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PHILOSOPHER KOERT VAN HUMANVOORT

In addition to being a philosopher, Koert van Mensvoort (1974) is a technologist, artist and designer. He uses design to materialize philosophy into art, from a cookbook for cultured meat to tweeting implants, with the aim of starting a discussion about our technological future. Text and production: Bart-Jan Brouwer
Editorial: Susan Poeder
Image: John van Helvert

You graduated in computer science, did philosophy at Utrecht University, a master's degree from the Rietveld Academy and received your PhD on psychophysical qualities of computer interfaces. Couldn't choose?

“I was just very eager. From a hut builder, I became a whiz kid in my teens and started making video games. That got quite out of hand. When I left school, it made perfect sense for me to study computer science. But I missed the visually creative aspect. And so I went to art school in parallel. There I discovered that I could do multiple studies with one payment of tuition fees. So why not include philosophy as well?”

What exactly does the Next Nature philosophy entail?

“Next Nature is a different way of looking at the relationship between nature and technology, and the role of humans in it. We co-evolve with nature and transform it with our technologies into the next nature, a Next Nature. We are used to seeing nature and technology as opposites, as black and white. Everything that is born is nature; everything that is made is technology. The whole of the Netherlands was created. Our technological environment is so complex, it is a nature in itself, the new wilderness.

When that light bulb went on for me fifteen years ago, I thought: 'Wow, we're seeing it all completely wrong. We live in a kind of rear-view mirror with concepts that make no sense. We cannot approach the future this way, we have to look at it in a new way.' This was such an important story, so much bigger than one person, that I immediately thought: who is participating in this? That's how it came about.”

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If you were a political leader for one day, what would you change first?

“I would ECO coin a currency that expresses ecological value and that you earn with positive sustainable behavior. I launched the coin years ago and am trying to give it more and more substance from the bottom up. Many companies invest in sustainability, but not all employees behave sustainably. Hence our idea to introduce the ECO coin within the company. Employees who come to work by public transport instead of by car earn ECO coins. At a certain number you can get a free lunch or a day off. This year we ran a test for a month with all employees of L'Oréal Netherlands, around 250 people. That was a great success.”

Another project concerns a converted SRV vehicle that you use to drive across the country. It is full of speculative products. Which one arouses the most interest among the now more than 100.000 visitors?

"In this NANO Supermarket they can choose from about twenty products. The question is: 'What would you like to buy and what should never come onto the market?' I think a product is best when one half wants it and the other half absolutely does not. Such as the boy-girl condom, which you use if you want to become pregnant and where you can determine the gender. The pink one if you want a girl, the blue one for a boy. There were huge discussions in the SRV car. Then I have achieved my goal: people will start talking about their preferences for where technology is going and which direction they want to go. Far too often we lag behind innovations.”

Where do you get your ideas from?

“There is such a flood of ideas, more than I can practically work out. I also draw from dreams. Technology develops from that. However, we give in too quickly to half possibilities. We dream of flying like a bird, but we resign ourselves to a crowded Schiphol airport. Those Boeings are old-fashioned again. Just like the QWERTY keys on your keyboard. They were once placed in such a way so that the hammers of the typewriter did not touch each other. And they are still the standard. We don't think anymore, because it's done or something. You have to go back to that basic dream 'I want to fly'. I think it's important to push that. If we take our technologies from the bottom up through the 'pyramid of technology', we could truly turn our dreams into reality. Then we know where we're going. And that is not back, but forward to nature.”