ANOTHER VIEW FOR A NEW APPROACH TO THE TECHNOLOGICAL CIVILIZATION
Laurent Vivès - Former Hospital Practitioner - Internist - Oncologist
After decades of unfailing faith in progress , there is today in Western societies, a serious crisis of confidence in the technological innovation, combined with a collapsological tension.
Why is rapid technological progress associated with fear of the future? Is it still suitable to the needs of humanity?
The debates between technophiles and technophobes are on the wrong track because, technique and technology are simply means to create or do things. They are not axiological. It is their use that can cause problems .
I suggest you the view of a French doctor-citizen-humanist, for a new approach to technological civilization.
What is technology ?
In the first sense it is the study and teaching of techniques. Technique ( or " téchne " - art or know-how) is a set of means and processes to achieve an end. Technology uses techniques and puts them in synergy. The technique is more crude and empirical than the technology which is more modern, more science-based and more complex.
The industrial revolution of the 19th century was based on coal, metallurgy and the steam engine. Then came electricity, petroleum, chemistry, the industrialization and productivism.
There are now several kinds of technologies: “High tech”, “Bio tech”, “Green tech”, techno-sciences which no longer apply only to tools and machines. From the technical here we are to the organizational, the strategic, the concepts, and the “virtual”. Astrophysics, medicine, nanotechnology, quantum and artificial intelligence are at the cutting edge. The convergent techniques projects of NBIC (Nanotechnology, Biology, Information and Cognition) foreshadow a world in full transformation with an uncertain outcome, which could upset ethics.
What is the place of technology in our world?
For about 10 years, technology, via smartphones, has governed all of our daily life. All our activities are "techno-dependent". Our environment is techno-mediated: home automation, connectivity, robotics, and telematics, are becoming commonplace. Screens are everywhere. More than 3/4 of humanity is concerned by technical progress. Satellites shrink the world. The technology is global, trans-generational, and creates a new paradigm in the lives of humans.
In terms of technology, nothing can stop progress, it feeds on itself, even if we do not really know what it is for. This confirms it: "The most efficient methods resulting from a stage of evolutionary progress, are used to create the next step " : Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google.
However, the worst is possible, with nuclear power, the chemical industry, genetic manipulation, ecological disaster, “ big datas ”, artificial intelligence, the loss of wisdom, even of reason. Exalted geniuses like Kurzweil, the GAFA, an insatiable public of its dear technology, industrial lobbies more concerned with immediate profit than the common good, weak ethics and a lack of global regulation, constitute a cocktail more conducive to endangerment of our world, than its development.
Right now, thanks to the prowess of technology, we have vaccines against Covid-19. We are looking for ways to reduce CO2, but for now, reforestation, the frugality of our lifestyles and a decrease in overpopulation, seem the best means (with the help of renewable energies and Power-X).
Civilization and way of life
Every parts of the world are affected by modern technology. It is the first issue of power. Civilizations will become uniform through it.
“Technological” lifestyles are increasingly expensive and compel: energy consumption, cognitive subjugation to machines and screens, capture of discernment and fatigue, destruction of jobs, complexity of everyday life (learning of new techniques, dehumanization, automating) .
Technology accentuates inequalities by selecting those who know how to use it, appropriate it and enrich themselves with it, and by abandoning the weakest that it exceeds or frightens.
Gérald Bronner shows that the time freed up thanks to technological progress has not been used for cerebral development, because of the overabundance of the informative and cognitive offer, attracting the mind towards fear, the sensational, the games, sexuality, conflictuality… Daydreaming, slow thinking, reason and wisdom wither.
Philosophy and Technology
Philosophers have expressed themselves on the technique since the 19th century, without benevolence, with a suspicion of shrinking human thought and antagonism towards art and culture. Since 1990 they have failed to clearly state what technology is, nor to assess its effects on our lives.
For Bernard Stiegler, Greek philosophy forgets the question of technique by distinguishing itself from Technè, this “outside” which is supposed to contribute nothing to knowledge. Indeed, any thought of technique exceeds the limits of philosophy. The technique is not external but constitutive to man. Through industrial use, subject to the market, consumerism and liberalism, technology becomes an end in itself, far from its primary utility.
One can wonder about the importance of the loss of meaning and visibility of a final goal, which goes hand in hand with the decline of religion in the Western world. The acceleration of modern life, places individuals in an imperative immediacy which no longer leaves room for distancing and reflection. Overwhelmed by doing, hyper-informed, stressed and anxious competitor, Sapiens has no other alternative than the “ready to think” and “the technological injunction” of which he ignores the justification.
Rationality and technology
Rationality is movement by reasoning, towards what is reasonable, then rational. Adam Smith imported it into economics to optimize the pursuit of profits and the expansion of capitalism. It has become omnipresent, which Max Weber denounces through the rationalism of practical action, which ends up leading to “ disenchantment with the world ”.
Andrew Feenberg notes the weight of technology on democratic life through “technological determinism”, which leads societies to changes in culture and values, that are global. It also highlights the "flexibility of technology", which is able to adapt and evolve according to the expectations and choices of people.
She is there with its big datas, algorithms, machine learning, self-programming. There are visual recognition, sounds, language, and emotions. Expert systems are able to interpret the imagery, conduct vehicles, compose symphonies, beating the man all games, imitating our voice and to make him say anything, of solve complex problems and model the future. In China, it results in a citizen's passport with points linked to individual behaviour. In the USA, it is our sensitive information that is collected and marketed.
From a beatnik, cyberpunk current of thought, Max More will lay the foundations of the concept around the improvement of the human body by technical processes. The World Transhumanist Association begins its manifesto thus : “The human being will be able to undergo modifications, such as his rejuvenation, the increase of his intelligence by biological or artificial means, the abolition of suffering and the exploration of the universe”.
Here are some perspectives of transhumanism according to this association: immortality, human-machine and brain-computer interfaces, genetic manipulation and cloning, brain downloads, thought transfers, spatial colonization towards thousands of galaxies. A tissue of improbabilities and aporias that question about the mental health, the scientific and moral level of their authors. From Homo Sapiens, towards Homo Technologicus, to reach Homo Deus (by Noah Harari), via trans, then post humanism, on the grounds of exploiting all the technological power to transform man into a divine superman. Google, Amazon, Facebook and others are involved.
Here is what the humanist and experienced doctor that I am has to say to transhumanists:
Man is the culmination of a hazardous cosmic atavism. It conquered the earth with its technique, its collective intelligence and social organization. It carries within it invariants, including: satisfaction of vital needs, fears, aging, sexuality, emotions, curiosity, and imagination. Its recent history is marked by scientific and technical progress, demographic explosion, enrichment collective poorly distributed, of violence and intolerance. The current evolution faletrs between a galloping technology, a loss of reference marks and a worrying future. Transhumanism takes advantage of this to prosper.
If man is to evolve towards an “augmented man”, it is not with artefacts, machines, external manipulations, but by working on himself to seek what is best in him and develop all his potential. It does not need to abandon his humanity inherited from the nature, but on the contrary, to find his link and his identity there.
Living in good health and for a long time is possible by developing the factors of longevity, by combating the risk factors that are well known, and by taking advantage of medical advances in technology.
The increase in life expectancy is a reality. One may improve the quality. But aging also depends on social and environmental factors. For better it must make respect for human life an indefectible priority and draw the social consequences.
For Raymond Kurzweil artificial intelligence and the entire computer system will soon overtake man in all areas, to such an extent that in order to survive he will have to merge with them. The singularity is a concept without scientific proof. The techno-prophet evokes a virtual world, rid of bodies, where the brain will be computerized and transferred, thought will hover in the cosmos itself technicized. The Kurzweil's delirium is endless.
Deregulation and unreason
Evidence of dangerous dysfunctions is tolerated, ignored or even denied. References to ethics are weak, especially since it runs after progress. Good intentions such as the crime of ecocide are not successful and no authority is capable of enforcing them. China does what it wants and has no moods. It develops its technologies freely and is concerned with ecology only when it is the victim of its own misdeeds.
Bernard Remiche evokes in “Technological Revolution, Globalization and Patent Law”. He ends up "asking the question of knowing whether we are not going in the long term towards an increasing dualisation of the world economy". Because the patent's invention, created initially to protect the inventors have been picked up by the big companies realizing the essence of innovation, leaving the mass of countries with few innovative capabilities, prisoners of the TRIPS Agreement. International jurisdiction no longer regulates the global distribution of innovation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the failure of the WHO, the weak international solidarity in the rush for vaccines and the impunity of contaminating countries. Polluters are not worried. Fake-news, cyber attacks, conspiracy abound.
The deregulated globalization leaves so unleash a frantic technological progress, profit and unreasonable, although it claims to rationalism.
Rationalism is not reason and even less reasonable, which relates to the happy medium between all the excesses, including fanaticism, dogmatism, profit, risk and inertia.
What prospects for technological civilization?
For Karl Marx, going beyond capitalism also implied democratizing technical systems and placing them under the control of the workers. The technique released imperatives of capitalism, would made possible a different development. It was not. The universality of the market form will function according to its own laws, leading to the “reification” - objectification of individuals and ideas. Today we are witnessing to a depersonalization of human relations, an urban anonymity and an apathetic detachment from the world. The reification leads to the loss of "self" and of hope.
Technological neo-capitalism exacerbates tensions, competitions. We must bow before the goal to reach. Performance comes before human. We end up self-reifying.
The offset may be increased dangerously with the extent of advances in technology and the development of the mind. Technology becomes a myth, fed by the illusion of absolute benefit of science and the weakening of philosophical thought.
In addition, major economic and financial interests at stake and the man is too installed in the technology of civilization to curb its immediate progress.
However, he wonders about a future monopolized by technological innovation that would deprive him of other needs such as peace of mind, self-esteem and others, slow thinking and a revitalizing and uncluttered contact with nature.
The technological determinism is not fatal, and a democratic social control of technical progress is possible because it is the consumer who has the ability to use or not innovations. The pandemic will likely have a positive impact on individual behaviour.
A different future is feasible , able to balance the activity Economic and respect for nature and to give everyone something to live in peace, mutual respect and sharing.
This will have to go through strong popular initiatives from organized "public" more knowledgeable and informed, among the masses of consumers apathetic. It will get legal and ethical regulations, the end of the economic war and the return to activity areas more narrows, allowing democracy of proximity and cooperation
Faced with ecological danger and the ineptitude of certain ways of life and thought, necessity will rule, and important changes will have to occur to avoid decline, decadence, conflicts and perhaps eschatology...
Because, all civilization is destined to disappear as soon as it is no longer adapted to its environment. The civilization of technology has developed power and wealth. In the hands of neocapitalism it has also created 3 dangers: the loss of the human (reification - transhumanism), of values (replaced by consumerism and hedonism) and the degradation of the biosphere. Can man still remedy this? The well-used technology and mastered will help him. It is urgent.
In the end, I believe that human being, despite their flaws, have the potential to handle this near cruciality and I hope that Friedrich Nietzche's opinion will not be confirmed: “We all prefer the destruction of humanity to the regression of knowledge!» (Nietzsche. Aurore 1881) .
Knowledge is not the only source of happiness.
On our planet, man is no longer threatened by himself ( and some viruses…) .
Laurent Vivès lives in Saint Gaudens 31800. He was a hospital practitioner at the Comminges Pyrénées Hospital Center, internist and oncologist. Passionate about clinical research, he is the author of several scientific publications. He is now retired and has created the blog “Collaborative and Contemporary Approach to Truth” with 2 friends from high school.
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