Philosophising about Technology: Who Read and on What Read

We are in Kenya, in the region of Koobi Fora from two million years ago. Between the Savannah, rests a small group of hominids. They are very happy because they are finishing feeding on the corpse of a hippopotamus who had just found (do not know very well if they were carnivores, scavengers, but is likely so out).

Does a lot that they are bipedal, which allowed to release their forelimbs. His hands are already very modern: thumb opposable, dam of power and precision. And perhaps protein intake has helped make your brain much larger than that of its predecessors (will surpass the 600 cubic centimeters in size).

The head lies drowsy poking chunks of meat from between the teeth. Your favorite contonea to its around hoping to seduce you. Metres away, another young female seems thoughtful. While looking at the favorite with envy and contempt, remember that a few days ago he played with his brothers in the bed of a dry stream.

The background was filled with broken stones and when she stepped on them, felt a sharp pain to nail their sharp profiles. As the favorite followed with their seductive dance, she picked up a stone from the ground. It was round, had no sharp.

Hit it on the ground several times but it failed to break it. Then he took another stone and used it as a striker until he was starting chips and formed a sharp tip. If the broken stones from the riverbed violated me pain, this broken stone infringe pain also. He approached the favorite and hit her in the head with his pointed invention…

At these moments should sound the drums and trumpets of the “Thus spoke Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss and far is implying the black monolith from Kubrick. Man, or a relative to it, see the tool, create the technique why is this discovery so crucial?

One of the most important books on the subject are “Meditations of the technique” of our patriotic philosopher par excellence: Ortega y Gasset. The thinker from Madrid tells us that the technique is what makes us fully human. The animals live enclosed in its present, only attending what they have before in this very moment. Man, on the other hand, is able to clam it, i.e. it is able to meet what has front and tucked into his inner world. Man can get out of the world for a while and think, remember, reflect… And that is what is necessary to make a tool.

To carve a handaxe must stop doing what it was doing, find a stone, sitting down in a suitable place and work for quite a while. This should have some understanding of time: You must imagine a future in which will be used the tool and we must remember a past that we have already seen that this fulfilled its role well. And if we master weather, we have history.

We interact with the world using the technique or, better still, create artificial worlds because our way of being in the world is the artificial

Not only will remember when we use a tool, but everything else: we will remember important events of our lives, we will have biographies. To that couple you mastery of language that, necessarily, had to be at the same time, we can tell others our story. Was born our I narrative.

And as each individual has a different biography, was born our individual identity: I have lived experiences different to each other, then I’m different from the others. Ortega comes to say that it is not that there is on the one hand our purely human biological nature and then our artificial technological ingenuity, but our nature is the be artificial.

We interact with the world using the technique or, better still, create artificial worlds because our way of being in the world is the artificial.

Designed for design

From another perspective, the of the evolutionary biology, Ortega theses seem to confirm it. The human being differs morphologically from other living beings by the following adaptations:

  • Legs: We now know that even though we were still being arboreal we walked on two legs. The hypothesis that we were bipeds due to climatic changes which changed our ecosystem of the jungle to savanna has been ditched when it has been well studied to ardipithecus ramidus: living in trees and it was bipedal. The importance of walking on two legs is releasing the upper extremities for new features.
  • Hands: It is the quintessential human adaptation. Our hands are not perfectly adapted to any particular feature: they have no claws or serve for running fast, even for climbing or swimming especially well. Not worth for anything but are valid for all: are designed to produce an infinite number of utensils. They are generalist adaptation for excellence and our bridge to the technique.
  • Brain: We don’t have the animal world’s largest brain but the highest proportion between their size and the size of our body. We are very “cabezones” animals. We are also very neotenicos, i.e. we spend excessively long childhoods, which indicates a wide learning time. Fill that massive brain of information, and it costs time and parental investment. It is what we call education.
  • Eyes: approximately one-third of our brain is dedicated to see. We have one of the best views of the animal world. We look at a wide range of colors, see in three dimensions, long distance and even we can see relatively little light. Our eye is an evolutionary prodigy perfectly able to see in detail what we are going to make.

If we consider all these adaptations, we see that all are aimed at the technique. The Trident hand-eye – brain It is precisely what is needed to make things. Natural selection designed us to design.

Inventing the world

Always it has been me paradoxical as the culture of classical Greece, with an impressive cultural development which had allowed it to create important technological advances, hardly contributed anything in this area. And it is that the Greeks considered that any work involving some type of physical effort (as construct a machine) was a thing of slaves. The Athens of the fifth century BC was sustained by a myriad of slaves that made all the hard work: the field, construction, domestic work…

More interested to full-fledged Greek citizen politics and metaphysics that stain the hands making some gadget. In fact, for Aristotle, a discipline was all the more valuable had many less practical applications. So, first or metaphysics, philosophy was the Queen of the sciences, and engineering was inferior people subject: slaves. Even mathematics is understood in a sense quasi-religious, without any interest in search for them some kind of application.

This dismissive attitude towards the technique remained, with more or less ups and downs (for example, the Romans were much more practical than the Greeks and why we owe them very great architectural works. Also the Arabs or the Chinese brought great inventions) until the modern age, the era of inventions. The Renaissance bourgeois had a mindset very different from the medieval noble.

The 18th century Persian astrolabe

He soon understood that praying and attending the trades not it was rich. The money came to who worked really, so his spirit became eminently pragmatic. With new farming techniques were generated surpluses that could sell in the village market.

But in the village market there were too many buyers, had to take the product further. Best means of transportation were needed. And they came: compasses, astrolabes, sextants… larger and faster ships that could remain long periods at sea: from the primitive Roman galleys passed to carracks, caravels, Galleons, frigates…

We changed the world with the technique to the technique changed ourselves

Thanks to these new territories, expanding the small map of the world of the middle ages (which weren’t beyond North Africa and rarely came to the India) to precise modern navigational charts were discovered. The world was huge: America, Africa South, Asia… and with it, the broadmindedness of the human being. We changed the world with the technique to the technique changed ourselves.

The mastery of technology was a source of power and wealth. Aristotle was very wrong. A very common mistake is in our time think that investing in science and technology is a privilege of the rich countries. No, rich countries is not that they are rich and that they invest in science, is that they are rich by investing in science.

More and more inventions revolutionized our mentality and our way of being in the world: Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press It changed forever the cultural industry. Very expensive medieval Codex joined the paper book, much cheaper and accessible to more people. And then entered the industrial age: Workshop spent factory and the apprentice to the worker. New machines produced much more and more cheaply than a human worker. The looms and the mechanical spinning, arrived and the steam engine it filled all of Europe’s railways. Capitalism became wild.

The technique not only brought improvements, but it increased exponentially our capacity for destruction

Enlightened thinkers promised a new era of unlimited light and progress if we dedicated our efforts to develop science and technology. But they have sinned naive. The technique not only brought improvements, but it increased exponentially our capacity for destruction. They arrived new military techniques: Since antiquity, the discovery of iron had to assume an extraordinary advance in the art of war.

I imagine the lop-sided battle between an army armed with swords, Spears and armor of bronze, against another at full age of iron: a massacre. Catapults and all kinds of artifacts from the siege, improvements in the techniques of forging of weapons (then came the steel) and, later, the great revolution of gunpowder: arquebuses, muskets and cannons…

Mark IV tank used in World War I by the British army

The big moment occurred in the first world war, the first great technological war in history. Nations in contention soon realize that nineteen cavalry charges wasn’t anything to pass through fields full of barbed wire and mines. Submarines, tanks, toxic gases, aviation, heavy artillery…

Battles is not already decided on a last heroic attack, but the economic and industrial power of countries fighters. Germany lost the war not because it was badly defeated on the battlefield, but because she was completely exhausted economically. It could not already compete with the rhythm of war production of their enemies and surrendered. The price of this war was more than nine million of dead combatants and scorched Europe.

The illustrated promises began to question, where has this technological progress without limits carried us? And pessimism became stronger when it burst the Second World War, much more deadly than the first (with estimates that they reach the 70 million deaths) and even more technology. Often speak of it as the “total war” already that every country overturned all civilian and military resources.

Science, industry, economy, technology… all in the service of the destruction of the enemy. And in case outside little, the end of the contest not took us to a world more secure in which human beings would have definitely learned the lesson, but that led us to the possibility of the final Apocalypse: the cold war.

The two winning blocs, United States and the Soviet Union, engaged in the most dangerous arms race in history: the progressive increase in its nuclear arsenal. If a country attacked first by launching its missiles, until they reach their target, the other would have launched their own.

The missiles would sit in the sky and the most important cities of the West would be completely destroyed. Einstein He said he didn’t know what they knew would like a third world war, is that a fourth would be with sticks and stones. Is the reason.

Is this the world of Justice, freedom and happiness that promised the illustration? In the 20th century, when Western science and technology reached its maximum boom, humanity was on the brink of extinction should abandon once and for all this optimism?

The megamachine

Probably one of the best pieces I’ve read is”Technology and civilization”of Lewis Mumford. With a smooth and addictive but erudite prose as few, it shows us the technological development of the West in constant communication with art, architecture, philosophy and any cultural aspect that might think. It is no coincidence that Mumford has considered it to be as the last humanist of the 20th century. A few have read I know for so many things, that touches so many sticks, and all well. And it is her philosophy advocates the hyperspecialization of the vast majority of current intellectuals flee.

The end of your story becomes the megamachine, which is nothing more than the current economic and technological system. According to Mumford, our society has completely lost the North in so far as it has created a a complex system that is not in the service of your well-being, that has left her hands.

Pyramids of Egypt, the origin of the Megamachine according to Lewis Mumford

Technology advances out of control in the hands of a blind human being before their results. Mumford emphasizes that much of the technological advances that we have built on the suffering of many people. Our unsustainable system brutally degraded ecosystem, generates semi-slavery working regimens (Mumford argues that the origin of the megamachine was in the pyramids of Egypt, where thousands of slaves worked and died to feed it. This is an extension of this) and, ultimately, threatens with the exterminate entire civilization in nuclear cataclysm.

This idea connects very well with the philosophy of the Frankfurt School, a group of intellectuals from the likes of Adorno, Horkheimer and Habermas, who argued that our society was dominated by the instrumental reason, a strictly scientific and technological reason in the service of political and economic power, blind to a reflection about the goals that we would like for our world.

Since approaches inspired by Marxism and psychoanalysis, explained that catastrophic events that have plagued the 20th century as the Jewish extermination at Auschwitz, obeyed a perfect instrumental logic. The gas chambers were a very efficient system of irreproachable extermination at the technological level. They were an excellent megamachine. “I recommend the reading to learn more about this perspective of”Science and technique as ideology”of Jurgen Habermas.

Technophobes

These harsh criticism to the technological advance have divided the community among technophiles and technophobes. The first, more numerous in the humanities and social sciences, tend to assert in varying degrees and qualifications, that the technology is essentially bad (read the essay about the technique of the influential philosopher Martin Heidegger), reaching extremes like Primitivism or the neoludismo. The first calls for the return to the nature roussoniana.

Full abandon our current system and return to other more sustainable and in keeping with the natural world, in the end, coming to bet on primitive lifestyles of stages of development pre-tecnologicos. More moderate is the theory of the decline, It defends a controlled reduction of productive activity and consumption, reaching a new relationship between man and the environment that does not mean the destruction of this last.

The neoludismo It owes its name to Ned Ludd, a workman British early 20th which, in protest against their working conditions, destroyed mechanical looms from the factory where he worked. The neoludistas would be technophobes more radical, pretending to halt technological advance at any price, not hesitating to use terrorist tactics to reach.

The most infamous neoludista was Ted Kaczinsky, better known as Unabomber, who sent letters pump to various universities and airports, thus coming to kill three people. He was a brilliant Professor of the University of California which, without apparent cause, resigned from his post and went live to a cabin lost in Lincoln (mountain), where he took a life consistent with their contempt to technology: without water and light, surviving based on the hunting and gathering.

From there he sent sixteen bombs to different goals, until he was arrested by the FBI after a complex investigation. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in a maximum security prison in Colorado, where he maintains an important epistolary activity. Months before his arrest sent his famous manifesto to the New York Times, which expresses your ideas antitecnologicas.

The unstoppable advance of machines

Another work that I recommend is”The evolution of the technique”of Georges Gazalla. In one of his chapters tells us the ideas of the British writer Samuel Butler, who in his novel Erewhon, showed us a dystopia with a few ideas about the evolution of technology, something disturbing. Butler proposes that machines evolve alone, completely independently to the human will.

Machines move being played by other machines designed for playback: machine tools, machines for making new machines. Human beings are mere assistants, workers at the service of this advance, completely oblivious to its consequences.

In much of the critical approaches with the technology there is some idea, often only implied, that technology progresses without that man can stop it.

The result, so many times seen and read in countless movies and books sci-fi, is the domain of machine over man. It is the recurrent theme of the writings of great masters of the genre such as Clarke, Asimov or Lem and almost all classic Futurist cinema: “2001”, “Blade Runner”, “Terminator”, “Matrix”… This so negative view has contributed to strengthening the technophobia in the collective memorandum. The film has far more strength than philosophy when it comes to set the minds of the.

And in much of the critical approaches with the technology there is some idea, often only implicit, of that technology progresses without that man can stop it. “In this line have the psychologist Susan Blackmore, who in his work”The meme machine”, he understands the universal story following three phases, according to the means of transmission of information (type of docking station):

  • Gene. We would be speaking throughout the evolution of living beings until the arrival of man. The information would be encoded in the genetic code and would advance by natural, are slowly transmitted by inheritance selection.
  • The meme. Blackmore takes the concept of meme’s Richard Dawkins: minimum unit of cultural transmission. A meme can be one idea either, a rule, an invention… Blackmore, charmingly, gives the example of the roll of toilet paper, a very successful meme. Memes are transmitted as a virus, infecting minds through different forms of transmission (oral, written, visual…) and, equally, can proliferate or extinction (think, for example, extinct memes such as the powdered wigs of the French illustrated, public hangings or cavalry charges). We, humans, would be simply means of transportation that would use memes to spread, their means of locomotion, your tool; While we live in the illusion of being their owners when it is on the contrary: we have no memes, memes we have to us.
  • He fears: a technology meme, i.e. stored computer. For Blackmore all information contained in our personal computers and mobile are you fear. Soon there will be machines – afraid of autorreplicantes, i.e., robots or computers that will not need of human beings to create, change and extend the information. At this time humanity will no longer be necessary, will be redundant and will be obsolete.

The arrival of this third Replicator does not necessarily put an end to an apocalyptic war against the humans, being able to reach a friendly coexistence. It is the perspective of the magnificent “Her” (2013) by Spike Jonze. At the end (eye, spoiler) operating systems continue their way leaving humans walk, but without reaching any kind of conflict. Let’s see how would be this time to which many have referred to technological Singularity.

The post-humana era

The eccentric Raymond Kurzweil It is perhaps the leading exponent of the contemporary Technophilia. Based on its law on accelerated growth which, in turn, was inspired by Moore’s law (both questionable), says that the ability of computation of our computers and the lowering of costs are growing at an exponential rate. With that speed, in a few decades, computers favoured human intelligence.

At that time, a new burst of growth, will occur because These machines used his intelligence to become even smarter. At the same time, the new generation will make more intelligent itself and so on very far until the capabilities of its primitive human creators.

We will be at the time of the technological Singularity. Kurzweil used this term borrowed from the physical sciences to refer to a time in which any prediction about the future will be absurd. Machines will be devoted to activities so far away from our human understanding that, literally, do not understand anything. Possibly remain as a mere passive spectators of a new, and quite revolutionary, phase of the history of the universe, while machines we may look with the tenderness with which we contemplate today to our pets.

Raymond Kurzweil asserts that with the current speed of progress, in a few decades, computers favoured human intelligence

The funny thing is that Kurzweil sees this event as a far-off in time. In fact, one of his books is entitled “the singularity is near” and in his “The age of spiritual machines” marks the arrival of the singularity in the 2099. Pity, no will be alive to see it.

An alternative, also referred to by Kurzweil, is the of the human-computer fusion. In the coming years the man can improve himself using bioengineering techniques. We can not only cure diseases but improve our faculties. If we can find the genes that make us smart, we could modify them to create a new generation of people with high IQ. We could also modify aspects of behavior that relate to genes: could be more workers, constant and, who knows, perhaps more generous and less aggressive.

But we can go further. If it is possible to change parts of our brain for electronic components, we could increase our capabilities with one much greater than with the genetic potential. Imagine the reader, to begin with, possessing the ability of calculation or the accuracy of the memory of our home PC. In the film “Matrix” illustrates very well the idea: they learn martial arts or to fly a helicopter, carrying a mere program in your brain. It sounds pretty good.

Many, again from some technophobia, have denounced that modify human nature itself in this way is to play at being gods. They are based on the romantic idea that inspired Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein”: create monsters that will end up escaping from the hands of its creators.

If God created us in his image and likeness, modify us would be a terrible act heresy, for which not must play, in any way, human nature.

But for those who think that the human being is not the result of any divine plan but the fruit sort of millions of years of evolution, keep at all costs our current nature doesn’t make too much sense (also taking into account that it is not finished: the human being, as any other living organism, continues to evolve). It seems something stupid to leave our biological future in the hands of an amoral and blind natural selection.

We think that the cause which is, the future human being is evolving towards more aggressive forms or it is more stupid… not should intervene? To religious technophobes one might ask them that if God created us in his image and likeness, what evolutionary phases through which we have passed is the most like unto God? Or which of the different races and human ethnic groups that proliferate on the planet is the one that most resembles it?

There seems to be nothing wrong in the modify fact, always clearly, we do so for the better. The ethical control of any change shall be maximum, but nothing more. Is that defend the transhumanists, which Kurzweil is a clear representative.

Maybe problems will come more from the social field that’s strictly ethical. If a wave of improved human is born, what will happen with others? If I am the owner of a company I will soon hire someone with better genetic curriculum than other.

Equally, when it comes to life insurance, do we wouldn’t more cheaply to someone whose genes indicate that they have very little chance of coronary artery disease? How do we organize schools? Special classes for students improved? They would have more possibilities of access to the best universities? Would we have a scenario like that Andrew Nicoll exposes us in “Gattaca”? We homoeneous humans depending on the social function that will perform in the future? Smart children to be scientific, strong and brave to be soldiers, or meek and workers to be labor, as we recounted Aldous Huxley in his “brave new world”? Do or, on the contrary, legislaríamos so that the genome of each remain always in the private sector?

Problems will come more from the social field of the strictly ethical. If a wave of improved human is born, what will happen with others?

I guess that a time in which the differences between the improved and the “natives” would be so overwhelming that you would see at a glance would come. Blond, handsome, strong and healthy children excellent athletes with notes outstanding, obedient to his parents… Surely that design children à la carte will cost money and will be a privilege of the wealthy classes… thus increase the social divide? He who was born poor would have, in addition, the misfortune of playing the lottery of the bad genes, while he who was born rich would come to the world with the best features available.

This would make much more difficult the possibility to climb the social ladder, fostering an almost estates immobility. “These forecasts justify the defenders of”the natural”to defend that human nature in any way do not touch.

However, you can see otherwise. Today there is a significant social divide between, for example, people who can afford a good University and which not. Many families will spend much time saving so that their children can study. In the new scenario predicted, equally, families could save to be able to afford the genetic or technological improvement of their offspring. The improvement could be understood as one further factor in the formation of a child: like we buy good textbooks, we pay tutors… improve the brains of children.

The improvement could be incorporated as a competitive factor in a society in which there are already many. Our culture has undergone enormous social changes of various kinds who have completed by normally entering the workings of the world. Perhaps, precisely, in the hands of the improved do that these changes will lead to a society better not trust over someone designed to be smart and generous in any current human being to direct our destinations?

We’ll see. The history of the 21st century will be, without a doubt, one of the most exciting chapters in the history of mankind. Hopefully, human and post-human, be at the height of the changes that come.

About Santiago Sánchez-Migallón Professor of philosophy, trapped in a loop: build an artificial mind, at the same time that builds their own. He failed in both projects, but as the loop is scheduled to stop only when you give a positive result, there follows, iteration after iteration. Perhaps not reach anywhere, but says that the road is still fascinating. Darwinist, Laplacian and criptoateo, specialized in philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, neuroscience, and philosophy of biology. Therefore, that some characterized of philosopher cyberpunk, although that tag seems you child. He loves to Turing and Wittgenstein and, in general, loathes the postmodern. He is the owner of the Blog Von Neumann machine and collaborates in Hyperbole and the new evolutionary enlightenment.

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