Biotechnologie

Revue

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

The Ideological Impulses Driving Transhumanism: On Gilbert Hottois’s book “Philosophie et idéologies trans/posthumanistes”

Transhumanism, first popularized in North America in the 1960s (by Ray Kurzweil) and more particularly from the 1980s onwards (when a significantly large movement formed around these ideas), advocates the use of science and technology to improve the physical and mental characteristics of human beings, and hence to impel humanity beyond the human condition in the strict sense of the term. Drawing on the convergence of technologies (IT, nano- and bio-technologies and the cognitive sciences), that movement has been boosted by the advances we have seen in recent years, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence. But what is transhumanism? What are its philosophical and ideological underpinnings? And what is its proponents’ ultimate goal? Might it lead to a posthumanism, relegating the human to the status of historical relic?

In a recent work, Gilbert Hottois set about unpicking the ideological impulses behind transhumanism and its extreme version, posthumanism. Pierre Papon presents us with the broad outlines of that study here, while also stressing the limitations of this ideology when it comes to the medium/long-term challenges facing humanity. If it is essential not to lower our guard at the ethical level, we should probably also engage in a little demystification: techno-scientific progress is still moving too slowly for the plans of the transhumanists actually to be implemented. We can only hope that this continues to be the case…

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Au péril de l’humain. Les promesses suicidaires des transhumanistes

Au péril de l’humain. Les promesses suicidaires des transhumanistes

Les transhumanistes nous annoncent l’avènement, à plus ou moins long terme, d’un « humain augmenté », une rupture technologique sans précédent qui transformerait radicalement l’humanité. Jacques Testart, biologiste et père scientifique d’Amandine, le premier bébé éprouvette né en France, et Agnès Rousseaux, journaliste, veulent montrer dans leur livre les périls auxquels nous expose le transhumanisme. La première partie de l’ouvrage explicite les grandes mutations scientifiques et techniques qui constitueraient, en quelque sorte, le décor du projet transhumanisme ...

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

La Vie 3.0. Être humain à l’ère de l’intelligence artificielle

La Vie 3.0. Être humain à l’ère de l’intelligence artificielle

L’intelligence artificielle est-elle en train de modifier la condition humaine et quelles perspectives nous ouvre-t-elle ? C’est à cette question que veut répondre le livre de Max Tegmark, professeur de physique au Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) et président du Future of Life Institute. Il nous fait parcourir en huit étapes, les chapitres du livre, le chemin qui conduit de la matière, le substrat de l’intelligence et de la mémoire, à une intelligence artificielle (IA) « générale » dotée de ...

(1030 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques

La Singularité du vivant

La Singularité du vivant

Après avoir écrit La Mécanique du vivant [1], je ne pouvais être qu’intéressé par un ouvrage sur la « singularité du vivant ». Je m’en faisais l’idée d’une réflexion sur le transhumanisme et l’université américaine de la Singularité. Je crois, en effet, que ce type de réflexion est important pour éclairer nos contemporains sur des idées et des projets de recherche qui pourraient changer notre avenir. Et Futuribles est le lieu privilégié pour mener ce type de ...

(355 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Life 3.0 : Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

L’intelligence artificielle est-elle en train de modifier la condition humaine et quelles perspectives nous ouvre-t-elle ? C’est à cette question que veut répondre le livre de Max Tegmark, professeur de physique au Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) et président du Future of Life Institute. Il nous fait parcourir en huit étapes, les chapitres du livre, le chemin qui conduit de la matière, le substrat de l’intelligence et de la mémoire, à une intelligence artificielle (IA) « générale » dotée de ...

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Note de veille

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Le projet Neuralink, rêve ou réalité ?

Un peu de fiction Ce que propose le nouveau projet d’Elon Musk, Neuralink, c’est le couplage de notre cerveau avec l’ordinateur, une réalisation qui permettrait des échanges instantanés avec tous les cerveaux humains par l’intermédiaire du réseau Internet mondial. Ce couplage soulagerait aussi notre mémoire et élargirait nos connaissances en permettant un accès direct aux bases de données de type Google sans intermédiaire matériel. Plus de traduction, plus de dictionnaire et même nos souvenirs seraient rangés ...

(1111 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Homo deus. Une brève histoire de l’avenir

Homo deus. Une brève histoire de l’avenir

L’homme a vaincu la famine, la peste et la guerre, même si cette affirmation peut paraître contre-intuitive à certains. Il aspirera désormais à l’immortalité, au bonheur et à la toute-puissance divine en devenant Homo deus. En quelques dizaines de pages volontairement provocantes, Yuval N. Harari présente les trois directions que risque de prendre l’espèce humaine dans un futur proche. Après le succès de Sapiens. Une brève histoire de l’humanité [1] qui s’achevait sur l’évocation ...

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Note de veille

Recherche, sciences, techniques

Peut-on réparer les traumatismes du système nerveux ?

Condamné à vie pour un accident ! Le sort apparaît bien injuste, et pourtant c’est celui de nombreux traumatisés souffrant d’une lésion de la moelle épinière ou d’un accident vasculaire cérébral (AVC). Ces accidents ont en commun un traumatisme nerveux, dans le système nerveux périphérique (moelle épinière) ou dans le cerveau. Le traumatisme interrompt la commande nerveuse des muscles ainsi que la sensibilité que les nerfs remontent vers le cerveau. Vers quelles directions les neurosciences orientent-elles la médecine ...

(930 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Je cherche à comprendre… Les codes cachés de la nature

Je cherche à comprendre… Les codes cachés de la nature

Dans son nouveau livre, Joël de Rosnay, biologiste, ancien pasteurien et vulgarisateur scientifique de talent, nous fait partager sa fascination pour l’unité de la nature et ses réflexions sur les mutations que les techniques numériques vont provoquer dans la société. L’auteur rappelle, en introduction, que depuis un siècle on a compris que la matière et le vivant évoluent du simple au complexe, la chimie et l’électricité jouant un rôle clef, avec la photosynthèse, pour construire le vivant ...

(948 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

La Société de l’amélioration. La perfectibilité humaine des Lumières au transhumanisme

La Société de l’amélioration. La perfectibilité humaine des Lumières au transhumanisme

Nicolas Le Dévédec retrace ici l’histoire de l’aspiration humaine à l’amélioration de l’être humain dans les sociétés occidentales. C’est une ambition qui traverse les siècles et qui a connu des évolutions importantes avec les époques, à l’image de la connaissance et de la vision que l’homme développait de lui-même et de ses rapports à la nature et à la société. La rétrospective s’ouvre sur les origines, depuis le monde antique perçu comme ...

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Note de veille

Recherche, sciences, techniques

Vers une ère de l’enfant parfait ?

Quand la pratique rattrape la théorie : la communauté scientifique a été animée récemment par la publication d’un article scientifique dans lequel une équipe de chercheurs chinois décrit les modifications génétiques qu’ils ont apportées à des embryons humains. À partir d’embryons non viables issus d’une clinique de fertilisation in vitro, les scientifiques ont cherché à modifier le gène à l’origine d’une maladie génétique rare, la béta-thalassémie, afin de le « réparer ». Pour ce faire, ils ont ...

(1015 more words)

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Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

La Mort de la mort

Tout au long d’une remarquable vulgarisation, malgré la complexité des thèmes (génétique, informatique, cerveau…), cet ouvrage nous propose des solutions radicales afin d’éviter une issue dramatique pour notre espèce. Cette issue serait la dégénérescence des humains, particulièrement par la perte inéluctable de nos facultés intellectuelles car nous sommes désormais abrités de la sélection naturelle. Un tel pronostic rappelle celui de Francis Galton, justifiant les pratiques d’eugénisme médical pour stériliser des centaines de milliers de personnes « tarées » à ...

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Revue

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

An Experience of Science-Society Interaction: Reinforcing Research by Drawing on Lay Knowledge, Complexity and Commitment to the Long Haul

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been an object of major controversy. For a large section of French public opinion, they have become the focal point of opposition to the manipulation of living material and of the rejection of a certain agricultural model. Yet, from the research standpoint, GMOs can represent one effective means of gaining knowledge of animal or plant life and the study of its interactions with the environment. In this field, as with many technological innovations, the emergence of controversies between science and society highlights the importance of involving the greatest possible number of citizens in decisions and the need to improve the participatory processes by which they can contribute to them. The experiment in which Anne Moneyron, Olivier Lemaire and Jean E. Masson were involved, as part of the process of setting up a GM grapevine rootstock field trial, attests to the rich results that may emerge from the participative construction of a project of this kind.

In order to carry out this trial while remaining responsive to the reactions of society, the general management of INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, set up a Local Monitoring Committee following the recommendations of an interactive technological assessment. This Monitoring Committee involved most of the stakeholders (actors from the world of vine growing and the agricultural trade unions, conservation and consumer organizations, teachers, state representatives in the fields of agricultural development and food safety, and independent vine growers) who, over eight years of work and in a context where the technology was rejected to the maximum degree because of what it symbolized, collectively designed their own format of science-society debate. The research/action programme that has ensued has enabled the initial project to be re-thought and more research to be produced, because it has been based on a more complex set of questions that accords a legitimate role to all the actors. Proof if it were needed that a science-society dialogue is possible, even on such a controversial subject as GMOs.

Revue

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

GMOs: The European View

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are undeniably one of those subjects that do not provoke remotely the same reactions in North America as in Europe. Whereas the growing of GM crops is highly developed in the USA and arouses little or no controversy within American public opinion, this is an area in which Europeans are very cautious and even genuinely distrustful. As Daniel Boy shows in this article, drawing on Eurobarometer surveys of European citizens carried out over 15 years or so, there has never been a majority in the EU in favour of the development of GMOs for food production and, between 1996 and 2010, the proportion of those reluctant to see such a development actually increased. Above and beyond this general finding of a clear, sustained opposition among Europeans to GMOs in food, Boy shows the disparities that exist between the various European countries and presents reasons that may account for these differences.

Boy goes on to study the structure of European opinion in this field by sex, age and socio-professional category of the respondents, by their degree of “socialization” to science and their level of informedness. He also notes the importance of the level of knowledge of – and familiarization with – science in the attitude towards genetically modified foodstuffs. Lastly, Boy compares the attitudes of Europeans to GM foods with attitudes around animal cloning and the nanotechnologies, showing the great specificity of GMOs, which have been very distinctly and probably lastingly rejected (like animal cloning), thus blocking the development of this technological innovation in Europe. He nonetheless stresses that attitudes towards other innovations (such as nanotechnologies) in no way point towards similar failures in the future.

Revue

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

Towards a Genetically Modified World? Possible Applications of the Biotechnologies

The debate that has been going on for several years, particularly in France, on the wisdom of introducing and developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has polarized opinion among the various stakeholders, producing great distrust within the public on the topic and often helping to cloud the issues within the field. This is one of the reasons why Futuribles decided to devote almost all of this March issue to GMOs, hoping thereby to cast light on the ins and outs of this question for its readers by providing very diverse points of view on – among other things – the economic, scientific, regulatory, sociological aspects of the question.

Before going into detail on this enormous range of questions, Cécile Désaunay offers a brief insight into what GMOs are, the state of research into them and the prospects they might open up in the medium-to-long term. After reminding us of the definition of GMOs and the upsurge of research in this area, she outlines the main existing applications and the lines of research that have found most favour with industry (in its aim, largely, of reducing both production costs and the use of pollutants), agriculture, the food sector and medicine. She emphasizes the risks inherent in this biotechnology so far as the environment and human or animal health are concerned, before stressing the obstacles the sector faces and the questions raised by the concentration of research among a handful of big companies. Working from this base and judging in accordance with their own priorities and values, any reader will be able, by referring to the very informative articles in this issue, to appraise the costs/benefits/risks of the large-scale use of GMOs.

Revue

Entreprises, travail - Institutions - Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

“Responsible” Innovation and Sustainable Development: Producing the Legitimacy of GMOs and their World

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are at the heart of important controversies in the scientific world. But the stakes go far beyond that, as is demonstrated here by Pierre-Benoit Joly. Questions of a more political nature arise, such as what vision of the world one wishes to see prevail in the future, both in the agricultural realm and in the much wider matter of the sustainable development of the planet.

Recalling, first, how regimes of innovation in the plant world have evolved over time, Joly stresses that we have moved from traditional skills and practices to an initial regime of innovation based on state agronomists and seed companies, which has itself evolved towards a “molecular, private, globalized” regime of innovation heavily encouraged by the granting, in the 1980s, of permission to patent living organisms. This has led to agricultural markets becoming tied up to a large extent by a number of major companies and to research being focussed on a small number of species and on GMOs. However, this commitment to GMOs has given rise to much criticism, involving the leaders of the “biotech oligopoly” in a crisis of legitimacy. Hence the efforts made by these parties over several years to legitimate their enthusiasm for GMOs both economically and politically.

It is to this “techno-political” work of legitimation that Pierre-Benoit Joly turns in the second part of his article. Thanks to the privatization of innovation and the globalization of activities, the big biotech multinationals are gradually winning acceptance for their view of the world, by way, among other things, of co-production of the regulation of the risks inherent in innovations (the emergence of a “soft law” lowering the level of mandatory constraint by states) and by intensive lobbying within public institutions and the establishment of “epistemic communities” (networks aimed at bending international law in their direction). Joly shows, lastly, how these players – and particularly Monsanto, which he studies more specifically here – are privatizing the notion of sustainable development in agriculture (by way of ethical charters, for example), so as to make their activities essential to its attainment. This is an “enlistment” operation that is very well described here, though it can still be countered when its workings are properly understood.

Revue

Entreprises, travail - Géopolitique - Institutions - Recherche, sciences, techniques

Biotechnological Plants: Realities, Hopes and Obstacles

In this special issue of Futuribles devoted to genetically modified organisms, Marcel Kuntz and Agnès Ricroch offer a review of the situation regarding biotechnological plants and their socio-economic prospects. After reminding us of the agricultural (and food) challenges our planet will face by the middle of the century, they outline the possible contributions of transgenics to overcoming them (resistance to various kinds of stress, improvement of yields, nutritional contributions), particularly in the developing countries. They go on to stress the advantages of transgenics in the fields of industry (agrofuels) and pharmaceuticals (biosynthesis of proteins and enzymes for therapeutic purposes).

Kuntz and Ricroch then come to a more political strand of argument: the political and regulatory constraints on the development of GMOs in Europe (and, in particular, France). They criticize, for example, the destructions carried out by certain anti-GM movements, and over-cautiousness in the political decisions and regulation that eventually led to the enduring sidelining of French and European players in the plant biotechnology sector. This situation is, in their view, highly damaging and synonymous with scientific and technical defeat. And the means for overcoming it, such as gaining the confidence of public opinion in the field through better information and publicity campaigns directed more at the benefits inherent in the technologies than the risks, have hardly been successful.

Revue

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement

Plant Biotechnology to 2030

David Sawaya, a specialist in plant biotechnology, writes here on the broad developmental trends we are likely to see in this sector up to the year 2030. He begins by recalling the general trends in world agriculture, beginning with the rise in demand for agricultural products that is linked to demographic growth, to the rise in average incomes and to the development of products, such as biofuels, derived from agricultural sources. He sees two possible options for responding to this: to increase the area of cultivable land – though the scope for manœuvre in this area is decreasing – or to increase yields, particularly thanks to advances in the plant biotechnologies, both transgenic and non-transgenic.

After reminding us of the situation regarding GM crops worldwide, David Sawaya presents the prospects for the development of GM crops in light of the existing data. He also points out the changes there have been in the characteristics most sought after within plant biotechnology, showing that the first-generation characteristics (resistance to pests and herbicides) are tending to give way to second-generation characteristics that are more agronomic in character (resistance to various kinds of stress, better yields). He stresses the greater role of developing countries in terms of GM production – and also in research into plant biotechnology, which might increase in the future. Lastly, he clarifies the importance of non-transgenic biotechnologies in the improvement of plant species.

Despite factors likely to slow the development of plant biotechnology – the concentration of the enterprises in the sector around multinationals focussed on large-scale crops to the detriment of small seed companies that are likely to develop innovations in less widespread species, and a highly sceptical public opinion – he takes the view that by 2030, if not indeed by 2015 in the case of the most widely cultivated species, there will be very few plants intended for commercial growing that have not been subjected to some form of biotechnological intervention.

Analyse prospective

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Les biobanques : quels enjeux et perspectives ?

Les biobanques sont un sujet d’actualité, notamment dans la presse française. Ces structures stockent des données et des échantillons biologiques d’origine humaine, animale, végétale ou encore microbiologique, à visée de recherche fondamentale ou appliquée, ou à visée thérapeutique. Les regroupements d’échantillons ainsi formés (sang, urines, tissus…), appelés collections, servent de support à des projets de recherche en fournissant tout un ensemble de données génétiques grâce à l’analyse de l’ADN (acide désoxyribonucléique), parfois à très grande ...

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CR table ronde

Recherche, sciences, techniques

« Et l’homme créa la vie. La folle aventure des architectes et des bricoleurs du vivant. »

Le dernier ouvrage de Joël de Rosnay raconte la naissance d’une nouvelle discipline scientifique à l’avenir prometteur, au croisement de plusieurs disciplines — la biologie, la chimie, l’informatique, la cybernétique, les nanotechnologies… — et qui échappe largement aux laboratoires officiels : la « biologie de synthèse » ou « biologie systémique ».

Note de veille

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

La commercialisation des cellules souches ombilicales

Les cellules souches issues du cordon ombilical offrent un potentiel régénératif proche de celui des cellules souches embryonnaires, sans poser les mêmes problèmes éthiques. Mais la commercialisation de ces cellules, au potentiel économique colossal, fait l’objet d’un débat intense en France. Le pays souffre d’un important déficit de cellules ombilicales disponibles, d’autant plus pénalisant dans un contexte de concurrence internationale accrue.

CR intervention d'expert

Recherche, sciences, techniques

Percées techniques et ruptures scientifiques à l’horizon 2030 ?

Cette intervention s’appuie sur la note de synthèse n°9, « Percées techniques et ruptures scientifiques à l’horizon 2030 » mise en ligne le 9 décembre 2009.