Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era

L’8 febbraio 2013 The Onlife Manifesto è stato presentato a Bruxelles, rappresenta il risultato di un gruppo di lavoro multidisciplinare (Stefana Broadbent, Nicole
Dewandre, Charles Ess, Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, Mireille Hildebrandt, Yiannis
Laouris, Claire Lobet-Maris, Sarah Oates, Ugo Pagallo, Judith Simon, May Thorseth,
and Peter-Paul Verbeek) organizzato da DG Connect e coordinato dal prof. Luciano Floridi.
Qui presentiamo la prefazione, il Manifesto e il link dove scaricare il volume completo di approfondimenti, note e commenti.

La prefazione:
The deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs)
and their uptake by society radically affect the human condition, insofar as it modifies
our relationships to ourselves, to others and to the world. The ever-increasing
pervasiveness of ICTs shakes established reference frameworks through the following
i. the blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality;
ii. the blurring of the distinctions between human, machine and nature;
iii. the reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and
iv. the shift from the primacy of entities to the primacy of interactions.

The world is grasped by human minds through concepts: perception is necessarily
mediated by concepts, as if they were the interfaces through which reality is experienced
and interpreted. Concepts provide an understanding of surrounding realities
and a means by which to apprehend them. However, the current conceptual toolbox
is not fitted to address new ICT-related challenges and leads to negative projections
about the future: we fear and reject what we fail to make sense of and give meaning to.
In order to acknowledge such inadequacy and explore alternative conceptualisations,
a group of 15 scholars in anthropology, cognitive science, computer science,
engineering, law, neuroscience, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology,
instigated the Onlife Initiative, a collective thought exercise to explore the
policy-relevant consequences of those changes. This concept reengineering exercise
seeks to inspire reflection on what happens to us and to re-envisage the future
with greater confidence.
This Manifesto aims to launch an open debate on the impacts of the computational
era on public spaces, politics and societal expectations toward policymaking
in the Digital Agenda for Europe’s remit. More broadly, this Manifesto aims to start
a reflection on the way in which a hyperconnected world calls for rethinking the
referential frameworks on which policies are built. This is only a beginning…

1 Game Over for Modernity?
Ideas that hinder policy making’s ability to tackle the challenges of a hyperconnected

§ 1.1 Philosophy and literature have long challenged and revised some foundational
assumptions of modernity. However, the political, social, legal, scientific
and economic concepts and the related narratives underlying policymaking are
still deeply anchored in questionable assumptions of modernity. Modernity has indeed—
for some or many—been an enjoyable journey, and it has borne multiple and
great fruits in all walks of life. It has also had its downsides. Independently of these
debates, it is our view that the constraints and affordances of the computational era
profoundly challenge some of modernity’s assumptions.

§ 1.2 Modernity has been the time of a strained relationship between humans and
nature, characterised by the human quest to crack nature’s secrets while at the same
time considering nature as a passive endless reservoir. Progress was the central
utopia, coupled with the quest for an omniscient and omnipotent posture. Developments
in scientific knowledge (thermodynamics, electromagnetism, chemistry,
physiology…) brought about an endless list of new artefacts in all sectors of life.
Despite the deep connection between artefacts and nature, an alleged divide between
technological artefacts and nature continues to be assumed. The development
and deployment of ICTs have contributed enormously to blurring this distinction,
to the extent that continuing to use it as if it were still operational is illusory and
becomes counterproductive.

§ 1.3 Rationality and disembodied reason were the specifically modern attributes
of humans, making them distinct from animals. As a result, ethics was a matter of
rational and disembodied autonomous subjects, rather than a matter of social beings.
And responsibility for the effects brought about by technological artefacts was
attributed to their designer, producer, retailer or user. ICTs challenge these assumptions
by calling for notions of distributed responsibility.

§ 1.4 Finally, modern worldviews and political organisations were pervaded by
mechanical metaphors: forces, causation and, above all, control had a primary importance.
Hierarchical patterns were key models for social order. Political organisations
were represented by Westphalian States, exerting sovereign powers within
their territory. Within such States, legislative, executive and judiciary powers were
deemed to balance each other and protect against the risk of power abuse. By enabling
multi-agent systems and opening new possibilities for direct democracy,
ICTs destabilize and call for rethinking the worldviews and metaphors underlying
modern political structures.

2 In the Corner of Frankenstein and Big Brother
Fears and risks in a hyperconnected era

§ 2.1 It is noteworthy that Cartesian doubt, and related suspicions about what is
perceived through human senses, have led to an ever-increasing reliance on control
in all its forms. In modernity, knowledge and power are deeply linked to establishing
and maintaining control. Control is both sought and resented. Fears and risks
can also be perceived in terms of control: too much of it—at the expense of freedom—
or lack of it—at the expense of security and sustainability. Paradoxically, in
these times of economic, financial, political, and environmental crisis, it is hard to
identify who has control of what, when, and within which scope. Responsibilities
and liabilities are hard to allocate clearly and endorse unambiguously. Distributed
and entangled responsibilities may wrongly be understood as a license to act irresponsibly;
these conditions may further tempt business and governmental leaders to
postpone difficult decisions and thereby lead to loss of trust.

§ 2.2 Experiencing freedom, equality and otherness in public spheres becomes
problematic in a context of increasingly mediated identities and calculated interactions
such as profiling, targeted advertising, or price discrimination. The quality of
public spheres is further undermined by increasing social control through mutual or
lateral surveillance ( souveillance), which is not necessarily better than “big brother”
surveillance, as increasingly cyberbullying shows.

§ 2.3 The abundance of information may also result in cognitive overload, distraction,
and amnesia (the forgetful present). New forms of systemic vulnerabilities
arise from the increasing reliance on informational infrastructures. Power games
in online spheres can lead to undesirable consequences, including disempowering
people, through data manipulation. The repartition of power and responsibility
among public authorities, corporate agents, and citizens should be balanced more

3 Dualism is Dead! Long Live Dualities!
Grasping the challenges

§ 3.1 Throughout our collective endeavour, a question kept coming back to the
front stage: “what does it mean to be human in a hyperconnected era?” This foundational
question cannot receive a single definitive answer, but addressing it has
proven useful for approaching the challenges of our times. We think that handling
these challenges can best be done by privileging dual pairs over oppositional dichotomies.

3.1 Control and Complexity

§ 3.2 In the onlife-world, artefacts have ceased to be mere machines simply operating
according to human instructions. They can change states in autonomous ways
and can do so by digging into the exponentially growing wealth of data, made increasingly
available, accessible and processable by fast-developing and ever more
pervasive ICTs. Data are recorded, stored, computed and fed back in all forms of
machines, applications, and devices in novel ways, creating endless opportunities
for adaptive and personalised environments. Filters of many kinds continue to erode
the illusion of an objective, unbiased perception of reality, while at the same time
they open new spaces for human interactions and new knowledge practices.

§ 3.3 Yet, it is precisely at the moment when an omniscience/omnipotence posture
could be perceived as attainable that it becomes obvious that it is a chimera,
or at least an ever-moving target. The fact that the environment is pervaded by information
flows and processes does not make it an omniscient/omnipotent environment.
Rather, it calls for new forms of thinking and doing at multiple levels, in order
to address issues such as ownership, responsibility, privacy, and self-determination.

§ 3.4 To some extent, complexity can be seen as another name for contingency.
Far from giving up on responsibility in complex systems, we believe that there is a
need to re-evaluate received notions of individual and collective responsibility. The
very complexity and entanglement of artefacts and humans invite us to rethink the
notion of responsibility in such distributed socio-technical systems.

§ 3.5 Friedrich Hayek’s classical distinction between kosmos and taxis, i.e.,
evolution vs. construction, draws a line between (supposedly natural) spontaneous
orders and human (political and technological) planning. Now that artefacts
taken globally have come to escape human control, even though they originated in
human hands, biological and evolutionary metaphors can also apply to them. The
ensuing loss of control is not necessarily dramatic. Attempts to recover control in
a compulsive and unreflexive manner are an illusory challenge and are doomed to
fail. Hence, the complexity of interactions and density of information flows are no
longer reducible to taxis alone. Therefore, interventions from different agents in
these emerging socio-technical systems require learning to distinguish what is to
be considered as kosmos-like, i.e., as a given environment following its evolutional
pattern, and what is to be considered as taxis-like, i.e., within reach of a construction
responding effectively to human intentions and/or purposes.

3.2 Public and Private

§ 3.6 The distinction between public and private has often been grasped in spatial
and oppositional terms: the home versus the agora, the private company versus
the public institution, the private collection vs. the public library, and so forth. The
deployment of ICTs has escalated the blurring of the distinction when expressed
in spatial and dualistic terms. The Internet is an important extension of the public
space, even when operated and owned by private actors. The notions of fragmented
publics, of third spaces, and of commons, and the increased focus on use at the
expense of ownership all challenge our current understanding of the public-private

§ 3.7 Nevertheless, we consider this distinction between private and public to be
more relevant than ever. Today, the private is associated with intimacy, autonomy,
and shelter from the public gaze, while the public is seen as the realm of exposure,
transparency and accountability. This may suggest that duty and control are on the
side of the public, and freedom is on the side of the private. This view blinds us to
the shortcomings of the private and to the affordances of the public, where the latter
are also constituents of a good life.

§ 3.8 We believe that everybody needs both shelter from the public gaze and
exposure. The public sphere should foster a range of interactions and engagements
that incorporate an empowering opacity of the self, the need for self-expression, the
performance of identity, the chance to reinvent oneself, as well as the generosity of
deliberate forgetfulness.

4 Proposals to Better Serve Policies
Conceptual Shifts with Policy-relevant Consequences for a Good Onlife Governance

4.1 The Relational Self

§ 4.1 It is one of the paradoxes of modernity that it offers two contradictory accounts
of what the self is about. On the one hand, in the political realm, the self is
deemed to be free, and “free” is frequently understood as being autonomous, disembodied,
rational, well-informed and disconnected: an individual and atomistic self.
On the other hand, in scientific terms, the self is an object of enquiry among others
and, in this respect, is deemed to be fully analysable and predictable. By focusing
on causes, incentives, or disincentives in an instrumental perspective, this form of
knowledge often aims at influencing and controlling behaviours, on individual and
collective levels. Hence, there is a constant oscillation between a political representation
of the self, as rational, disembodied, autonomous and disconnected, on the
one hand, and a scientific representation of the self, as heteronomous, and resulting
from multifactorial contexts fully explainable by the range of scientific disciplines
(social, natural and technological).

§ 4.2 We believe that it is time to affirm, in political terms, that our selves are
both free and social, i.e., that freedom does not occur in a vacuum, but in a space
of affordances and constraints: together with freedom, our selves derive from and
aspire to relationships and interactions with other selves, technological artefacts,
and the rest of nature. As such, human beings are “free with elasticity”, to borrow
an economic notion. The contextual nature of human freedom accounts both for the
social character of human existence, and the openness of human behaviours that
remain to some extent stubbornly unpredictable. Shaping policies in the remit of
the Onlife experience means resisting the assumption of a rational disembodied self,
and instead stabilising a political conception of the self as an inherently relational
free self.

4.2 Becoming a Digitally Literate Society

§ 4.3 The utopia of omniscience and omnipotence often entails an instrumental attitude
towards the other, and a compulsion to transgress boundaries and limits. These
two attitudes are serious hurdles for thinking and experiencing public spheres in the
form of plurality, where others cannot be reduced to instruments, and where selfrestraint
and respect are required. Policies must build upon a critical investigation
of how human affairs and political structures are deeply mediated by technologies.
Endorsing responsibility in a hyperconnected reality requires acknowledging how
our actions, perceptions, intentions, morality, even corporality are interwoven with
technologies in general, and ICTs in particular. The development of a critical relation
to technologies should not aim at finding a transcendental place outside these
mediations, but rather at an immanent understanding of how technologies shape us
as humans, while we humans critically shape technologies.

§ 4.4 We have found it useful to think of re-evaluating these received notions and
developing new forms of practices and interactions in situ in the following phrase:
“building the raft while swimming”.

4.3 Caring for Our Attentional Capabilities

§ 4.5 The abundance of information, including “big data” developments, induce major
shifts in conceptual and practical terms. Earlier notions of rationality presumed
that accumulating hard-won information and knowledge would lead to better understanding
and thereby control. The encyclopaedic ideal is still around, and the focus
remains primarily on adapting our cognitive capacities by expanding them in hopes
of keeping up with an ever-growing infosphere. But this endless expansion is becoming
ever less meaningful and less efficient in describing our daily experiences.

§ 4.6 We believe that societies must protect, cherish and nurture humans’ attentional
capabilities. This does not mean giving up searching for improvements: that
shall always be useful. Rather, we assert that attentional capabilities are a finite, precious
and rare asset. In the digital economy, attention is approached as a commodity
to be exchanged on the market place, or to be channelled in work processes. But
this instrumental approach to attention neglects the social and political dimensions
of it, i.e., the fact that the ability and the right to focus our own attention is a critical
and necessary condition for autonomy, responsibility, reflexivity, plurality, engaged
presence, and a sense of meaning. To the same extent that organs should not be
exchanged on the market place, our attentional capabilities deserve protective treatment.
Respect for attention should be linked to fundamental rights such as privacy
and bodily integrity, as attentional capability is an inherent element of the relational
self for the role it plays in the development of language, empathy, and collaboration.
We believe that, in addition to offering informed choices, the default settings and
other designed aspects of our technologies should respect and protect attentional

§ 4.7 In short, we assert that more collective attention should be paid to attention
itself as a inherent human attribute that conditions the flourishing of human interactions
and the capabilities to engage in meaningful action in the onlife experience.
This Manifesto is only a beginning…

Per scaricare il Manifesto Onlife
 Luciano Floridi


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