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23 March 2018

The 4th Revolution: Delegated Intelligence and its Shadows

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­Led by Klaus Schwab, one of the founders of the Davos Forum and promoter of debates about this question at the Forum, the statements and key arguments of the defenders and ideologists of the fourth Scientific and Industrial Revolution are very significant. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is presented as a radical change that will affect what we do and how we do it as well as what we are at all levels: biological, technical, epistemological, material, symbolical… When you listen to Klaus Schwab in the videos associated with the Davos’ presentations about this issue, a particular statement stands out from the rest: “We need to prepare for this revolution that is already happening.”What does it mean to prepare for a revolution? If we need to get ready for it, does this mean we are not creating this revolution ourselves? And if we’re not creating it, what or who is doing it? These seemingly innocent questions place us before a very deep change in the meaning of historical action and the concept of the subject: of the subject as the author of history and its revolutions; of the subject as the actor that responds and adapts to historical changes to be able to survive them and even take advantage of them.

One the most frequently used images in these debates is the wave or tsunami. They say it is coming and that it is doing it at great speed. Faced with a tsunami and the irreversibility of its force, only two responses seem to be possible: fearful paralysis that ends in drowning, or the speed that will allow you to save yourself. Repeatedly using the image of the tsunami, the Fourth Industrial Revolution seems to place us at a crossroads where, on one side, you have a death sentence (drowning) and, on the other side, there is survival (climbing the wave or fleeing in time).

Digital refugees

The question is: Does this junction present itself to the whole of humanity, or does it affect certain individuals and groups particularly? If we follow the thread of its developments, the second option seems more likely: the Fourth Industrial Revolution seems to be an irreversible change to which only a few will adapt in time. Countries with the resources to prepare and the most flexible individuals with most ability to adapt to this major change. And what will happen to those that are no ready in time? At Davos 2016, one of the leaders of this change said the following: we will soon be seeing great numbers of digital refugees.

The end of anthropocentrism

In the context of a major change in paradigm that represents a threat for many and a promise for a few chosen ones, what is this radical transformation of what we are appealing to, and where does it point? Beyond the futurist flights of imagination with the robot as a character, the revolution is about connecting with a new concept of intelligence that is no longer human (reflexive) or computer-based (operating); instead, it is understood as a continuum from the biological to the digital cloud and against which the human, or what we recognize as human, would only be a moment. As a consequence, we talk about the end of anthropocentrism and the delegation of intelligence to higher entities that create information and use it to make decisions.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not simply involve greater working powers for human beings. As Schwab announced, it affects our conception of ourselves directly, as an intermediate and subordinate entity between different thresholds of an intelligence that goes through us but forces us to look beyond ourselves. But should we look beyond to be better and become accountable for such improvement? Or should we look beyond to find the arguments of our salvation in a being that transcends us, which used to be divine and is now artificial and that allows us to unload the responsibility of having to do it ourselves?

Marina Garcés

University of Zaragoza

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