From homo sapiens to man-machine | Vanity Fair Italy

This article was published in issue 17 of Vanity Fair in newsstands until April 26, 2022

“Between a man, a cyborg and a robot?” It would certainly not be human to go out victorious. Nor the robot, still too far from the realm of emotions to be unsurpassed. On cyborgs, on the other hand, many steps are being taken: the fusion between machine and human has reached incredible levels ». Daniela Cerqui is an anthropologist who teaches social sciences at the University of Lausanne and has for years been involved in looking for what may be human among artificial intelligences, chips and high-tech prostheses.

In the sense that man, as it naturally is, is becoming obsolete?
“Undoubtedly, that is about to change and will change again. Today’s homo sapiens is no longer the one of yesterday, and it’s not even said that it will not disappear: the crazy thing is that if this were to happen, we would be the only extinct species that has planned our extinction, as opposed to the others have suffered. We change by merging with the machines, we become different subjects. Think of Kevin Warwick, the English engineer who became the first cyborg in history: he really belongs to a new species that has endowed itself with abilities that humans do not normally have. He was the first to have an electronic chip under the skin for non-therapeutic reasons: the device gave him easy access to his laboratory thanks to a computer system that recorded his presence through the chip implanted in his arm. He then placed another chip in the median nerve and connected his peripheral nervous system to a computer: the system received the signals sent by Warwick’s brain, enabling him to control his technological environment with his thoughts, such as turning the computer on or off. light. And then for Warwick, as for many transhumanists, the human body is just an obstacle that slows down the communication between the brain and the environment.

Only reason and technology then, but where do the feelings go?
“If it was up to me, it would not be possible to conceive the individual without head and body, with all the emotions attached to it, but I can see that today it is not in focus for much research. It is as if we are only focusing on functional skills. I am thinking of Zora, a superrobot used as a health and education assistant who has already “worked” at various nursing homes in Switzerland. Years ago, the ad on the website that sold it (modified in the meantime) listed the reasons why Zora was considered a perfect solution, including being “friendly” and “patient”, which by definition are the qualities one can expect Of people . The use of these terms to qualify a robot can not be left indifferent, especially in a historic moment where healthcare professionals condemn working conditions that do not allow them to stay long with their patients and only have time for the actions. chat for a while more. So a future is drawn where humans and robots become interchangeable, and it is paradoxical that the technical part is attributed to man, while the social part is attributed to the robot ”.

So could technology be the solution to all problems?
“A hypothesis that I call ‘magic thinking’, as if everything could be solved with hi-tech. In reality, I do not think so: technology can only solve problems if it is properly integrated into a social solution. A simple example is electronic Voting: The problem when people do not go to the polls is a political issue, that is, the lack of voting tells me something, but if you give everyone the opportunity to easily vote with a click through the Internet, which provides a technological answer to to facilitate everything, yes, it’s just magical thinking because it’s an apparent solution, but it’s not really the way to solve political dissatisfaction. Like when during the lockdown it was thought that it was enough to give a computer to the children who “did not have it at home: But if a family does not have a computer today, the problems are completely different, they are economic and cultural, it is not a technological obstacle. In short, it depends on how we want to build our future.”

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