The Future of Being Human
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Rethinking Biology – A Conversation with Michael Levin

Rethinking Biology – A Conversation with Michael Levin

How do the cells in a ridge on your fingertip know where they’re supposed to go? Or what tells the cells on the tip of your tongue what a tongue looks like? 

What determines the final contours of your body? And what governs whether, if those contours are disrupted — say, by the loss of a limb — they are regenerated or not?

Despite the conventional answer of “it’s all in our genes,” it turns out that this is not the case. Rather, the collective behavior of cells is governed by networks, and these networks, it seems, represent hierarchies of collective intelligence that allow biology to problem solve in quite remarkable and unexpected ways.

I recently had the privilege of talking with biologist Michael Levin about his pioneering research in this area. Over 40 minutes or so we touched on everything from the emerging science of endogenous bioelectrical networks to agental systems, embedded intelligence, and even the significance of his work to AI and the future of being human.

This is that conversation.

Check out the links below for more on Mike’s work. You can also watch the video of our conversation here.

And a reminder that if you just want the text, do use the Transcript tab above!

Image: Midjourney

For more information, please check out:

Michael Levin

Michael Levin is the Vannevar Bush Distinguished Professor of Biology at Tufts University, and associate faculty at Harvard’s Wyss Institute. He serves as the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts and the co-director of the Institute for Computationally Designed Organisms at Tufts/UVM.

His lab has pioneered approaches to organ regeneration, cancer reprogramming, non-genetic modification of the bodyplan, and the engineering of novel living proto-organisms. Using tools from behavioral and computer science, Dr. Levin seeks to understand the collective intelligence of cells and harness their problem-solving capacities for applications in birth defects, regeneration, cancer, and synthetic bioengineering.

Andrew Maynard

Andrew Maynard is a scientist, author, Professor of Advanced Technology Transitions, and founder of Arizona State University’s Future of Being Human community. He studies the future and how our actions influence it.

About the Future of Being Human … Unplugged

The Future of Being Human … Unplugged is a series of live streamed conversations that bring together experts and thinkers from very different backgrounds as they explore some of the more intriguing, complex, and profound implications of rapidly developing technological capabilities.

Unscripted, unpredictable, and threaded through with mischievously curiosity, Unplugged aims to push the bounds of how we think about the intersection between advanced technologies, cutting edge science, and the very essence of what it might mean to be human in the future.

And the “Unplugged” bit? We’re unplugging from the usual norms and expectations that so often make online discussions deadly tedious, so no interminable PowerPoint presentations, no long winded opening statements, and no impenetrable monologues – just compelling conversation that’ll make you think.

We’re also unplugging from conventional ideas and often-stifling disciplinary constraints as we explore futures that are anything but conventional.

In other words, expect conversations that engage, entertain, and shake up your world as we explore what it might mean to be human in a technologically complex future!

Recorded as part of The Future of Being Human … Unplugged on April 17, 2024, as part of the Arizona State University Future of being Human initiative.

The Future of Being Human
In Conversation With ...
In Conversation With … is a series of intimate conversations between creative thinkers and leading experts as they explore the intersection of technology, the future, and what it means to be human.