Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Thursday, May 21, 2015
To say a robot has "learned" something is to denigrate every living learning being in what I consider an inexcusable and also dangerous way. Being existentially impressed by a computer cranking through sprawling arithmetic calculations faster than a genius is exactly as mistaken as being existentially impressed by a hydraulic press crushing objects that a strongman can't: calculation is more muscular than thoughtful. As Hannah Arendt wrote in the 1950s, "the newly invented electronic machines... are, like all machines, mere substitutes... of human labor power, following the time-honored device of all division of labor to break down every operation into its simplest constituent motions, substituting, for instance, repeated addition for multiplication... All that the giant computers prove is that the modern age was wrong to believe with Hobbes that rationality, in the sense of 'reckoning with consequences,' is the highest and most human of man's capacities." That is, calculation is an already instrumentalized dimension of thought as against the reflective, critical, imaginative dimensions of thought of the rational/political animal. The robocalypse is not and will not be a matter of killer robots conquering the earth, but of reductive robotic premises deranging our sense of the political substance of historical struggles for freedom and justice, and rationalizing the denigration, exploitation and abuse of people and fellow earthlings.