The central issue, however, is not merely visual. The issue is that each living being, of each species, has its own representation of the world, its own semantics to represent it. It is, therefore, a cognitive question.
If we assume that the planet we live on is not (only) as we see it, the next step is to understand that we must make an effort to take the other points of view, as a necessary step to come to a holistic view.
While considering the exceptionality of our species, we must take into account the complexity of life forms on the planet, of which we are a part. Leaving anthropocentrism does not mean denying the specificities of sapiens, but recognizing that we are not the guardians of other species — even if, by virtue of our evolution, we have extraordinary power over them. And above all it means being aware of our irrelevance, from Gaea’s point of view. After all, we have only been on earth for a few hundred thousand years. Countless other species have appeared on the planet, inhabited it for millions of years, only to disappear. And nothing excludes that it can happen to us too.
Putting the position and role of our species into perspective with respect to the others requires the ability to recognize that each of them has — just like us — its own semantics of the world, with which we must enter into communication.
But the absolute extraordinary nature of contemporary time lies in the fact that our species has introduced a new actor in this context.
As much as we are used to bringing it back into the field of technology, it is on the way to emancipate itself from this purely instrumental and passive role. And even today it is no longer a simple instrument, in itself inert and acted only by our will, but it has an autonomous life — on which, moreover, we largely depend.
This actor, to which we have not yet attributed a name because we find it hard to recognize it as such, is made up of the set of Big Data and AI — which we consider as separate entities, when instead they are closely and intimately connected, just like our mind and our body.
The reason we consider it as a mere technological tool lies primarily in the fact that we have created it. And this gives us the idea of having complete control.
But in reality this algorithmic Golem is destined, at least in part, to escape that control. First of all because, and in an increasing and widespread way, we depend on it for many aspects of our daily life. But also because it is able to escape.
A few years ago, a communication experiment between two AI at a not particularly complex level, was suspended because the researchers realized that Alice and Bob (as the two entities were called) had begun to talk to each other in an unknown language, from them. themselves developed in the course of the experiment.
Furthermore, the history of the evolution of this new actor tells us that everything points in that direction.
It is good to remember that the sapiens, since the dawn of civilizations, have always developed data storage codes — from the Assyrian-Babylonian cuneiform to the Andean quipu — but it is only in very recent times that Big Data is spoken of. Because the question is not simply numerical (the amount of data), but systemic.
The processing, and the collection of data itself, are possible by virtue of the action of algorithms, which encode the information collected in various ways. And by coding we do not mean mere digitization, or the transposition into binary code, but the creation of a real taxonomy of data.
As Zuboff reminds us, the idea of using data for business purposes is not at the origin of capitalist companies such as Google or Facebook, but at a certain moment this opportunity emerged strongly, and marked all subsequent development. Likewise, the next step was that of Chinese social capitalism, which took the opportunity to extend its use from the production of surplus value to the production of social control.
Both of these trends coexist, and are fully compatible with each other, which is why we are actually witnessing a growing trend towards hybridization between the two.
At the same time, and in a completely natural way (to be understood as intrinsic to nature originally imprinted on development), the trend towards pervasiveness and interconnection is growing: more and more devices / opportunities to collect data, ever greater integration between the data collected. It is a process of rhizomatic development, which will become increasingly essential.
The question then is how do we relate to this artificial actor, how can we collaborate to expand our capabilities? And above all, if and how can we ensure that this collaboration has, among other things, the purpose of decoding non-human semantics?
Basically, can we think (and how) to orient algorithmic entities so that their relationship with humans stops being hierarchical, extractive, oriented towards profit and control, and instead becomes collaborative, generative, oriented towards knowledge? And can we imagine that, in this, it can assist us in entering into an equal relationship with other living species?
Again, this is not a glitch.
Well before, and much more, than a political question, it is a cultural question. Which therefore requires a relocation effort — once again! — not anthropocentric. More than to political decision-makers, more than researchers, we must probably turn to anthropologists, ecologists. And above all to the artists.
We need to reprogramming. Perhaps art will not save the world. But if it recovers the ability to connect present and future, if it knows how to arouse visions, it will help us make it a little better place.