Medical museums do not necessarily need to be in dialogue with contemporary science and technology; they can remain safely embedded in the past. But if they have the ambition—like we do—to contrast possible biomedical futures with the medical past (so as to be able to create some really engaging exhibitions), medical museums are well advised to make some educated guesses about what these futures might be.
One source to such guess-work is the National Academy of Engineering‘s list Grand Challenges for Engineering. The current list of 14 challenges includes blockbusters like making solar energy economical, providing energy from fusion, providing access to clean water, securing cyberspace, preventing nuclear terror, and restoring and improving urban infrastructure. And there are, of course, medical and health challenges on the list as well: advancing health informatics, engineering better medicines, and reverse-engineering the brain.
But hey, something’s lacking!? As Partial Immortalization (Attila Csordas) points out, life extension is not among the 14 frontrunners of NAE’s grand engineering challenges. Disappointed, Csordas seems to have given up on government and academy committees ability to lobby for human enhancement. He thinks life extension should be a private business instead, “not something left to governmental policies and think thanks”.
So he puts his hope on the Google founders. When Brin and Page grow older, he thinks, they will hopefully get tired of personal genomics and 23andMe (see earlier post here), and begin supporting “everything healthy and biotech”, and thus become “the decisive player in life extension technology”.
The rest of the argument hangs in the air, although Csordas promises to get back to this story later. I can hardly wait, because his hint of a new chapter in the contemporary history of converging technologies—that is, the fusion of Google and transhumanism—would in my mind be the perfect topic for an exhibition of a sublime medical future. Unless Michel Houellebecq comes first!