From Homo sapiens to man – the machine | Vanity Fair Italy

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

“Between a man, a robot, and a robot?” Certainly, man will not come out victorious. Nor does the robot, which is still too far from the circle of emotions to be defeated. On the other hand, many steps are being taken on the cyborg: the fusion between machine and human has reached incredible levels ». Daniela Sirki is an anthropologist who teaches social sciences at the University of Lausanne and for years has been involved in researching what might be human between artificial intelligence, chips and high-tech prosthetics.

Meaning that man, as naturally, is outdated?
“There is no doubt that it is changing and changing again. Homo sapiens today is no longer what it was yesterday and it is not said that it will not disappear: the crazy thing is that if this happened, we would be the only extinct species that planned our extinction, unlike other species. suffer. We change by merging with machines, we become different subjects. Think of Kevin Warwick, the English engineer who became the first cyborg in history: he truly belonged to a new species, endowed with abilities that humans do not normally possess. He was the first to have an electronic chip placed under his skin for non-medical reasons: the device allowed him to easily enter his lab thanks to a computer system that recorded his presence through the chip implanted in his arm. Another chip was then placed in the median nerve and his peripheral nervous system was connected to a computer: the system received the signals sent by Warwick’s brain, allowing him to control his technological environment with his thoughts, for example turning the computer on or off. the light. And so for Warwick, as for many transhumanists, the human body is just an obstacle that slows down the connection between the brain and the environment.”

So only the mind and the technology, but where do the feelings go?
“If it were up to me, it would not be possible to visualize the individual without a head and a body, with all the emotions associated with it, but I see that today it is not the focus of much research. It is as if we are only focusing on functional skills. I am thinking of Zora, a robot Supernatural used as a health and education aid, and has actually “worked” in various homes for elderly people in Switzerland. Years ago, an advertisement on the website that sold it (currently modified) listed the reasons why Zora was considered an ideal solution, including being “nice” and “patience,” which are by definition the characteristics one might expect of humans. The use of these terms to qualify a robot cannot leave indifferent indifference, particularly at a historical moment when health workers are denouncing working conditions that do not allow them to stay long with their patients and have time Just to do the action. Doctors, without being able to chat for a while anymore. So a future is being drawn in which humans and robots are interchangeable and ironically the technical part is attributed to the human while the social part is attributed to the robot.”

Can technology be the solution to all problems?
“The hypothesis that I call ‘magical thinking’, as if with high-tech everything could be solved. Actually I don’t 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 don’t go to vote, is a political one, that is, not voting tells me something. But if you give everyone the opportunity to easily vote in one click online, giving a technological answer to make everything easier, well, this is precisely magical thinking, because it is an obvious solution, but this is not how to really solve the solution – political discontent. Just as during the lockdown, it was believed that it was enough to give a computer to those children who did not have a computer at home: but if the family does not have a computer today, the problems are completely different, it is 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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