Being Human in the Age of Technology

As we are entering full swing into the new industrial revolution, into industry 4.0, we need to ask ourselves where humans fit into this whole equation. To do so, we need once again to reestablish what is it that makes us humans, from where does our essence come from and how can we express it within the current world. As this will be a short article I will not aim to offer a comprehensive approach to this question, but only to point out some of my current thoughts on this subject.

First of all, what is it within us that is essentially human? Some say that it is our comprehension and logic, some say that it is our ability to interact and form deep bonds and connection between ourselves and with the natural and technical world, others think that it is our ability to create, some that it is our selfishness, others say that we were made in the image of god, some see us as coarising together with the rest of reality, etc. Each of these views offer their relative truth, from their limited perspectives (some wider, some narrower). What I think needs to be stressed is that the human sine qua non is not stable. I see human uniqueness as evolving together with the world, as a constantly changing and unfolding spark.

This constant transformation of the human sine qua non comes from the fact that we are not independent, isolated, self-enclosed, discrete, enduring, and immutable things. We are part of a living, ever changing world and we are defined by it and through it, while at the same time it is defined by us and through us. As we take our place within this reality, with each and every conscious instance, that which we are is constantly being redefined. This can at first sound absurd, but it is not.

Our incapacity to perceive something cannot be used as proof of the non-existence of said manifestation, of course it also cannot be used as proof for its existence, but we can use deduction in order to affirm the above claim of perpetual change. While it is not simple to see this, please imagine each and every element within the world as a nod within a network. Any action that takes place at any point within the network sends out a certain information. All the nods that are directly connected to that one that engaged in said action receive the information that results and react to it. These reactions, in turn, get sent to the nods that were in direct contact with those that reacted to the initial responders, and they react as well. Now this goes on in perpetuity. Hence, with each and every instance that passes, a new structure, a new world is formed and thus a new us.

In our daily life we use heuristics to ignore minor changes as we would otherwise be in a constant state of rediscovering the world, which while exhilarating on the one hand can be nerve wracking and anxiety creating on the other.

How does technology come into play in all of this? While at first, we accept the impossibility of defining ourselves without the natural and technical world and our deep seeded interdependence, we at the same time accept that some differentiation can be drawn between these three elements. In this case I will focus on the difference between humans and technology.

As the latter evolved, what were at one point considered uniquely human and even highly praised actions are now transformed into technological ones that no human would practice outside of a sacred ritual. Let us take the copying of texts as an illustration of this. In ancient times, scholars had been employed to copy texts. Now we do not see any scholars doing this, we see printers, or Scanners handling the process of copying (that in those cases where the text is not by default written in a digital format). In the case of some very rare and ancient texts you may have scholars that are taking part in the copying process to ensure that the original is safely and carefully handled, but the copying itself is still being done by a machine. On the other hand, the interpretation of these ancient texts and even of modern ones are not being given to machines but still remain a purely human endeavor. But, within the process of interpretation, machines do have their role as assistants. Instead of going through libraries of physical books we can now use natural language processing to help us find mentions of the book we are interpreting within the whole wealth of human knowledge that has been digitized, and this in a matter of minutes. This, too was once part of human action. We would go search through multiple books in the look out for references. Being limited by our processing capacity, we had to apply heuristics in order to select the books through which to search. Now, that age has passed for those that have synchronized themselves with technology.

Those that still apply the old way of working, will for sure be delivering subpar results. For, machines can reach a standard in search and recovery out of the library of humanities wealth of knowledge that none of us could hope to equal. They can go through more information in a couple of minutes than we could hope to go through in our life time, making competing with them in this a rather futile endeavor. Beyond the futility of this endeavor and the subprime results that it would generate, we need to think: is this something that humans should do? Is the action we are currently considering engaging that part of us which can be considered the sine qua non of humanity? And, how can we evaluate that?

First, we need to define as precisely as possible the action that needs to be done. This needs to be a critical definition that looks at the impact of said action within the desired outcome. Second, after having clearly defined the action and its implication within the process that leads to the desired outcome, we need to find out if it can be done by a machine, be it mechanical or digital. If yes, then humans should not continue to do this action, again, except if this action would be part of a sacred ritual. Outside of the exception, performing such actions only serve in moving us away from our human essence and can be said to be dehumanizing for by performing them we become more similar to the machines that have been made to realize said actions.

Now, I did say that there is an exception, that of the sacred ritual. A sacred ritual is done in and for itself with no other objective in mind. Through its realization we are connected to another dimension of reality that is not material in nature and that allows us to connect with the divine. We go back in history and rediscover ourselves by reuniting with the wave of co-emergence that has characterized reality since its inception. We are lead back to a time when a certain action, that we now consider a given, that we now see as profane, was something to be revered or when it was an essential element of human existence. Thus, we travel to a more ancient version of ourselves and come to peace with the elements that we have left behind.

These having been said, I consider that it is our duty to ensure that humans, in a teleological environment, in an environment where one does not do certain actions just for themselves but with a goal in mind, will never not have to perform actions that machines can perform. Performing such actions outside of a sacred ritual does nothing but move us away from our human essence and thus leads to our dehumanization.

The word of the article:

“Dehumanization or an act thereof can describe a behavior or process that undermines individuality of and in others. A practical definition refers to it as the view and treatment of another person as if they lack mental capacities that we enjoy as human beings.” (source Wikipedia, 1.30.2019)

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