Homo Faber

Last night, I managed to catch an interview between an Al Jazeera journalist and a lady who once worked in the big tech industry. She recounted some of her experiences working in the big tech industry, but most interesting of all, she laid out what she perceived as some of the basic aims and goals of the big tech industry. For one, she argued, based on her experiences, that the big tech industry – like many other industries – is a racist and sexist one. The lady was of African origin, and she made it clear that she experienced first-hand the racism and sexism of this industry. And second, she argued that the military and big tech have joined hands to take full power and control of the environment and society. 

Thus, the basic aim and goal of the military and big tech coming together is to control and change our global environment and our societies. But with the racist and sexist tendencies in this military and big tech alliance, the way in which this control and change has impacted our environment is something everyone should be wary about. Because of this alliance, not only is the Western world in a “precarious situation” and that “the danger is greater the more we blind ourselves to the merciless truth with illusions about our beauty of soul” to borrow from Carl Jung, but the scope of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) and technology means that the scope of the danger is global. Moreover, this novel situation can either lead to further colonization of our political and social space, or there could be a revival of various cultures and traditions as a result of a ‘decolonization’ process that began in our recent past. 

Another interesting contention made by the lady during the interview was that through control and change over the environment and society, the military and big tech sought to foster what one could call “Artificial General Intelligence” out of “Artificial Intelligence.” In a sense, the aim is not to stop at the control and change of the environment and society, but through the control and change of the environment and society, AI could then be embodied in man himself through the possession of “Artificial General Intelligence.” In other words, man could possess a kind of “Artificial General Intelligence” that “Artificial Intelligence” itself would not possess. 

But in reality, the changes to human identity and our evolving perceptions of reality which are most likely to result from AI are more complex and complicated than rosy and optimistic. Regarding the nature of these changes to human identity and our perceptions of reality, Henry Kissinger wrote: 

“With perceptions of reality complementary to humans’, AI may emerge as an effective partner for people. In scientific discovery, creative work, software development, and other comparable fields, there can be great benefits to having an interlocutor with a different perception. But this collaboration will require humans to adjust to a world in which our reason is not the only – and perhaps not the most informative – way of knowing or navigating reality.” 

Kissinger added: “This portends a shift in human experience more significant than any that has occurred for nearly six centuries – since the advent of the movable-type printing press.” It is likely, however, that “the instrument cannot determine the final, nor can the tool determine the purpose of its use.” The focus and the purpose, arguably, has to be moved “away from the focus on mastery and control and towards including trust, also religious trust, as the true mark of humanity.”

Thus, it may not be AI which determines human destiny and the outcome of the historical process. The concept of homo faber – which became popularized amongst philosophers and intellectuals in the 20th century by Hannah Arendt out of its Latin roots – suggests that “every human being is the maker of his or her destiny.” Homo faber is “the human being who controls his life through the mastery of the world.” And in this quest towards mastery of the world, technology is merely a tool or instrument for man. As Arendt argued, everything turns into an instrument and tool and a means to an end for homo faber. In a sense, there is a devaluation of everything which surrounds homo faber, yet homo faber is the “builder” of his or her surroundings. 

But if homo faber has led to the devaluation of everything based on its utility and instrumentalization, then what is the ultimate end of this devaluation and instrumentalization and the turning of everything into a set of means towards an unclear end? The end, it seems, is a “pain and pleasure calculus” which determines one’s notion of happiness, with happiness amounting to “the sum total of pleasures minus pains” to borrow from Arendt. In a sense, AI and the transformations it has wrought on an environmental, material, and human level has yet to undermine the basic “fabric” with which the notions of a human community and society are built. In turn, man is still an important actor and player in what are otherwise the “all-encompassing” and non-anthropomorphic processes of nature and history. 

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