Writer and philosopher Éric Sadin is one of the most important oppositional voices on the topics of innovation and digital revolution. Of which he has an unromantic and unenthusiastic view. His books “La Silicolonizzazione del mondo. L’irresistibile espansione del liberismo digitale” (World Siliconization – published by Giulio Einaudi Editore in 2017) and "Critica della ragione artificiale" (The irresistible expansion of digital liberalismvoiced – published by Luiss University Press in 2019) have caused a lot of discussion. Sadin spoke at the conference “The Frame: Human Innovation” organised by Kpmg and Corriere della Sera in November 2019 in Milan, Italy. “For a few years now, we have talked only of artificial intelligence. We get excited about their merits and we worry about any consequences. In general, we talk about this more in terms of the future than of the present. Without realizing that already today these functionalities, after a certain threshold, can deprive us individually and collectively of our freedom of choice, creating an anti-humanity that takes shape from technical systems”, he explained in his speech.
According to Sadin, in fact, “what characterizes artificial intelligence, beyond confusing speeches that surround them and the evergreen litanies on the end of jobs, on the boasted progress in medicine or on the almost total optimization of companies, is the extension of a “systemic”, a science of classifications and relationships, destined to be applied to all areas of human life”.
The enunciation of truth
This science determines what the French philosopher defines as “the automatized enunciation of truth” which “is thus destined to produce the ‘event’, to set off an action mainly for commercial or utilitarian reasons, proceeding towards a sort of artificial and uninterrupted stimulation of reality”.
What does this mean? “Lets think of the app Waze, the one that analyses in real time the state of traffic and suggests alternative routes that are more or less optimized. These systems are not only capable of estimating reality, but also to enounce truths: in this case which road would be better to take.” Sadin adds: “What is the problem? The problem is that accuracy is factual. The words of parents are for children the truth they need to conform to. Machines do the same. Machines tell us how to act. Here lies the imperative turning point of technology”.
But there are more examples: “Imagine having a mirror connected to the web. It wouldn’t only reflect an image, but it would also collect the data on our face and our body, suggesting products or services that are considered appropriate based on the advanced, and more or less reliable, analysis, of your physical and psychological wellbeing.
The injunctive turning point of technology
To close, “we are experiencing an injunctive turning point of technology. It’s a unique phenomenon in the history of humanity that mean technologies require us to act in one way or another. This doesn’t happen in a uniform way, but on various levels. It can start as an incentive, for example with a sports coaching app that suggests a type of supplement. Or it can happen on a prescriptive level, such as in the case of the assessment of a request for a loan or in the gig economy, that uses of digital robots to select candidates. And while all of this is happening “we often think of the fable of complementarity of man-machine. But the more the level of automatized competencies will be perfected, the more human evaluation will be marginalized. To the point of reaching coercive levels, that are emblematic of the world of labour, that include systems giving orders to people in terms of actions to perform. The free use of our ability to judge is effectively substituted by protocols that are designed to guide our actions”.
The predominant presence of the digital places itself as “an instance for guidance of behaviours, destined to offer, moment by moment, individual and collective existence models which are considered the best applicable, and this happens imperceptibly, fluidly, so much as to give the feeling of a new natural order of things” Sadin underlines. “This is why techno-liberalism made aletheia technologies into its main workhorse”, the philosopher continues, “in them it has seen the realization of its hegemonic ambitions, thanks to the rising of an “invisible automatized hand”, in a world held up by the regime of retroaction, of feedback: a “data-driven society” where any manifestation of reality is subject to algorithms that aim to avoid any interruption of the processes and to constantly pursue profit.
The result? It’s obvious: “we are going towards a total commercialization of life”, Sadin explains, “the speed of development presented as unavoidable robs us of the ability to give our opinion in all conscience. While the coryphaeus of the automation of the world are very resourceful, despite the consequences on our civilization, us simple citizen-consumers are becoming ever more apathetic. According to the philosopher there is only one way out. “First of all we need to contradict the techno-speeches and bring back the testimony from situations where these systems are operating, in work places, schools, hospitals. We should manifest our opposition towards certain devices when we believe that these undermine our integrity and dignity. We need to impose a simple but intangible equation against the humanistic assault: the more they try to rid us of our power to act, the more we should act.”