Abhinav Lodha and Samya Verma
“Our tools also affect our thoughts” ~ Nietzsche
Our perception of the world, as well as our idea of “being” and what it means “to be,” is fast donning the garb of a ‘technological framework’.
Where humans were always the gods of their creation, such pinnacles of science as generative AI are now becoming our overlords. As Lewis Carroll once wrote, “I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.” And indeed, human social systems and sense of self appear unable to keep pace with the rapid advancement of technology. In such a scenario, an ever-pressing need to reimagine the relationship between society and technology surges. A backward glance at our history, as we revisit the Great Global Tech Debate of the last century, may well become our guiding light towards the future.
Critically understanding ‘technology’ in all its myriad manifestations is necessary for guiding the said tool’s ethical integration into society. While some use it to describe the very human ability to influence nature to satiate one’s own needs; others are of the opinion that ‘technology’ can solely be used to reference intricate systems wrought by human intellect, including infrastructure, tools, and machinery. Either way, these conceptualizations are premised on the role of knowledge in guiding human action.
Further, there is a tradition of philosophers following Michael Foucault’s ‘Technologies of the Self’, that see technology as a neutral tool of utility to both exercising and opposing power. They surmise that the value point of technology as positive or negative is subject to the user’s intentionality. In common parlance, “technology” is often synonymised with the ideals of progress and improvement. But the Foucaultian school of thought radically derails this in favor of understanding technology through the people that wield it, use it, and govern it, and the impact it consequently generates. Throughout this article, I will be arguing ‘for’ the traditions that are redefining ‘what it means to be human’ by blurring the distinction between organic and artificial, while keeping ethical considerations in mind.
Embers of Criticality: The Neo-Luddite Spark
Building upon the Luddite tradition of deifying its progenitor Ned Ludd’s complete rejection of technology, the Neo-Luddites now advocated a suspicious study of such advancement from all perspectives. Approaching the idea of technology with careful consternation, they called for the allocation of social resources to correct any advancement that was found to be potentially harmful. Like embers of criticality, small but smoldering, the Neo-Luddites emanated from the fires of their time.
Hovering over to present day, social media, virtual reality, and AI amongst others, are deeply transforming how we self-perceive and then present ourselves to the world. Already, an uncontrolled upheaval is underway when it comes to us projecting our personal identities in the cyberspace.
Were the Neo-Luddites to assess the onset of today’s technological revolution, they would call for small-scale social and moral experimentation that allows for society to adapt along the way. Such an approach to AI and related advancements may appear idealistic, but it is already being followed in other fields like medicine where new treatments and vaccinations are thoroughly evaluated before they can be safely and ethically administered to the broader society.
Survival of the Fittest: Transhumanists Transcend Humanity
Courtesy of technology, humans have come to inhabit multiple layers of the world, where they can seamlessly experience vivid simulations of imagined scenarios at the click of a button. Such advancements have the potential to revolutionize industries, education systems, and even our self-perception by blurring the line between physical and virtual realities. Techno-determinism and its transcendence of ‘what it means to be human’ in favor of the merging of man and machine takes center stage here.
These transhumanists were unabashedly optimistic: Their striving for progress was premised upon the breach of all underlying ethics. As they advocated for the inevitability of technical advancement and society’s metamorphosis in response to it, their views increasingly supported the paradigm of natural selection. Even today, deep explorations in the field of mind uploading, cyborgs, and anti-aging, threaten to upend our sense of selfhood and raise questions about what it means to be human. These technologies are already enabling humans to augment their physical and cognitive capabilities.
Timeless tales of multiverses and world beyond our own are becoming tangible realities with the onset of Metaverse, Virtual Reality etcetera. Artificial Intelligence is essentially pushing for a paradigm shift in even our perception of the fabric of reality. Only an artificially enhanced human may be able to catch up in the near future with this revolutionary metamorphosis of communication, entertainment, and education.
Technology is transcending its role as a mere tool to become an instrument of human enhancement. Implantable devices, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering may soon be used to enhance memory, intelligence, and physical prowess, allowing only the ‘enhanced human’ to survive the onslaught of time. It appears that we are becoming far more than our current physical, mental, and social selves can comprehend, as natural selection itself falls within the palm of our hand.
A Parting Note: On Postulating Posthumanism
“To be alive: not just the carcass,
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but…
If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”
To Be Alive by Gregory Orr
Heidegger once called ‘technology’ a ‘technique of revealing’. Over the course of our discussion, I have had the revelation that a synthesis of binaries epitomized by Posthumanism is the way forward. With its belief in redefining the interaction between civilization and technology on more ethical grounds, Posthumanism also does not discount a critical approach against the onward march of human progress. It advocates for exploring human boundaries without forgetting our roots. To ensure a fair and just society where technology resolves rather than compounds concerns over privacy, security, and equitable access, it is crucial to strike a balance between technological progress and human values.
Take for instance the growing reliance of human creativity on all manners of Artificial Intelligence. Unregulated progress here would mark the demise of the human ability to paint, sing, dance, and write. It will limit our imagination and confine our thoughts more than we realize. We will soon find ourselves paying up to get that ‘real’ human touch and creativity from the recesses of a robot. A posthumanist approach to AI, however, would provide us assistance in elevating our art to newer horizons without losing touch with what we are good at, which is being “human”. We should embrace and protect this humanity with all our might because it may be the only ‘spark’ that sets us apart from machines and gives our existence meaning. We must consider relying on technologies without becoming dependent on them and begin viewing them as external expressions or manifestations of our inner reality rather than as a tool to do our work for us.
Abhinav Lodha is an undergraduate student of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at Plaksha University
Samya Verma is a Publishing Associate with the Centre for Thinking, Language and Communication at Plaksha University