Brave New World and Beyond Human: the art and science events you need to attend this autumn

Brave New World is a conference held each year in Leiden to investigate how future technology will shape human life. It’s a fascinating collision of philosophy, culture, society, storytelling, science and technology that is graced by lots of fascinating speakers each year.  

If you’ve been wondering how advances in science and technology will affect your business, how the government behaves, or how you go about your daily life, this is a conference you can’t miss.There are over twenty speakers at this year’s event, and of course we can’t talk about all of them in this article. But there are a couple that I really wanted to bring to your attention, particularly if you were humming and hawing about whether or not to go. You can get your tickets here!

A robotic speaker?

First of all, there’s BINA 48. If you’re thinking, wow, what sort of person has a name like that, you’re not wrong to be curious. BINA 48 is actually a robot, who presents as a black female, and who is based on the wife of biotech entrepreneur Dr. Martine Rothblatt. BINA 48 will be joined by Bruce Duncan, M.Ed. Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, who will introduce her and explain how the experiment is progressing to the audience. Super exciting- I don’t think many of us will have come across such a humanlike robot before, so the presentation BINA 48 is well worth a visit.

Thomas Thwaites lived as a goat in the Alps. Image: Brave New World

Goat Man comes to Leiden

Moving onto a speaker who is at least a little more human: Thomas Thwaites, otherwise known as Goat Man. In 2016, Thwaites used prosthetic technology to become a goat- he lengthened his arms and gave his legs “hooves”, and most disturbingly, attached a rumen, the first part of a grass-eating animal’s digestive system, to his chest. He ate grass, hung out with goats (admittedly, goals) and generally tried to escape from “the angst inherent in being a human”, in his own words. I, for one, am so excited to hear him speak and get more details of his life as a goat.

James Bridle explores a New Dark Age

One last speaker you should definitely pay attention to is James Bridle, an artist and writer. He writes about culture, networks and literature for publications like The Guardian, Wired and The Atlantic, and has had his artworks exhibited worldwide and on the internet. He has also written a book, called “New Dark Age”, which explores how artificial intelligence, computers and the internet are currently affecting our daily lives and the ways we think.

Each day there will be panel discussions on various topics at Brave New World. Image: Brave New World

What will the conference look like?

So, what can you expect from the programme at the conference? It takes place on the 4th and 5th of November, and begins each morning at 9am with registration. Events take place in a couple of forms: there are individual talks by some speakers, and panel discussions on other topics, such as “The Future of Sex and Reproduction” or “What can we learn from animals?”. There is, of course, a break for lunch, and an interactive session where you can meet and network with the other people attending the conference.

There’s more: The Beyond Human Festival

If this sounds exactly up your street, and you’re feeling sad about it only being two days long, fear not. There is actually a week-long event accompanying Brave New World called Beyond Human. This is the first year this additional festival is happening, and promises to give us a glimpse of the future of humans. It will go from the 4th to the 10th of November, so during and right after the conference.

The Beyond Human Festival will be full of interactive exhibits. Image: Brave New World

Bumper Ballet, Games and Politics, and so much more

The festival will have events like Bumper Ballet– which is like any fairground ride right up until the point when the computer takes over the steering controls. It will be going on every day of the festival from 9am to 6pm on the Cultuurplein. From 9 to 5 each day there will be an exhibition called Games and Politics, in which you explore the political potential of video games. And there is so much more- I’m pretty glad that the festival extends well beyond the conference: this way, everything can be fitted into your schedule. Most events are completely free, with the exceptions of the Brave New World and Smart Culture conferences.

Both the festival and the conference will be a fascinating and engaging- but they will also be important. It’s easy to forget how important technology is to humanity now, even as we spend all day typing words and scrolling. Paying attention to how this will play out in the future is crucial to both our quality of life and to our very existence. We may not end up as goats in the Alps, or as robots, but our lives will continue changing at the breakneck pace we’ve experienced for the last fifty years. So: be there, or be square (literally).

So, will you be going to the Brave New World conference? Or will you stick with the Beyond Human festival? Let us know in the comments below. 

Feature Image: Brave New World.

Ailish Lalor
Ailish was born in Sydney, Australia, but grew up by a forest in south-east Ireland, which she has attempted to replace with a living room filled with plants in The Hague. Besides catering to her army of pannenkoekenplantjes, Ailish spends her days convincing her friends that all food is better slightly burnt, plotting ways to hang out with dogs and cats, and of course, writing for DutchReview.

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