Longevity: Now Available in Cans!

Through my work at the Bassetti Foundation (a Technology Bloggers partner) I have been fortunate enough to lecture at universities and schools about responsibility in innovation. At the Foundation we have a concept that we call Poiesis intensive innovation, and I try to put this idea into practice during my lessons. Poiesis could be thought of as the art or craft of being able to do something. It resides within an individual as well as an institution. It might be the ability to use a machine or piece of technology in a way that it was not necessarily designed for, or to use skills that could be seen as from a different field.

With Angelo Hankins as collaborator, I use my theatre training and secondary school teaching experience in a lecture called Longevity: Now Available in Cans! This lecture aims at getting students to think about the role of technology design in future-making, based on the idea that technological development plays a role in steering society and as a result the way we behave and experience life. We only have to think about the development of the internet, or its commercial development from an initial military role, to see how our lives have been changed by a few individuals who built the system we now use every day.

And I would say that they crafted these developments, or that they are crafting them as they develop.

During the lecture we present a (near future) drink called Longevity. The drink contains nanobots, a form of nanotechnology. The nanobots are really switches that can be turned on and off. These switches stimulate your body to produce different levels of adrenaline. The user downloads an app which they use to control their own adrenaline levels, offering the possibility to lower levels at night so that sleeping patterns can be made regular, and once asleep, levels can be lowered to such an extent that they go into a form of hibernation. This allows the body to rest more, offering the chance to live 30% longer!

The presentation brings in lots of topics for discussion related to how the introduction of such a product might affect society. Will it be fairly distributed? How will it change demographics? Which questions does it raise about marketing and claims about truth, values and life itself?

After the product launch, we have a sketch in which a great grandchild comes home to his/her grandparent to discover that they no longer want to take the drink. They say it is unnatural (currently 107 years old) and that all of their friends (including partner) have died. This means that they can’t look after the great great grandchildren any more, and this causes a conflict in the house. Are they just being selfish? What are societal and familial expectations.

The students then play with the props (pictured above) and improvise conversations, before reporting to the class. The idea is that the design process can be seen and decision-making moments can be talked about.

This game is not limited to schools and universities though. It makes a great party game. We have published an article which is free to download here that explains everything. It has a description of how to make the props, a fake video of the company announcement of its discovery, as well as notes so that anyone can use it anywhere. Everything is open access and free to use.

And I didn’t even mention the Happiness: Now available in cans! version. Dopamine on demand. With adrenaline!

So why not take a look and play it with your friends?

Some thoughts on the Film Oppenheimer

The Bomb as a Game Changer

As regular readers will know, the Technology Bloggers platform has a partnership with the Bassetti Foundation. As part of my own collaboration with the Foundation I edited the International Handbook on Responsible Innovation, and in this book Foundation President Piero Bassetti explains that innovation requires a surplus of knowledge alongside a surplus of power.

This argument was not new for him though, being addressed in his book Le Redini del Potere (the reins of power) written with Giacomo Corna Pellegrini back in 1959.

In this book (from a time of rapid change when Fidel Castro became President of Cuba, the first two primates survived space flight, and nylon tights (pantyhose) were released to the public), the authors discuss the decision taken by then President Franklin Roosevelt to pursue research into a weapon that for the first time could bring humanity itself to an end.

This decision is seen as a development point in the relationship between science and politics and the notion of collective responsibility that underpin the Bassetti Foundation’s mission to promote responsibility in innovation.

This surplus of knowledge and power is something that can be clearly seen in the latest Oppenheimer film, as the knowledge surplus is created by gathering the world’s greatest scientific minds together, all carried out under the drive and with the funding of the US government (the surplus of power). The US army offers the infrastructure to put the whole plan together.

Without the political will and capability to carry out the project, the surplus of knowledge remains just that, knowledge. For it to become (an) innovation, it has to change something, to be implemented, which brings in the influence of power, money, and in the old days at least, government.

This brings the type of questions about responsibility that we have been asking in the Bassetti Foundation for the last thirty years, and which are related to its approach and interests. If we follow Bassetti’s line of thinking as outlined in the Handbook, knowledge remains knowledge in the absence of political will and capacity, so responsibility must lie with the political decision-makers, or in other words, with power.

A single line expresses this idea in the new Oppenheimer film, uttered by Donald Truman, the US President who took the decision to drop the bombs over Japan: ‘those people is Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren’t interested in who built the bomb, they are interested in who dropped it’.  

Who is Responsible, The Individual or the Position?

In the case in question the US President is claiming the responsibility for the dropping of the bomb, but if we follow Bassetti, as President he also in some way ‘represents’ responsibility for the discovery of the bomb itself, even though the process was started by his predecessor. From some perspectives (those that see a ‘many hands’ problem), the discovery and production process brings joint responsibility; it requires military personnel and logistic capacities, scientists as well as finance, good will from family members, collaboration and political support. But we could also say that the process is fundamentally political and facilitated by power, the same power decides to facilitate, design and implement the process, and then decides what to do with the results.

This point of who controls the process (and therefore is responsible for it) comes up once more in the film, as Oppenheimer (having delivered a bomb to the military for use) starts to tell a soldier the effects of exploding the bomb at different altitudes. The soldier responds by making it clear that the military would be taking all of the decisions from then on, and they would decide on the logistics. Once the bomb was ready, it was made clear to the scientists that they did not have any say in how it might be used. It was never their bomb and their role had been completed.

Another interesting element of the film develops as Oppenheimer moves to limit the effects of the invention. He proposes the need to share knowledge of the discovery with the allies (Russians), to propose a moratorium and international governance of the new weapon, and to halt further developments that would lead to an arms race. If we want to bring this into the present there has recently been lots of debate about the how to govern developments in AI, including about a possible moratorium.

Rather than just seeing this as a problem of care, it can also be seen from the point of view of how perceptions of responsibility change over time. During a war (although there is some discussion about the bomb being unnecessary as the German government surrenders) the development of such a weapon is justified, even seen as necessary. But once the war is won, or almost won, its existence should be problematized.


Returning to present day developments, the press that Elon Musk received back in September and revelations made in a recent book about his Starlink project brings up several similar questions. Whatever the truth is about denied requests to Starlink to facilitate an attack on the Russian Black Sea fleet, Musk finds himself and his company participating in warfare. Echoing the position that Oppenheimer finds himself in (as portrayed in the film), he remarks that the purpose of Starlink was not to facilitate war but to facilitate gaming and internet access for all. But once the technology is available, its use may be difficult to determine by those who enabled it.

The problem of many hands is not as evident to see in this situation however. Starlink resembles a family business, the surplus of knowledge and the surplus of power, will and capability all lie within the hands of one person. I have not heard any talk of a moratorium, or international governance for that matter, which raises several fundamental questions: What is the role for governance in this situation? Or the role of political will or finance? What are the implications for thinking about democracy? Where should Responsible Innovation practices be focused if there is a lack of external governance mechanisms? What are the implications of the fact that both sides in this war rely on Starlink to facilitate their actions?

Could we see Elon musk as playing a multifaceted role, of innovator and politician, mediator and strategist?

Theatre in Responsible Innovation

Art in Responsible Innovation

As regular readers will know, I have been writing about artists raising ethical issues about technology for several years.

Back in 2021 I interviewed Maurizio Montalti, an artist/scientist who works with new fungus-based materials, and Rodolfo and Lija Groenewoud van Vliet of In4Art who talked about their Art Driven Innovation approach.

In the video above I speak to Mireia Bes Garcia from Bristol University and Oliver Langdon of Kilter Theatre about their collaborations on immersive theatre projects on quantum/virtual reality and synthetic biology.

What is really unique about this theatre approach is that the researchers were integral to the performances and workshops, in a process that offered them the tools to address ethical considerations in their work while relying on their expertise to develop the story and performances.

This wide-reaching conversation addresses issues such as considerations around university/artist collaborations and the advantages of developing long terms working relationships, as well as the some of the complexities of using theatre practice within Responsible Innovation approaches.