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exploring public perceptions of Human Enhancement technology (HEt)

For my PhD research, I created a series of facilitated workshops using Participatory Design methods to ascertain the response of a non-specialist audience to the development of HEt, driven by the belief that those who are affected by a technology have reason to be involved in its’ design. The workshop methodology looks for consistent responses (if any) when the workshop type, issue addressed, HEt technology, and audience are different, indicating which issues are important to the publics. The four facilitated workshops are developed in response to one, or more, of the issues in the ‘Ethics Grid’ about different speculative HEt from the ‘Body Schematic’ diagram.

Analysis of the workshops, individually and then as a group, provided insight into the issues and benefits of HEt as perceived by a variety of publics – recognising that the insights/audiences are potentially biased as the events were predominantly art/science/future themed, and in a Western setting. 

body schematic & HEt ethics grid


this reflects opinions of workshop participants


Inequality featured most frequently with participants concerned about whether the technology would be accessible to those from different socioeconomic backgrounds and whether it would create unfair advantages for those who could afford it. Participants perceived those without enhancements to be ‘purer’ as they are unaltered by technology. However some participants questioned this perceived purity of humanity as we have already evolved throughout history. Benefits were mainly seen as therapeutic, such as genetic editing to erase disease. Non-therapeutic benefits were technology and context specific, enhancement in sport was most favourably received and aesthetic enhancement least favourably.


Participants showed concern that potentially beneficial technologies could be used for harmful purposes and therefor become undesirable, however it was not the technology but the person using it that was seen as the negative influence. Concepts such as ‘normal’ and ‘other’ were challenged, stating that they are out-dated or that they cannot be used as sweeping terminologies. The media was understood to have an influence on participants opinions on and knowledge of HEt, with some acknowledging that deliberately sensationalist reporting may give untruthful perspectives of the technology.

Full documentation & analysis is not published but feel free to email if you have any inquiries or want to discuss


Participants V&A Friday late workshop

V&A Friday late

27 Sept 2019

How 'natural' is Human Enhancement?


This was split into 3 relevant fields: Anti-Ageing; Birth Control; and Physical Enhancement in Sport. The intention was to understand whether some seemingly more ‘natural’ technologies (such as exercise, contraception) are perceived to be more acceptable as a means of enhancement than more modern, seemingly synthetic technologies (such as performance enhancing drugs, gene-editing, and radical life extension technologies).

Worksheets were made to fit to the drop-in style of the event. This allowed visitors to choose which topic they wanted.

worksheets & images


5 November 2019

Role-play future scenario

Participants were given role play cards with either an enhancement technology on, or an ‘unenhanced’ card. This workshop allowed participants to actively inhabit the role of a future enhanced citizen. Rather than passively learning about the possibilities and consequences of Human Enhancement technology, the aim is for participants to think subjectively about the impacts HEt would have on their life and others around them - be they enhanced or not.

The workshop was conducted in small groups, approx. 5-6 people, who chose to take part, with 3 groups running in tandem.


 scenario, characters & images

Workshop set up in Design museum

Design Museum

8 June 2019

Tricky Design symposium/workshop


The vignette explored the ethical considerations when designing a 'silent talk' device attached to the skull, choosing a deliberately provocative technology to encourage debate. Specific reference was made to it's attachment to the body and was linked to contemporary conversation on data security & privacy. This workshop was a chance to gain insight in to the perceived ethics from designers, and design related practitioners. 

Each discussion round lasted 10 minutes, with approx. 7-8 people per round. Running 4 times in total.


vignette and pens


5 December 2019

How do you define 'normal'?


‘Normal’ is hard to define, it is contextual, subjective and ever changing. What is normal for one person is not normal for another and is being challenged by perceptions of disability and new enhancement technologies. The participants were given several definitions of normal - medical, psychological etc -  to explore their perception of ‘normal’, consider why they define it as such, potentially open themselves to new definitions, and see which (if any) existing definitions adequately define the concept.

The workshop was drop-in style, using group discussion and post-its to annotate the definitions. 

Worksheets on table in the Reading Room


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