Dr Daniela Cerqui, PhD

social and cultural anthropologist

I am a Senior Lecturer in cultural anthropology at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). I am involved in the study of the relationship between technology and society and, more fundamentally, humankind.

My email address is: daniela.cerquiducret[at]unil.ch

My main fields of interest

  • future of humankind in the era of human and computer hybridisation (cyborgs, posthumankind, posthumanism);
  • therapy versus enhancement (implants, Prozac, genetics), definition of normality;
  • social and ethical issues related to converging technologies (information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, cognitive science);
  • pervasive and ubiquitous computing;
  • cybernetics, artificial intelligence and artificial life, robotics (self-organisation, bio-inspiration);
  • information society, networked society, cybersociety, virtual life (i.e. CCTV, the Internet, mobile phone, laptop, etc.).

My researches focus on the development of the new information technologies and the ‘information society’ these technologies are supposed to create. In such a society computers are more and more integrated everywhere in our environment (‘pervasive computing’). Furthermore, chips and human bodies are merging and such a symbiosis has consequences for the future of humankind. I am especially interested in how engineers who work on these new technologies see this future: what is (descriptive aspect) and what should be (normative aspect) a human being according to them?

Furthermore, I am interested in the ethical and social aspects of the so-called convergent technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive sciences and information technology) and of robotics, as all these fields are merging to modify humankind.

The main issues I am concerned with are related to human enhancement, and the post-humankind to which it might lead. Research in this area encompasses not only thinking about the future of humankind, but also about our current values, which is fundamental for the understanding of our society.

I wrote my PhD thesis (2005) on the imaginative world of those, mainly engineers but also physicians, involved in building technological implants, or more broadly computer technologies potentially implantable.

Then I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Cybernetics, University of Reading, UK, where Kevin Warwick, a pioneer in the field of brain to machine and brain to brain communication and who was the first human being to have a chip implanted in one of his nerves for enhancement purposes. I carried out an ethnographical research in this Department, which meant following Kevin in his activites, trying to understand which are his main values and how a cyborg culture can be promoted.

On the other hand, as I think that social scientists must be engaged, my postdoctoral work at the University of Reading enabled me to establish a strong and ongoing collaboration with Kevin. We collaborated on a European-funded consortium, which included partners from ten universities (department of engineering or humanities) interested in the social issues of robotics. Kevin and I continue to collaborate on papers and talks. We hope that this will make social scientists aware of how far Kevin is going in his researches, and computer scientists aware of the fundamental issues (social, ethical, philosophical and anthropological) raised by their practices , even if they are convinced that technology is just a neutral tool.