What Convergence is in the Cards for Future Scientists[1]?

By Dr. Gregor Wolbring

for the conference Converging Science and Technologies: Research Trajectories and Institutional Settings 14-15 May 2007; Vienna, Austria[2]



Introduction: Converging Technologies (CT) the convergence of convergence




In 2001 a workshop (from now on called NBIC workshop)  organized by the USA National Science Foundation (NSF) and the USA Department of Commerce (DoC) (I was a member of that workshop) called CT for Improving Human Performance NANOTECHNOLOGY, BIOTECHNOLOGY, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE (NBIC) took place where the term NBIC was coined. This event seems to have triggered an increased academic, policy and public discourse around the term “CT” in particular and the nature and components of convergence in general.


On the one hand some might find it strange that a conference on “CT” takes place.  The concept of convergence is nothing new. We have talked for a long time about transdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity asking for the convergence of different skills within a team, an individual, a project or a goal. Ancient Greeks used the terms techné, τέχνη[3] one of the two Greek root words which make up the term ‘technology’ to characterize a convergence of certain disciplines, skills and knowledge .


On the other hand this conference might raise the visibility of the importance of different needed convergences not just the convergences of NBIC technologies and to highlight some new convergence concepts. I highlight in this paper a) the deficiency of the NBIC convergence concept, b) different ways of convergence and c) introduce Ableism as a concept under which different ism’s converge.


My presentations will deal a) with the deficiency of the NBIC convergence concept, b) different ways of convergence scientist, policymaker, funders and numerous social groups have to exhibit, will c) introduce Ableism as a concept under which different ism’s converge and d) show how different types of convergences relate to the human performance enhancement goals and to my biochemistry work which is on thalidomide (contergan, softenon) and derivatives.  

(I need to be as internally convergent in my work around governance of science and technology which I will not cover further as that is self evident.)  


Convergence with what with whom for whom? Where do we stand?


To get some idea for the land I performed some keyword combination searches (table 1 appendix). Some of the findings are


1)     A hierarchy exists among social groups covered/involved in the CT discourse

2)     biological sciences gains 100 fold less hits than biotech related to converging technology although a lot of convergence related to biological sciences and not just biotechnology

3)     One might think that  the hits for the term information technology are artificially high stemming from other IT convergences however even with the inclusion of nanotechnology the ratio and numbers between NBIC and converging technology does not change a lot.

4)     Patients and animals get more hits than “the south”, ”the poor”, disabled people, people with disabilities and indigenous people

5)     The term transhumanist obtains 5-10 fold more hits than disabled people, people with disabilities and indigenous people

6)     Artificial Intelligence gains  20 times more hits than indigenous people and 10 times more hits than people with disabilities

7)     Beside environmentalism Isms are mostly non existent in the CT discourse

8)     GDP obtains 10 times more hits than distributive justice and more or less equal hits than human right in Google Scholar however human right has 10 times more hits than GDP in Google while distributive justice has 10 times less hits than GDP

9)     We see a hierarchy as to which academic fields obtains how many hits with ‘CT’ with medicine, law and economics obtaining as many hits as NBIC and with disability studies, ability studies, environmental studies, cultural studies, women studies  obtaining only 1% to 0%.

10)  The term military has double the hits than peace in Google and 5 times more hits in Google scholar

11) Productivity, enhancements, health, water, food, disease have 100 fold more hits than environmental safety, human security, food security and social cohesion.

Convergence of different sciences, technologies and goals: The starting point: NBIC and human performance


The NBIC workshop intentionally narrow focus on improving human performances and on the nanoscale interaction of NBIC(1) was perceived by many as to limited. The Azonano webpage[4] identifies three different takes on CT namely the USA NBIC viewpoint, a European CT for the European Knowledge Society CTEKS viewpoint (2) and an NGO BANG (bits, atoms, neurons and genes) viewpoint(3). In Canada CT’s are seen as applications that have new and combined features that are derived from the intersection or combination of more than one enabling technology platforms (Nano-Bio-Info Systems, NBIS).[5]






The limitations:

The Convergence on the nanoscale: NBIC versus nanoscale science as the descriptor


The NBIC workshop focus on NBIC as the CT does not serve very well the continuous changes in science and technology. Instead of using NBIC it would have been better to use the term Nanoscale sciences and technologies if one wants to stay with the theme of nanoscale which the NBIC label is based on and then list a variety of subfields under that heading. That would have been more logical as


a) any one nanoscale science and technology can generates products all by itself


b) there are more nanoscale sciences and technologies than BIC such as engineering, environmental sciences, chemistry


c) new sciences and technologies are appearing which work on the nanoscale. Example here is synthetic biology a field which was not on the radar screen in 2001.


d) in the public discourse people see NBIC as four sciences and technologies converging forgetting that the nanoscale is the prerequisite defining this convergence. 


Instead of Converging technologies one could use the term Nano-convergence


The limitations:

Goal oriented convergence: Human Performance enhancement and NBIC



NBIC is not only too limited to cover the breadth of today’s and future nanoscale sciences and technologies, NBIC is also too limited to capture the breadth of  sciences and technologies involved in human performance enhancement. 

Chemistry and material sciences are just two that work on the nanoscale and which are involved in human performance enhancement New sciences are appearing which work on the nanoscale and which are linked to human performance enhancement. Synthetic biology (4) that was not on the radar screen in 2001 is one example (the linkage of synthetic biology with artificial life was one of the focuses of discussion at the 10th Artificial Life X Conference). Another examples is the field of Longevity, Immortality Technology(5).  Longevity, immortality technology anti aging research gains more and more international traction e.g. South Korea increased their funding for anti-aging research.[6],[7]


Beside the intrinsic conceptual flaw of the usage of NBIC even for the limited purpose of human performance enhancement, the goal of the NBIC workshop does not serve the discourses around human security(6), social cohesion(7), global medical and social health(8) and the social well being of the global population very well.


Other goals and convergences are needed to take advantage of the possibilities opened up by future sciences and technologies.




The Limitations:

Goal oriented convergence: Human Performance enhancement versus performance enhancement impacting on humans


Nanoscale sciences will influence and be influence by other goals within and outside of the umbrella of performance enhancement. Many nanoscale technologies and sciences increase and/or change performances without changing humans but have impact on humans.



Goal: Production and Trade; Molecular manufacturing


The Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology sees molecular manufacturing (MM) the ability to build products atom by atom to become a reality by 2020 and they forecast a variety of social consequences.(9)

Cientifica an influential consulting firm on nanotechnology issues  believes that molecular manufacturing might be used for food after 2012 “Unlike a few of the other reports we have seen on nanotech and food, and as regular readers would expect, we don't see desktop nanofactories churning out unlimited free food before 2012. “(10)

Moving from nature-based commodities (i.e., copper, rubber) towards nano-formulated commodities, towards atomic commodities (molecular manufacturing) must have an impact on the demand and export capabilities for nature-based commodities, especially, from low income countries as it will change the commodity market and, in the end, the nature of trade.(11) market.



Goal: Enhancement of Animals:(12)


Arguments are developed in support of especially cognitive enhancements of animals(13). These enhancements will happen on the nanoscale and if successful will lead to the increased questioning of speciesism, what it means to be human and whether that is still relevant. It will lead to an increased discussion around the concepts of human rights versus sentience rights. The same set of questions will arise from advances in artificial intelligence.


As a scientist, NGO, policy maker and public at large one has to be aware of these developments not just of human performance enhancement.     

In some way it’s a shame that the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) (14) does not include human biological diversity[8] missing the boat on the impact -ability and otherwise- of new and emerging technologies on human diversity and that it gives little to no guidance as to the practice of generating biological diversity through the modification, enhancement and design of new life. This leaves the door wide open for others to develop policies around biological diversity [9]not covered by the CBD which in turn will impact on the goals of the CBD (e.g. if we can design and generate new biological diversities why should we conserve naturally existing biodiversities).  


The convergence of natural sciences and technologies with social sciences, humanities, law, ability studies, cultural studies, disability studies, economics, and other non natural sciences


Natural sciences and technologies often converge with other sciences and academic fields which the European CTEK report(2) highlights very nicely. Other examples are the understanding of CT by Union College in the USA[10] and the CT Bar Association.[11] 


Example from the Enhancement front:


Enhancements are not just an issue for technical or natural science. As they are aimed at members of society and as they have social implications there is a need to involve the widest area of science and academia and non academics (dealt with below). 


My biochemistry work:

My work on thalidomide and derivatives and their mechanism of action is as much driven by my natural science side as it’s driven by my social science and activist side. Finding new applications for thalidomide and it’s derivatives and finding ways to eventually replace thalidomide with non-teratogenic derivatives is for me not just a natural science exercise but has societal implications from how to monitor the distribution of the drug (that’s why the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada and I were involved in the development of a monitoring system for thalidomide in the USA before the drug came on the  market). This includes finding a way to ensure a wide as possible access for people who need the drug to looking at the causes of the diseases thalidomide and derivatives target to see whether social determinant actions can be employed to minimize the generation of people with the diseases.


The convergence of natural and non natural scientists and technologists with policy makers and other stakeholders (from business to NGO’s)


The NBIC report talks about the involvement of other people beside NBIC scientists namely

a) Individuals

b) Academe

c) Private Sector

d) Government

e) Professional Societies

f) Other Organizations which includes non-governmental organizations that represent potential user groups, private research foundations and the press (1)


However the list of people and groups envisioned by the NBIC report is far from complete and substantial changes are needed.  If one looks at the NBIC discourse in general one can see that certain stakeholders are excluded (disabled people, indigenous people, marginalized populations of the South) One of the consequences of the limited variation in stakeholders is that the NBIC discourse in many if not most countries and the risk and needs assessment discourses discourse myopically cover mostly medical and environmental health safety excluding social safety, human security safety, social cohesion problems, social well-being impact and related issues.


Example from the Enhancement front:


As enhancements are targeting humans and in the end other living biological matter one needs the involvement of many social groups -in particular disabled people and indigenous people- and the myopic exclusion of social safety has to change. Different social groups react differently towards enhancement possibilities within different societal frameworks. As a researcher I have to be aware of different streams of thought.


My work:


When I work on thalidomide and the derivatives I have to be aware of different social groups and the impact my work has on them. The increased usage of thalidomide in numerous countries and how fast thalidomide can be replaced by non teratogenic derivatives impacts on many social groups. Thalidomide has different impacts on different social groups whereby patient groups served by the drug want access and thalidomiders feel rather negative about the drug which is not surprising as society has treated most thalidomiders as defective products throughout their life.




The convergence of different S&T towards one product (15)


Biofuel from biomass is seen as a renewable alternative to oil. But which technologies will be used to create biofuel?  A recent forest industry roadmap links nanoforestry to biofuel(15). While genetic technology and biofuel are linked in the public consciousness, nanotechnology and biofuel are not as aren’t synthetic biology and biofuel.(15)

One must consider many different science and technology options, their possible convergence, and their social and environmental impacts. All participants in the discourse -- scientists, policy makers, funders, NGOs, and others -- must be more multifaceted in their analysis. Foresight exercises are needed to see what technologies and challenges may be on the horizon. The discourse on biofuel, for example, needs to answer three questions: (1) should we use it? (2) what technology or mixture of technologies should we use to produce it, if any? and (3) what social and environmental challenges does this pose?




The convergence of different applications of one product



We use a product like a drug Step 1) for a disease which is then used for a Step 2) non disease purpose which then Step 3 leads to a convergence under the social dynamic of medicalization which makes a disease out of the original non disease application(8)


Example from the Enhancement front:


We develop the artificial hippocampus(16) and brain machine interfaces(17). They are developed under the cloak of wanting to help as impaired perceived people; people with Alzheimer in the first case and people with cerebral palsy in the second case. However, very likely both applications if successful will be used for different purposes and might mostly not be used by and for people with Alzheimer and cerebral palsy due to their inability to pay for it and the unwillingness of society to pay for it.   


My work:


Thalidomide and its derivatives although initially used for one application are already used for different applications. Thalidomide was originally developed as an antibiotic (something it never became) but was used after that for one application after another (more than 100 applications can be found on the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada webpage[12]).     


The convergence of global and local issues



The terms glocalization highlights the increasing relationship between local and global. Huge amount of literature exist on this topic so I won’t expand on it. I mentioned trade before under molecular manufacturing.




Example from the Enhancement front:


Performance enhancement of human beings will have global and local impacts on among others human security(6), self identity security(6;8;18)) and ability security(6) of people who can’t afford or do not want the enhancement.



My work:


When I work on thalidomide and the derivatives I have to think about local and global issues. Thalidomide started in Germany in the 1950’s and spread to other countries till its prohibition in the beginning of the 1960’s. Thalidomide was allowed onto the US market in 1998 and is moving again towards different countries. Thalidomiders work hard to ensure that a good monitoring system is put into place for thalidomide wherever it goes. The first non teratogenic thalidomide drug was approved in the USA and will also move to other countries. 



The case of health sciences and technology usage and assessment


The health sciences and technology usage and assessment is a perfect example of the different convergences needed beside NBIC. I wrote extensively on that topic(8).

Although the terms Nanomedicine or NBIC-medicine are often used many more nanoscale sciences and technologies are involved in medicine and health sciences and technologies.     

A Convergence of natural, social and other academic fields and numerous academic and non academic people are needed to understand the complex challenges in health sciences and technology usage and assessment and their interrelation. New sciences and technologies impact on the concept of health and vice versa. These two impact on the consumerism behaviour of the ‘health care client’ (see e.g. the medicalization phenomenon) and vice versa. These three impact on the concept of ableism (see below) which in turn impacts on the term health (the health care discourse are unaware of the appearance of a transhumanist third wave model of health(8;19) which will greatly impact their work) and health care consumerism’. So far no tool exist which would allow to assess whether a ‘medical or social intervention is more efficient and effective(8) and indeed health technology assessment, i.e. compares different health technologies but does not compare a social intervention with a health technology intervention.(8). The focus is often on the medical techno intervention (for which one can come up with numbers easily) while social interventions especially for the social well being part of health are often ignored.(8;20-22) We hear a lot about the top 10 biotechnologies for improving health in developing countries(23), top 10 nanotechnologies for developing countries (24) and Regenerative medicine: new opportunities for developing countries(25;26). However we do not hear about the top 10 social frameworks and societal structures needed to make these science and technologies useful. It is disconcerting that science and technology is hailed so often as a saviour for marginalized populations especially in developing countries without mentioning and ensuring that the needed societal frameworks are in place. The WHO and others are embarking on a quest to solve the problem of neglected diseases.(20;22) However the approaches so far only focus on the increase usage of medical science and technology as remedies ignoring the societal framework needed and ignoring social solutions to the problem.(20;22)    




The Convergence and the education system


The field of education -- in particular high school education is increasingly impacted by the ever-increasing speed of change in the science and technology fields, products, and knowledge in three fairly different ways namely deliverance of education, content of education and the modification of the student.(27) Teaching the complex interdependent fabric of perceptions, values, and choices within different cultural, economic, ethical, spiritual, religious and moral frameworks and their impact on new and emerging technologies and vice versa in a way that is accessible to high school students and timely is indeed a great challenge and I think is less and less met. I believe that as a scientist one has the obligation to engage with youth in particular high school youth and one has to be able to convey the bigger picture.


Example from the Enhancement front:


It is not enough to teach the technique of genetic testing or performance enhancement without teaching the social, local and global consequences.


My work:


When I talk about thalidomide and the derivatives I do not talk just about the science but also about the social parameters such as how society dealt with thalidomiders and what one can learn from that. I talk about the medical and social determinants of targeted diseases the local and global picture of the targeted disease and the availability of drugs. I deal with the area of neglected diseases and disease trading and disease intervention trading (20;22).     



All the above is very self evident and is mostly known. So I would like to introduce something of which most may not yet have heard namely a new type of convergence: ableism.


Shifting goals: From human performance enhancement to a culture of peace


The concept of a culture of peace is central to UNESCO and the UN as shown by a 1998 UN resolution (A/Res/52/13, 15 January 1998, para. 2 ), the UNESCO Culture of Peace webpage, the Ten Bases For A Culture of Peace  and the UNESCO's Pledge for peace. An April 2007 report “A STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE OF THE SCIENCES IN UNESCO”(28) talks about the reorientation of UNESCO’s science programs to enable them to contribute more towards poverty reduction, peace, better living standards especially for traditionally excluded segments of the population, empowerment of people, dialogue and integration of mainstream science with traditional, local and indigenous sciences of diverse cultures, sustainability and distributive justice.

How will the language in culture of peace documents and the report be interpreted with the intervention made possible by new and emerging technologies? How will the language be used in regards to the enhancement of animals(12) which might redefine the relationship between humans and animals; immortality and longevity research which could lead to intergenerational strive; molecular manufacturing -the production of material from the atom level- which could lead to a total collapse of the trade system as we know it today and the new products that can modify the appearance and functioning of the human body beyond existing species-typical norms and boundaries which will lead  to self identity (6)  and ability security (6) problems.

Will the report and the culture of peace language move people to intervene in the nanoscale science and technology arms and military products race (29)? So far policies around new and emerging technologies have failed to accomplish a culture of peace, poverty reduction, sustainable development and the dialogue among civilizations. Why is that?

I think ableism is at the root or at least a major contributing factor to why we do not make much progress in these domains. Many isms are supported by ableism and one has to deal with ableism if one wants to accomplish among others a culture of peace, poverty reduction a better situation of low income countries, equity and equality for women and other marginalized groups, sustainable development and a dialogue among civilizations.


The convergence concept of ableism(30;31)  


Ableism is a set of beliefs, processes and practices that produce -based on ones abilities- a particular kind of understanding of oneself, one’s body and one’s relationship with others of one’s species, other species and one’s environment and includes one being judged by others. Ableism exhibits a  favouritism for certain abilities that are projected as essential while at the same time labelling real or perceived deviations from or lack of these ‘essential’ abilities as a diminished state of being  leading or contributing to the justification of a variety of other isms(30-32)

Every ism has two components: something we cherish and something we do not. The first, second or both parts may be emphasized.

Ableism reflects the sentiment of certain social groups and social structures to cherish and promote certain abilities such as productivity and competitiveness over others such as empathy, compassion or kindness (favouritism of abilities). (30-32) Ableism and favouritism of certain abilities is rampant today and throughout history. Ableism shaped and continues to shape areas such as human security(6), social cohesion(7), social policies, relationships among social groups and between individuals and countries and between humans and non-humans and humans and their environment. (30) Ableism is one of the most societal entrenched and accepted isms and one of the biggest enabler for other isms (e.g. nationalism, speciesism, sexism, racism, anti-environmentalism, consumerism, GDP-ism, superiority-ism….). Ableism related to productivity and economic competitiveness is the basis upon which many societies are judged, and it is often seen as a prerequisite for progress.

The direction and governance of science and technology and different forms of ableism have always been inter-related.


Ableism will become more prevalent and severe with the anticipated ability of new and emerging sciences and technologies:

  • to generate human bodily enhancements in many shape and forms with an accompanying ability divide and the appearance of the external and internal techno poor disabled (32) 
  • to generate, modify and ability enhance non-human life forms;
  • to separate cognitive functioning from the human body; and
  • to modify humans to deal with the aftermath of anti-environmentalism.
  • to generate products atom by atom which moves the trade from nature based commodities towards atomic generated commodities which will change the way we trade


We can already observe a changing perception of ourselves, our body, and our relationships with others of our species, other species and our environment. New forms of ableism (transhumanization of ableism) (30;32) are now appearing which are often presented as a solution to the consequences of other ableism based isms such as speciesism(2) and anti-environmentalism.


Just a few examples of Ableism


Ableism against the traditional disabled people(30)


This form of ableism reflects the obsession with species typical normative abilities leading to the discrimination against the as ‘less able’’ as impaired perceived disabled people.


This type of ableism is supported by the medical, deficiency impairment categorization of  disabled people (medical model) (8;33) and this form of ableism rejects the ‘variation of being’, biodiversity notion/categorization of disabled people (social model). This form of ableism leads to the focus of fixing the person (medical model/medical determinant) or preventing more of such people (medical model/social determinants) and ignores mostly the acceptance and accommodation of people in their variation of being (social model/social determinant) (8)



Ableism against ‘traditional non-disabled people’(30)


Ableism has also long been used to justify hierarchies of rights and discrimination between social groups, and the exclusion of people who are not classified as ‘disabled persons’. To give a few examples.




Sexism has two components. One cherishes a certain sex (usually male) and discriminates against another one (usually female). At the end of the 19th Century women were viewed as biologically fragile and emotional, and thus incapable of bearing the responsibility of voting, owning property, and retaining custody of their own children (34;35). Ableism and the favouritism towards certain abilities was and still is used to justify sexism in general and the dominance of males over females in particular.




Racism/Ethnicism has two components. One favours one race or ethnic group, and discriminates against another. The Bell Curve(36) used the societal inclination of many to judge human beings based on their ‘cognitive abilities’ (their IQ), promoting racism by claiming that  certain ethnic groups are less cognitively able than others. Without the ableist judgement related to cognitive abilities, the authors would have received no coverage. If they had written about ethnic differences in hair color, or differences in average height, their position would have had much less impact.  Society does not judge people nowadays based on their hair color and average height, therefore differences in hair color or average height can’t be used today for racist arguments.  People are judged based on differences in cognitive abilities, however, making this a useful target for justifying racist arguments.









Caste-ism has two components the favouritism for one caste and the discrimination against another.

In an opinion piece The U.N., Racism and Caste – II Opinion: The Hindu 10 April 2001 by Gail Omvedt one reads “Neither caste as a social system nor ``racism'' are based on actual biological differences among human beings. Both, though, are systems of discrimination that attribute ``natural'' or essential qualities to people born in specific social groups. In other words, while caste has nothing to do with ``race'', the justifications of caste discrimination have a lot to do with the social phenomenon of ``racism'' and it continues; “For caste, like race, is based on the notion that socially defined groups of people have inherent, natural qualities or ``essences'' that assign them to social positions, make them fit for specific duties and occupations;”[13].


The natural inherent qualities are ‘abilities’ which make them fit for specific duties and occupations.




Age-ism reflects the negative labelling and treatment of the elderly. This treatment is a consequence of young-ism which is the favouritism towards the abilities of the young (athleticism vs. wisdom for example). 



Transhumanization of Ableism (generic form) (21;32;37) (30)



The transhumanized form of ableism is a set of beliefs, processes and practices that perceive the improvement of functioning of biological structures beyond typical boundaries as essential.

The transhumanized version of ableism exhibits the favouritism of beyond biological structure typical abilities and perceived biological structures as deficient as being, in need of constant improvement, in a diminished state of being if they are not enhanced beyond biological structure typical abilities


Transhumanization of ableism related to humans (21;32;37) (30)




Until now a non- impaired person has been seen as someone whose body functioning performs within Homo sapiens typical parameters. This is changing, however. The ability of new and emerging science and technology products to modify the appearance of the human body and its functioning beyond existing normative species-typical boundaries allows for a redefinition of what it means to be non-impaired (8).


One transhumanized form of ableism is the set of beliefs, processes and practices that perceive the ‘improvement’ of human body abilities beyond typical Homo sapiens boundaries as essential. It exhibits the favouritism of beyond Homo sapiens typical abilities and perceived human bodies as limited, defective, in need of constant improvement, as being in a diminished state of being human if they are not enhanced beyond Homo sapiens typical abilities.

There are three kinds of transhumanization of body ability enhancements:  

(a) external -- by shaping the environment (transhumanized social determinants); (b) internal reversal -- by modifying bodily structures in a reversible fashion (transhumanized medical determinant); and (c) internal non-reversal -- by modifying bodily structures in a non-reversible fashion (transhumanized medical determinant). All of these interventions are viewed as therapeutic (transhumanization of medicalization)(8).


Humans have modified their environment for a long time, in order to gain abilities that are not inherent in their body. This ‘ability’ to change the environment (transhuman social determinants) is viewed as the basis for the success of -- and essential for -- the Homo sapiens species (transhumanization of ableism).


However this is no longer seen as sufficient. In tune with the belief that the human body is deficient (transhuman medical model) -- which previously led to the design of external tools to extend the abilities of Homo sapiens (transhuman social determinants) -- we are moving increasingly towards changing the body itself to expand its abilities beyond those that are typical for Homo sapiens (transhuman medical determinant).


Internal transhuman interventions are consistent with the trend towards  medicalization of the human body -- where variations in its structure and functioning are now more often labelled as deviations and diseases -- with the result that ‘healthy’ people feel ‘unhealthy,’ and bad about their bodily structure and functioning’ (8). The transhumanized version of ableism elevates the medicalization dynamic to its ultimate endpoint, namely, to see the enhancement beyond species-typical body structures and functioning as a therapeutic intervention (transhumanization of medicalization) (8).


Enhancement medicine is the new field providing the remedy and maintenance through surgery, pharmaceuticals, implants and other intervention on the level of the body. Science and technology is seen as having the potential to free everyone from the "confinement of their genes" (genomic freedom) and the "confinement of their biological bodies" (morphological freedom) through transhumanized internal medical determinant interventions. Transhumanized social determinant external interventions are not seen as enough anymore (8;38).





Anti-transhumanized version of ableism related to humans


The rejection of the transhumanized version of ableism




Ableism driven Speciesism(30)


Speciesism assigns different values and rights to beings on the basis of their species. Humans are seen as superior over other species due to their exhibition of ‘superior cognitive abilities’. This speciesism led to behaviours where humans dealt and deal with other species according to “we can do it so we do it”.


Transhumanized version of ableism related to non-human species(30)


Another transhumanized version of ableism is the set of beliefs, processes and practices which champions the especially cognitive enhancement of animal species beyond species typical boundaries, leading to cognitively or otherwise ‘enabled species.’ This is seen as a way to alter the relationship between humans and other species, and to change how non-human species are judged and treated.

This is often the approach. Instead of questioning the tenets of ableism, one tries to find ways for a disadvantaged group to become as able. “I can be as able as you are, I am as able as you are” can be heard quite often, and is used here as a solution for the maltreatment of some animals.


This version of ableism favors cognitive abilities. There are other examples.



Besides racism and speciesism, favouritism towards cognitive abilities plays out in the developmental stages of humans whereby humans prior to birth and for a certain period afterwards are seen as not having full human rights due to their lack of certain abilities. Lack of certain cognitive abilities is also used as an argument to deny some rights to ‘cognitively impaired humans.’

This same logic is also evident with respect to artificial intelligence, which may ultimately gain equal status to humans when it is seen as cognitively able enough. Human rights might then become an obsolete concept as once rights might not be based anymore on the fact that one is human but that one has a certain level of cognitive abilities (sentient rights). If it is eventually possible to separate cognitive abilities and consciousness from the human biological body, the resulting entity would gain rights by itself -- independent of the body.



Ableism driven Anti-Environmentalism(30)


The disregard for nature most humans show reflects another form of ableism: humans are here to use nature as they see fit as they are superior to nature due to their abilities. Humans might treat nature better if we can’t treat it badly anymore due to the ensuing negative consequences for humans. The second report in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released April 6 predicts the ‘highway to extinction’.[14] A third report outlining potential solutions will be released on May 4.


However we might see the appearance of a climate change-driven appeal for a transhumanized version of ableism, where transhumanization of humans is seen as a solution for coping with climate change. This could become especially popular if we reach a so-called ‘point of no return,’ where severe climate change consequences can no longer be prevented.




Gross domestic product (GDP)-ism (30)


There are different ways to measure the growth of a society.  For the longest time GDP based growth has been favoured while people based growth, people centered and sustainable development, social well being and life satisfaction of people are still neglected.  The NBIC report goal of human performance increase is linked to increased productivity and GDP-ism.


GDP is used by economists to judge the ‘positive’ advances of an economy but it can’t be used to judge living standards, social development, social well-being and the level of satisfaction of people in a society have with their lives. It does not show the gaps between haves and have-nots.


The inclination towards a GDP-based measure is slowly changing. While we still measure the success of countries based on yearly GDP, we are also seeing greater use of social indicators to measure the social well-being of citizens. A recent (September 2006) Deutsche Bank research paper highlights nicely why  measuring GDP is not enough, and identifies measures that can be used to characterize well-being[15].


The dimensions of well-being include income, education, health, the role of women, environment, social peace, diversity and welfare[16]. The Deutsche Bank research paper refers to the United Nations’ annual Human Development Index (HDI), the Weighted Index of Social Progress (WISP), the Happy Planet Index (HPI), the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the Economic Living Standard Index (ELSI), and the National Wellbeing Index which is published by a variety of countries.  Korea publishes a comprehensive statistical yearbook which includes 492 social indicators in 13 areas[17].


According to the research paper, the above measures still do not show how happy people are or how satisfied they are with their lives. It is not surprising that economists predisposed to measuring GDP have different priorities and views of what is needed than people who are focused on social well-being and life satisfaction.



Consumerism (30)


Consumerism is based on the desire to have the ability to consume. This is often linked in North America to the right to choose, and legally it is linked to a negative rights framework (simply put, you should not stop me in my action, but you have no obligation to help me). This form of ableism has an influence on many other isms. It also changes our perception of needs – the notion of human wellbeing and fulfilment of potential is replaced by the right to experience instant gratification.




Superiority-ism (30)

Superiority-ism -- the obsession with being better than others, with outdoing others, and often with controlling others -- is an entrenched ism within the social framework of how humans treat other humans, other species, and (one could say) even the environment. Superiority-ism uses ableism to justify its claim (I am more able than…therefore…) . The desire to be superior to others often drives ableism.



This is just a small list of isms which are supported by ableism and favouritism of certain abilities all of which are a threat to among others a culture of peace and social development.



A need to change the convergence technology discourse


I outlined above numerous types of convergences all of which I think academics and others such as policy makers, activists, educators, students of all ages and education forms, NGO’s, intergovernmental organisations, organisations with a global reach, businesses and the public at large have to incorporate.


The education system (formal education non formal education, the difference school forms, lifelong learning…) has to be much more pro-active and convergent in regards to what and how it teaches. It has to highlight much more the interconnectivity of issues and must have a global outlook.    



The funding system (academic) has to encourage multidisciplinarity within a person and not just huge groups with different expertise one person per expertise. The funding system of today still promotes silo thinking and territorial turf war.

The funding system has to fund outreach activities by academics and the outreach activities of an academic has to be part of their performance evaluation.


Academic and other journals have to become open access and be online besides in a print version. That means that journals have to find revenues elsewhere such as from the authors which means that funding has to be provided by granting agencies to pay for the cost of getting published.    


The funding system (non-academic) has to encourage multidisciplinarity within a person and projects which highlight the interconnectivity of issues and concepts. Many non academic projects are very narrow in focus and do not allow for the bigger picture to emerge. The existing funding system encourages social group hierarchies, silo thinking of topics and the segregation of social groups and topics even if they are related.



Engagements have to change. An increased development of so called Citizen Science might be useful (39;40)


Much more foresight exercises have to be funded. They have to be performed not just by academics and the military but also by NGO’s and others. Disabled people for example are so engulfed in daily struggles that they do not have the capacity -people and money-wise- to learn and influence to-come events such as emerging technologies (39) and the changing philosophies around them(8;39)  which again have an impact on their daily struggle(39) and their achievements such as the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.(41;42)


The too simplistic science-and-technology-is-the-salvation-mantra has to stop and one has to put on equal footing visibility and otherwise the societal frameworks needed in order to make the science and technology useful


There are more issues and many more will be covered by others at this conference. I just want to cover one other area.



A need to address ableism and its consequences (30)


Judgment based on abilities is so ingrained in every culture that its use for exclusionary or otherwise negative purposes is seldom questioned or even recognized. In fact, groups who are marginalized due to some form of ableism often use that very sentiment to demand a change in status (we are as able as you are; we can be as able as you are with accommodations).

Dealing with ableism is essential if we want to diminish, reverse, or prevent the conflict that may result from the disruptive potential of many nanoscale science and technology products. Without dealing with the tenets of ableism one can not achieve poverty reduction; peace; better living standards (especially for traditionally excluded segments of the population); empowerment of people; dialogue among civilizations; dialogue and integration of mainstream science with traditional, local and indigenous sciences of diverse cultures; diversity; sustainability; and distributive justice. Without tackling ableism, no real and durable sustainable equity and equality for any country, group, or individual will be achieved. It is time to see ability not just within the context of disabled people but to look at it from a broader cultural perspective.



I propose the new field of Ability Studies (30)(31) under which a variety of issues and groups could converge -- a discipline where the preceding challenges could be studied.

Ability Studies investigates: (a) the social, cultural, legal, political, ethical and other considerations by which any given ability may be judged, and which leads to favouring one ability over another; (b) the impact and consequence of favouring certain abilities and rejecting others; (c) the consequences of ableism in its different forms, and its relationship with and impact on other isms; (d) the impact of new and emerging technologies on ableism and consequent favouritism towards certain abilities and rejection of others; and (e) identification of the abilities that would lead to the most beneficial scenario for the maximum number of people in the world.

Ability Studies includes among others:

  • the traditional disabled
  • the techno poor disabled
  • people who gain enhancements
  • other non human targets for ability modifications
  • new life forms

and looks at areas such as:

  • ableism supported prejudices
  • ableism differences between cultures
  • ableism-driven judgement of countries
  • ableism and development
  • influence of ableism on numerous concepts such as  biological diversity, cultural diversity, the culture of peace, and interpretation of documents treaties, and laws.










It is acknowledged that the results in Google scholar due to its selection of journals might lead to some bias however so is any one academic journal database as they are focussing on one academic sector/cluster or another. However I believe one can still get a rough idea for certain trends.  


Google and Google scholar were accessed March 30 2007


Table 1




Google Scholar





Academic Fields

+ Nanotechnology






+biological sciences



+ cognitive



+information technology



“CT” Nanotechnology biotechnology



“CT” Nanotechnology information technology



“CT” Nanotechnology cognitive



“CT” Nanotechnology Media



“CT” Media






+neuro sciences



+synthetic biology



+molecular manufacturing












+ social science



+ disability studies



+ ability studies



+environmental studies



+ medicine






+cultural studies



+women studies













+environmental safety















+ human security



+food security



+social cohesion









+human enhancement















+culture of peace



Social Groups

+ women







+ “the south”






+”the poor”



+ disabled people



+ people with disabilities



+indigenous people









+artificial intelligence


































Some concepts

+biological diversity



+cultural diversity




168(most seem to relate to money equity)





+human rights”



+animal rights



+distributive justice






Gross domestic product





























































































Similar results ratio wise if not absolute number wise are obtained if one searches academic publication databases Academic Search Premier [18] Cambridge Scientific Databases [19] and Ovid Scientific Databases[20]







     1. M.Roco, W. B. e. Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. 2003. http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report.pdf.  Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht Hardbound.

     2. Alfred Nordmann. Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno-Socio-Anthro-Philo- HLEG Foresighting the New Technology Wave Converging Technologies " Shaping the Future of European Societies, 2004, http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/conferences/2004/ntw/index_en.html, http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/conferences/2004/ntw/pdf/final_report_en.pdf,

     3. ETC Group. The Big Down , 2003, 47, http://www.etcgroup.org/documents/TheBigDown.pdf,

     4. Wolbring, G, Synthetic Biology 2.0, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.05.30.htm, 2006.,The Choice is Yours Column at Innovationwatch.com

     5. Immortality Institute (2004). The Scientific Conquest of Death LibrosEnRed, Buenos Aires.,http://www.imminst.org/ http://www.imminst.org/SCOD.pdf

     6. Wolbring, G, Human Security and NBICS, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.12.30.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

     7. Wolbring, G, NBICS and Social Cohesion, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2007.01.15.htm, 2007.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

     8. Wolbring, G. HTA Initiative #23 The triangle of enhancement medicine, disabled people, and the concept of health: a new challenge for HTA, health research, and health policy, 2005, ISBN 1-894927-36-2 (Print); ISBN 1-894927-37-0 (On-Line); ISSN: 1706-7855 , http://www.ihe.ca/documents/hta/HTA-FR23.pdf,

     9. Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology, Molecular Mnufactoring, http://www.crnano.org/overview.htm, 2005.,webpage

   10. Cientifica. Nanotech and Food - The Real Numbers, 2006, http://www.cientifica.com/blog/mt/2006/08/nanotech_and_food_the_real_num.html, http://www.cientifica.com/www/summarys/Nano4FoodBrochure.pdf ,

   11. ETC Group. THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF NANO-SCALE TECHNOLOGIES ON COMMODITY MARKETS: THE IMPLICATIONS FOR COMMODITY DEPENDENTDEVELOPING COUNTRIES, 2005, http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?id=45, http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/45/01/southcentre.commodities.pdf ,

   12. Wolbring, G, Enhancement of Animals, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours-2007-03-15.htm, 2007.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   13. Guido David Núñez-Mujica, The Ethics of Enhancing Animals, http://transhumanlaw.org/The_ethics_of_enhancing_animals.ppt, 2005, http://transhumanlaw.org/program.htm.,1ST COLLOQUIUM ON THE LAW OF TRANSHUMAN PERSONS Terasem Movement webpage

   14. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Biological Diversity, http://www.biodiv.org/default.shtml, 2006.,Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity

   15. Wolbring, G, Nanoforestry, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.10.15.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   16. Wolbring, G, Artificial Hippocampus, the Borg Hive Mind, and Other Neurological Endeavors, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.11.15.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   17. Wolbring, G, Brain Machine Interfaces, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.11.30.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   18. Wolbring, G.Universal Architectures: Gregor Wolbring on Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno (NBIC) convergence and the ethics of self-identity (2004) Horizon Zero 14, 2, http://www.horizonzero.ca/textsite/dream.php?is=14&file=11&tlang=0,

   19. Wolbring, G.Three challenges to the Ottawa spirit of health promotion, trends in global health, and disabled people (2006) Canadian Journal of Public Health Sept/Oct

   20. Wolbring, G, Kyoto Style Disease Intervention Credit Trading and Neglected Diseases, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.10.30.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   21. Wolbring, G.Emerging technologies (Nano, Bio, Info, Cogno) and the changing concepts of Health and disability/impairment:  A New Challenge for Health Policy, research and care (2006) Journal of Health and Development (India) 2, 1&2 19-37

   22. Wolbring, G, Disease Trading and Disease Intervention and Prevention:Trading and Selling -- Kyoto Style, http://www.politicsofhealth.org/main/disease_trading_and_disease_intervention_and_prevention_trading_and_selling_--_kyoto_style, 2007.,Healthwrights.org webpage

   23. Daar, A. S., Thorsteinsdottir, H., Martin, D. K., Smith, A. C., Nast, S., and Singer, P. A.Top ten biotechnologies for improving health in developing countries (2002) Nat Genet. 32, 2 229-232, PM:12355081,

   24. Salamanca-Buentello, F., Persad, D. L., Court EB, Martin, D. K., Daar, A. S., and Singer, P. A.Nanotechnology and the developing world (2005) PLOS Med 2, 5 e97, http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020097,

   25. Heather L.Greenwood, H. T. G. P. J. R. P. A. S. A. S. D.Regenerative medicine: new opportunities for developing countries (2006) International Journal of Biotechnology 8, 1/2 60-77, http://www.inderscience.com/search/index.php?action=record&rec_id=8964&prevQuery=&ps=10&m=or, http://www.inderscience.com/storage/f121264109387115.pdf,

   26. Heather L.Greenwood, P. A. S. G. P. D. D. K. M. H. T. A. S. D.Regenerative Medicine and the Developing World (2007) PLOS Med 3, 9, http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0030381,

   27. Wolbring, G, Science and Technology and High School Education, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.06.30.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage


   29. Wolbring, G, NBICS and Military Products, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours-2007-01-30.htm, 2007.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   30. Wolbring, G, NBICS, other convergences, ableism and the culture of peace, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours-2007-04-15.htm, 2007.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   31. Wolbring, G.Ability Studies: The politics of Ableism (2007) Development 50, 4

   32. Wolbring, G, Ableism and NBICS, http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.08.15.htm, 2006.,Innovationwatch.com webpage

   33. Wolbring, G.Solutions follow perceptions: NBIC and the concept of health, medicine, disability and disease (2004) Health Law Rev 12, 3 41-46, PM:15706707,

   34. Wolbring, G., (2003) in Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science (Mihail C.Roco National, W. S. B., Ed.) pp 232-243, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht. http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/

   35. SILVERS, A. W. D. a. M. M. B. (1998). Disability, Difference, Discrimination: Perspective on justice in bioethics and public policy(Point/counterpoint: Philosophers Debate Contemporary Issues) Rowman & Littlefield , Landham, Bolder, New York, Oxford

   36. Herrnstein, R. M. C. (1994). Bell Curve Free Press.,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve

   37. Wolbring, G, KEY TERMINOLOGIES IN THE FIELD OF DISABILITY: Change through NBICS, talk on the 27th July, 2006 at a World Health Organisation meeting, http://www.bioethicsanddisability.org/whatishealth.html , 2006.,International Center for Bioethics, Culture and Disability

   38. Wolbring, G, What Convergence is in the Cards for Future Scientists?  http://www.bioethicsanddisability.org/convergence, 2007.,Conference presentation Vienna May 2007 hosted on International Center for Bioethics Culture and Disability webpage

   39. Wolbring, G, Scoping paper on Nanotechnology and disabled people, http://cns.asu.edu/cns-library/documents/wolbring-scoping%20CD%20final%20edit.doc, 2006.,Center for Nanotechnology in Society Arizona State University

   40. Wolbring, G.Nano-engagement: For Whom? By Whom? With Whom? for what? What Risk? Medical Health? Environmental? Social? (2007) Journal of Health and Development (India) submitted,

   41. United Nations, United Nations INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/, 2007, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/index.html.,United Nations Convention webpage

   42. Wolbring, G, NBICS and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , http://www.innovationwatch.com/choiceisyours/choiceisyours.2006.09.15.htm, 2006, http://www.innovationwatch.com/commentary_choiceisyours.htm.,Innovationwatch.com webpage




[1] Although the title just mentions scientist this convergence is in the card for nearly everyone

[5] Prospective Applications for CT in Nano-Bio-Info Systems

(PACT-NBIS) www.apecforesight.org/apec_wide/EID/docs/khaolak/EID_khaolak_011_Jack_Smith.ppt

[8] COP II/11 (Jakarta, 6 - 17 November 1995) states: “Reaffirms that HUMAN GENETIC RESOURCES are not included within the framework of the Convention” (see also COP VI/24 Annex BONN GUIDELINES ON ACCESS TO GENETIC RESOURCES AND FAIR AND EQUITABLE SHARING OF THE BENEFITS ARISING OUT OF THEIR UTILIZATION C: Scope point 9).

[18] http://epnet.com/

[19] http://www.csa.com/

[20] http://www.ovid.com/site/index.jsp