3. New Technologies and Art

(four paragraphs)

CL: What do you mean by technology that is "more significant than just computers"?
SLAYTON: We understand computers, how they work and what they can do now. But I think artists playing with genetics, with nano-technology, robotics, artificial life -- all computer things -- I would like to stimulate artists to get engaged with the evolution of these technologies early on. These new fields have blossomed in the last ten years because of computer technology, and have opened up all kinds of possibilities.

These new areas of scientific investigation are being invented as we speak, and my concern is that artists have an opportunity to play a role in that evolution. They shouldn't come to it late as they did with computers -- after big business, the military and the government had already thoroughly entrenched themselves. Artists can assist and influence the direction of the applications to which these technologies are dedicated. They can also keep a check on them, from a humanist vantage point: what are these new fields about, how are they going to impact us as individuals, as a society... To ask how artists might approach genetic engineering has no clear answer, we don't know. But it seems very important that they ought to be engaged in the investigation regardless.

CL: The idea that an artist could work with genetics seems outrageous because industry wants to keep it under their control?
SLAYTON:It's hard to know what industry wants to do other than make money, but producing art is as important as producing good science. The two ought to happen in tandem, and inform one another. We're at a unique point in history, poised at this threshold where all these new manifestations of technology are about to confront us, and we have to ask some very serious questions about how we want to deploy them, what they're good for and whether there are harmful implications. Artists need to be making work about that as well as work of that. I hope CADRE moves towards these concerns, like how to make artificial life, instead of teaching people how to draw pictures on computers.

CL: What's nano-technology?
SLAYTON: Molecular-sized machines... like for cryonic suspension, for thawing frozen bodies out, you set these little machines loose to go in and repair damaged tissue. It's not just an idea, they've been working pretty desperately on dealing with frostbite and have made significant progress. Other practical uses would be to have these little molecular gadgets gobble up an oil spill, digest it and release a non-toxic by-product. Or you could inject them into your bloodstream to clean up your arteries, or use toothpaste that know your teeth. The idea behind nano-technology is that you have a bunch of minute machines that can work together to build other more complex machines.

CL: Is it possible to explore these new areas at CADRE? Won't that mean that the program will grow in unpredictable ways?
SLAYTON: I think it will grow relative to the direction that the culture takes, and the direction that technology takes, and that's not entirely unpredictable.