Mark Coeckelbergh, December 16, 2021

In this Rebalance Talk, Andreu Ulied and Andrea Ricci spoke with well-known professor, Mark Coeckelbergh – known for his expertise on ethics and technologies in robotics and AI – about how to conceptualize AI and its relevant impact on human lives as well as past, present, and future society

In our current digital age, transhumanists argue that humans are not good enough. They propose upgrading humans so that we make only rational and objective decisions. Is it likely for humans to become more similar to cyborgs? Will the future generation of humans be somewhere in between a machine and a human? Some do believe society is heading in that direction and their concerns are not trivial. Automation is happening quickly, according to the European Commission “45%-60% of all workers in Europe could see themselves replaced by automation before 2030”.

When asked about this future view of humans with technology as the ruling entity, Coeckelbergh emphasizes the need for both to not only coexist in the future but work more closely together for the future good, “We can use technology in addition to human intelligence. But it is not a good idea to replace human intelligence with AI. We need emotional intelligence”. While human beings and their emotional capacities are problematic in terms of error, emotions have always pointed to what is important to us. Technology cannot do this alone; technology needs humans.

Coeckelbergh states that the human experience is a richer and unique source of knowledge, one that contains sensitivities for situations and embodied knowledge that cannot be gained by machinery. We learn from experience. Machines learn from a given amount of data which only represents a certain amount of reality. For Coeckelbergh, it is about human wisdom, a concept that is developed from mistake-making and trial and error, “We need both but we definitely need this human experience because in the end from human experience also comes the human wisdom, and this wisdom has always been an important guiding instrument for humanity”. We can learn from errors, learn from experience, and experiment to address our current global challenges like climate change.

In this talk we learn that it is not just the combination of technology and humans that is relevant – the moral, political, and cultural aspects of AI are also very important. Coeckelbergh stresses the need to define the ethics and politics we want to make with AI upfront, “While it is impossible to eradicate bias…we can discuss what bias is just or unjust, and – when we are aware of these political aspects – we can on purpose develop technologies in a better political direction”.

Technology is and will always be political because technology is human and connected to our culture.

Coeckelbergh conceptualizes this connection by citing Wittgenstein’s work to argue that technology use is always related to games and forms of life, Ricoeur’s work to show technologies are connected to stories and can co-write our stories, and the concept of performance to argue that what we do with technology is always human, bodily and social.

With the onset of the COV19 pandemic, technology has played an even larger role in our lives: for many, it was the only way to receive an income and to communicate with friends and family. Now that the pandemic is an ongoing reality, we have a chance to better define how technology affects our lives, rather than the “digitalize or die” perspective, let’s digitalize in a good way. Coeckelbergh expresses this perfectly in his closing, “We need a politics and a technology that is based on a relational view of humans and that sees the human condition in terms of a becoming-with-technology. We need to create processes and structures that enable us to participate in that becoming while recognizing limits and communicating in the sense of making community”. So what does good digitalization look like? It’s good for humans, good for non-humans, and good for the conviviality on this planet.

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Prof. Dr. Mark Coeckelbergh is a full Professor of Philosophy of Media and Technology at the Philosophy of Department of the University of Vienna and former President of the Society for Philosophy and Technology (SPT). His expertise focuses on ethics and technology, in particular robotics and artificial intelligence. He is currently a member of various entities that support policy building in the area of robotics and artificial intelligence, such as the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, the Austrian Council on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, and the Austrian Advisory Council on Automated Mobility. He is the author of 14 philosophy books and numerous articles, and is involved in several European research projects on robotics (e.g. PERSEO).

Learn more about Mark Coeckelbergh

Watch the full interview below