Nudes in a park. O hermits. Away from any electronic medium as if it were the plague. Only in this way, in a future that has already begun, can we (can) avoid being stripped of all our secrets. Why, if the question is Are we human or digital?, the answer is: we are less and less human and more and more digital. This question is the title of a book just released (Castelvecchi ed., Page 114, euro 14) and signed by Derrick De Kerckhove and Dionisio Ciccarese. Disturbing, necessary, enlightening book. The authors of which are the Belgian-Canadian-Italian, one of the leading digital and communication experts in the world today, a pupil of the great sociologist Marshall McLuhan. And a journalist who met him in 2017 at Lector in fabula di Conversano in an empathy of esteem and competence that resulted in a book to be written together. Where questions guide answers by opening otherwise unexplored scenarios. And answers that lead to further questions. A dialogue.
We are in an era where data about each of us is no less valuable than a bank account. The era of Big Data, in fact. The era of Datacracy, the potential new form of dictatorship antithesis of Democracy. The era of algorithms that decide more than one brain for us. It is the era in which we are like whales, who are able to talk to each other hundreds of kilometers away because the water transmits the reverberation of sound: as happens for us with planetary digital space.
Needless to say, our mobile phone is the absolute protagonist. Which, more than a mobile phone, has become a prosthesis that is changing our way of thinking, relating and living. In the mobile we keep life, memory, knowledge, intimacy, modesty. Everything you can know about us but also everything you shouldn’t know and that many want to know. The more transparent the more vulnerable they are to any external power.
Let alone Bingo for Big Brother who sees everything and provides everything. Let’s say we are externalizing our inside, our self. In short, we export ourselves, we make ourselves available to those who want to spy on us, draw up our profiles, use us. Not only with the mobile phone, but with social networks, with the Internet, with every electronic trace from the credit card to the badge. With 175 billion messages every day, 370 million emails, one billion websites.
The fact is that digital is not as interesting as women and men. For some we are interested as consumers of whom, the more we know, the more purchases are pushed to them. For others we are interested in social control that can become political, as in China and Singapore. By replacing our consciousness with an algorithm that does not even have a nanogram of consciousness. And that can support us in the good with a wealth of information unmatched in human history, the possibility of doing almost everything from anywhere. But more and more evil. Evaluated, punished or rewarded with surveillance not far from new electronic fascisms. See fake news, cognitive decline and inability to tell true from false. What dangerous leaders can do (and have done) even in important countries (right, Mr. Trump?).
De Kerckhove and Ciccarese are well aware that today the lack of connection (“the cell phone does not pick up”) is a digital Alzheimer’s. And they also know well, and they never tell us so well, that the Net can foster global social cohesion. But Big Data is at our disposal as much as we are at their disposal. And each new tool of language affects behavior and thinking. There is a loss of meaning every time a machine tells us what to do because we also entrust the machines (“on line”) with a dismissal or therapy. Will we be ruled by machines? And is it possible that the school is not dealing with this epochal change second only to the introduction of the alphabet? Of the most extensive and radical revolution that has ever taken place? And is it possible that a regulation of this revolution does not enter the Constitution?
Each of us has its “digital twin”, all the “we” as it accumulates, from health data to culture to habits. The risk, the authors say, is that this “twin”, this reproduction of our life, is so much better than us. And maybe it escapes our every control, to the point of influencing our behaviors and dominating us. With the complicity of the algorithms that help to form it by imitating neurons and our thinking based on 175 billion parameters and statistical combinations. An external ethical and moral order that threatens free will, autonomy, reputation.
Will we be able to save Democracy from Datacracy? Will we be able to save the conscience from the machines? Will we be able to understand if the machines can think or not? If they become “selfware, sentient”, that is, will they reproduce themselves? Will we be able to save Intelligence from Artificial Intelligence? De Kerckhove and Ciccarese rely on Europe as a bulwark towards Big Data, the holders of this new power. We need a Pet: Politics, Education, Technology. But also, listen, listen, they rely on paper over video, on reading that keeps the critical sense awake with respect to the image that creates addiction.
This book has answers for all the daily questions of our new uncertainty. It has answers for “what’s happening to us” and “where are we going to end”. A guide to nomads in search of refuge in the world that runs too fast, in which everything is instantaneous, in the «dictatorship of urgency that takes our breath away». With a final warning: «The more you dedicate to automation, the more autonomy you lose. The great battle is already that for autonomy ».