the positions we argue for will have impacts that extend beyond a university campus. We will learn to sharpen our claims, enroll our supporters—ranging from people to positions—and enter debates. Students will create a blog to post weekly writings and use it as a space to give and receive feedback. This forum will also serve as a means to make our ideas public and, potentially, engage broader audiences.