The Values of Imperfection in an Age of Human Optimization

Mads Rosendahl Thomsen
Aarhus University

Technology has influenced the ways humans engage in optimization in a number of ways: Technologies for monitoring health have spread rapidly; cosmetic surgery has become more mainstream and affordable; genetic analyses hold promises of better insights to risk and for personalized medicine; and social media have created a new sphere where self-presentation has been amplified considerably.

At the same time, there are the threats or promises of further implementation of technologies, for example in selecting features in fertilized eggs based on a genetic profile or the editing of the human genome. The historian Yuval Noah Harari has also suggested that human agency will change as AI systems will be able to help make better decisions than it would be possible without this help. Access to the technologies of optimization are not distributed evenly and some are or will most likely only be within reach for a minority.

While better health and longer, happier lives are difficult to contend, the hopes for perfection can be challenged, not least from an aesthetic point of view. In this talk, I will argue that widely shared aesthetic values are deeply involved with elements of imperfection, in visual and narrative media alike, and in the mediums of voice and language. This counter-intuitive aspect of aesthetics may serve as an important correlative to transhumanist fantasies of control and self-improvement that often are attached with the marketing of new technologies.