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By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2016,

In A Dangerous Master, Wendell Wallach, a scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, tells the story of modern society’s struggle to cope with technology’s complexity and uncertainty. In the course of telling this story, Wallach questions the terms of the social contract under which we as a society, predict, weigh, and manage the potential harms and benefits that result from the adoption of emerging technologies. In urgent prose, he argues that we need different epistemic, cultural, and political approaches to adequately assess emerging technologies’ risks and their broader social impacts. Wallach promotes public deliberation as one of these approaches, which provides citizens and experts the opportunity to distinguish the technological hype from the hope, the speculation from reality, and in so doing shape their technological futures.

There is a whiff of science fiction in Wallach’s prose—maybe more fiction than science. He envisions a future where autonomous robots, designer babies, homemade pathogenic organisms, and mindclones confront our hopes, fears, and inner conflicts…

Full Book Review

Review of: A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control, by Wendell Wallach. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2015, 336 pp.van-gogh-and-the-colors-of-the-night-13

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Constantly having to upgrade your genetic code can be overwhelming.

by Paul Skallas and Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Method Quarterly, July 22, 2015

I haven’t been feeling myself lately. For the past month, I’ve been grappling with insomnia that culminates in exhaustion and a peaceful surrender to deep and unsatisfying sleep. Nightmares are altogether another issue.

I’ve been in bed for 16 hours now. Again. My mind is scrambled and my body is heavy; getting out of bed in the morning is a battle of epic proportions. Sluggish. I shut off my alarm clock and reach for the moleskin notebook on my nightstand. I’ve begun writing little haikus throughout the day. Writing is really the only productive act I do anymore…Read More

by Eleonore Pauwels and Jim Dratwa

Published in Scientific American, March 13, 2015,

From designer babies to women whose genitals smell like peaches, 2014 graced us with a taste of the hope, hype and superficiality of business as usual in Silicon Valley. It is tempting to listen to those who tell us that there is a gene-hack to solve every “problem”—that DNA is just a code to personalize at will.

This brand of genetic determinism has invaded all realms of life, from our dating scene to our social networks…Read more

Mind The Metaphor

March 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Nature, August 29, 2013

DNA barcodes, gene-shuffling, BioBrick parts and cells as hardware: synthetic biology is saturated with metaphors. And it is not an isolated case. In 1976, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘selfish gene’ to explain a DNA-centred view of evolution. Ecologists built a whole metaphorical language around the idea of the ‘household of nature’, including terms such as competition and colonies. Beyond the natural sciences, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, described the restoration of an ego damaged by neurosis as the “reclamation of flooded lands”.

As a public-policy scholar, I have spent the past five years listening to synthetic biologists talk about their hopes, successes and failures. At first, I was intrigued by the pervasiveness of computing and engineering metaphors, both in conversations between scientists at the bench, and in policy discussions and public communications. Increasingly, I wanted to know what might be ‘lost in translation’ between these metaphors and reality. In collaboration with my colleague Andrea Loettgers, a philosopher of science at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, I reviewed the use of metaphors in the laboratory and in the public sphere…Read more