Intelligent machines force us to rethink our uniqueness

My brother and I had to take a flight from Lyon to Rome. However because of our chronic forgetfulness, doubled in this case, we only thought about it 4 days before. We went to see what the cheapest flight was, a 70 Euro Easyjet flight. We decided to wait, as we had other things to do. We returned on the afternoon 3 days before the flight: 95 Euros. A little annoyed, we decided to take it, but only after having eaten. We returned and the cost had gone up to 105 Euros after only an hour.

By Filippo Zimmaro / 10.03.2021

We are competing with a system that is too strong for us: an algorithm knows everything and, even if it misses something, it will learn from its mistakes and correct them. For me, inventing unusual behaviour again and again is impossible. The algorithm will manage to make me spend the maximum amount that I am willing to, thus guaranteeing the optimum profit for the company that uses said algorithm. There are no last minute flights, no system error, no misunderstandings or system flaws. If there were, they would be so infinitesimal that I would not even notice them. It is a game I am willing to play, but I will surely lose, as if sitting at a chess table opposite Stockfish level 9.

The managers at Easyjet have certainly not become any smarter, more lucid or brilliant, it is just the artificial intelligence that moves with such speed, constancy and accuracy that to compete with it would be like punching a rubber wall. This feeling of helplessness pervades me, I don’t know how to deal with it, my mind will not give in to the idea of succumbing to it and I would only cause more damage to myself.

What should we do, once we realise we cannot compete with machines any longer? Learn from them? Create many machines that compete with one another to guarantee a certain form of independence (if I cannot compete, perhaps a machine could)? To adapt ourselves chameleonically to the system created and ride on the amazing and unthinkable opportunities this offers, disregarding the methods by which it operates and the effects it generates, as influencers and more boorish populists do?

Also in order to avoid the flourishing of the latter two categories, we have a duty to organise the digital world, just as we have done over the centuries, in the real world. To organise clearly means to regulate, to define laws, but not only: this process necessarily implies agreeing on a set of values, an ethic in short. Moreover, the appearance of new entities with which to relate forces us to rethink our own identity in relation to these new agents, the machines. Artificial intelligence is depriving us increasingly of the primacy of learning, computation and reasoning, the pillars on which we have built our understanding of ourselves as unique beings. This very exceptionality of ours needs to be rethought. 

For the philosopher Floridi, after the Copernican revolution (the Earth is not at the centre of the solar system), the Darwinian revolution (man is not unique in the animal kingdom) and the Freudian revolution (man does not have transparent control over his mind, we are living in a Fourth Revolution, headed by Alan Turing, which concerns man’s loss of the prerogative to be intelligent.

Perhaps the Fifth Revolution will be the Happy Revolution. After all, our exceptionalism lies not so much in our learning, the mechanism of which will become clear to us sooner or later, but in the hypercomplexity of the emotional sphere. The desire for well-being that Capitalism manages to satisfy so well will then become obsolete and we will try to replace it with the desire for happiness, for which another system will be needed. But these are just adolescent utopias, let us go back to the clash with the digital (which we have understood does not only concern grandma struggling with the Smart TV, but also the last of the Millennials). Organising the digital world, converging on the values that regulate its relations, understanding its new emerging entities (revenge porn, fake news, shit storms, what are they?), creating a universal digital Constitution (necessarily universal because it would make no sense to talk about locations in the digital world), regulating the new economies that are generated by it (are data a commodity or not?), it is hard, difficult, tiring work. Not doing so would mean accepting to live most of our time in a Wild West dominated by sheriffs and cowboys, groups of a few or very few, as we are doing now.

From Zuckerberg, Page and Bezos, we cannot expect foresight, responsibility and putting the common good before the pursuit of profit. Not because as successful entrepreneurs they are necessarily capitalist steeped in evil, as a certain rhetoric is used to show us, but simply because they are faced with totally new ethical choices, for which no one has been educated or prepared (was it right to exile Trump from all social media?).

Take-home message? Organising the digital world is ultimately one of the most important challenges facing the 21st century community, along with the fight against inequality and global warming.

This article is also available on Filippo Zimmaro’s blog.


Filippo Zimmaro (Italy)

Languages: Italian, French, English, Portuguese

Studies: physics

Europe is… to understand that certain things are better in another language, with another accent and pronounced by moving mouth and hands in a different way

My blog


Alex Jedwab (binational Swiss/British)
Studies: MA in English
Languages: English, French, German and Italian
Europe is... my home!

Author: alessandra

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