Transformations in the digital age
First of all, I would like to thank you for your invitation.
In my lecture I’m going to discuss the impact of digital technologies on the human environment. We are not witnessing the emergence of a mere technology; we are rather witnessing the emergence of a new cognitive behavioural paradigm that is redesigning the development prospects of the earth’s environment.
Beside directly redesigning the relation and cognitive patterns of our species, digital technologies can also broaden human actions beyond the limits that up to the present moment have been socially described as compatible. Let’s mention some examples. Beside improved calculation abilities, increased relational areas and the possibility of communicating in real time with no space limits, the development of digital technologies has given rise to such sectors as biotechnologies, nanotechnology, neuroscience and high energy physics. These domains are radically changing human intervention abilities and point to an epistemological break that will mark a new beginning.
The scientific paradigm itself is shifting from the “old” experimentation paradigm to the “new” simulation paradigm – a change which is often barely noticed, but which is redesigning the potentials and limits of both our research paradigm and the structure of knowledge itself. This element strengthens a structural trend of the digital environment, i.e. considering “residual” all that cannot be mathematized. This trend is infecting several aspects of human action, from communication and relation to work and profession forms through to economic, social and political patterns, including geopolitical ones, i.e. energy, raw materials, defence and intelligence.
The great transformation has a starting point and a “killer application”. Without the development of the information technology supporting communication networks we would still be in a phase where the development of digital technologies is confined to research centres, advanced industry and a few other sectors. Instead, the development of the world wide web has brought about a huge change at the planetary level. All sectors of human life have been affected by this revolution and some have experienced radical change.
For example, one of the main innovations of the 20th century, that I have been calling “the Meaning Industry” for years, has multiplied its pervasive skills thanks to digital technologies. The coming about of this industry is unprecedented in the history of humankind as, for the very first time, the “meaning of life” has no longer been built just from dialogue and social dispute, but designed and spread through a new industrial sector that is able to gain profits from such construction.
This capability makes it possible to produce a meaning that, however, people keep perceiving as built by themselves. This kind of design enables the production of continual flexibility and adaptation logics meant to adapt behavioural patterns to market needs, which are sometimes political. The logic of constant change thus becomes both a virtuous logic of one’s own condition and data for research. This gives rise to a large spiralling movement that stays centred on itself, on a logic focused on expanding consumption and production. Such a pattern somehow produces, both in the individual and in social organisms, the perception of a “constant change” that, however, always stays identical to itself.
The coming of the “Meaning Industry” is one of the main issues about which politics and democracies have understood little or nothing so far, and that is now exploding into planetary dimensions through the great communication flow enabled by the world wide web and social networks.
A new “Earth” is being built. The metaphor I wish to use is indeed borrowed from astronautics. We can describe what is happening as the “commercial reformatting of planet Earth”.
This process has affected raw materials, the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and now humankind as a whole. Environmental cycles and the evolution of the species have been altered by acting on DNA. Non-human living beings have been turned into mere elements of the consumption market and subjected to it. We have started to change the history of the human genetic code and to talk about “transhumanism”, which will be favoured by the singularity brought about by digital calculation skills surpassing human skills. The formal subsumption of the world into this pattern produces atomization processes of the individual and becomes real subsumption through the marginalization of all that is not mathematizable.
Everything is based on mechanisms of “mathematization of the present”: what is not mathematizable becomes residual. These processes range from seeds to the cognitive structure of individuals. This is the new primary accumulation that is taking place on the planet.
In my opinion, politics and human society can be founded again if we are able to reinterpret, within this transition, the couple “self-fulfillment” – “redistribution of the value created”.
In order to maintain the value of this couple we must change almost everything.
Work has to be conceived and managed differently from how we did in the 20th century. In the new patterns, command shifts from means of production to flows. This means that information and communication become the heart of the production machine – from immaterial production to automation processes through to anthropomorphic robots – and that growing elements of pieces of life end up permanently into the production system.
For example the Big Data issue. It is worth remembering that we are talking about extracting value from social behaviours. In 2012, this was worth 11 billion dollars worldwide and over the past 3 years it has been growing by 40% a year.
This is one of the elements from which we should start to calculate a new concept of “human basic income” while pointing out the new forms of unpaid work such as “implicit work”, that have been introduced by the new work organization brought about by digital Taylorism and that both politicians and economists still haven’t noticed.
But I don’t want to go too deep into one of the many fields affected by this transformation. What I’m interested in is to try and build an overview that can connect, at least for a moment, currents and innovations that keep being disconnected as they don’t share a common logic in political, scientific and social areas. Divided knowledge and excessive specializations often result in an inability to exploit the remarkable opportunities offered by change.
So we need to reconnect the deep meaning of this change we are producing, become aware of it and direct it towards territories that are often new and raise questions that have been inexpressible so far. I’m referring to the impact of technologies on end-of-life issues, of the cloning of the human being and other species, of the production of artificial lives, of the replacement of living labour with dead labour, of the cognitive transformations that new technologies feed in the relationship linking individual, reality and society. I’m referring to the possibility of inhabiting the space and making the impact of 7.3 billion people sustainable. We should guarantee these people not only mere survival (which we haven’t managed to do yet) but also the freedom of pursuing their own aspirations.
To do this, we need to build conscious leaderships.
To achieve such a great transformation, a new-quality leadership is needed, having a new approach, new analysis and relationship-management methods, and a new managerial ability. This elaboration can no longer be entrusted to just one part of the world. Processes are worldwide as is the scene of change. The construction of a new form of leadership cannot be confined to the borders of one or a few countries.
That’s why I believe that the meeting of East and West should become a structural phenomenon that is able to produce permanent connections, and a melting pot with a multicultural, interdependent character.
Baku can stand as a candidate to play this connecting role, with the awareness that it cannot be the only place for such a meeting, but that it can become a key place in this phase of deep transformation of the planet.