The Role of Philosophy in the Technological Age
An increasing number of articles are talking about the growing interest of technology firms in recruiting philosophers for their teams. This may seem shocking for people who can’t understand the reasons for the decision. However, training in philosophy brings invaluable skills to technology firms and, in general, to current scientific and technological development. The reasons are:
- Offers concrete knowledge about logic, philosophy of mathematics, knowledge theory, anthropology, rhetoric, argumentation, writing, etc. and the ability to face complex problems and issues.
- Fosters abstract reasoning that makes it possible to analyze complex information that was received in a single message, and to integrate countless data from multiple sources and areas of knowledge into a message that makes sense.
- Bolsters critical spirit and the habit of stopping to think carefully for yourself, which is characterized by the ability to ask the right questions in new situations.
- Educates in the increasingly rare albeit necessary need for dialog, which involves being aware that yours is just a point of view. You gain openness to what’s new and are then able to analyze it.
- Generates special ethical sensitivity derived from knowledge and reflection about the ethical proposals of philosophers throughout history.
All of these skills are invaluable for the daily work of technology firms. As a consequence, it’s not surprising that they are recruiting philosophers for their workforce. Nonetheless, even though their role in a specific company is important, philosophers are currently called to do a much more important job: careful, thorough and integrating reflection about the implications of current scientific and technological changes on human life.
Pace of action and reaction
Science and technology progress much quicker than our reflection about their consequences. In addition to the evident changes brought about by innovation, there are other hidden changes or medium- and long-term consequences that are not evident. People that work to develop science and technology do not reflect on these consequences because that is not their job. This is especially worrying at the moment given the pace of change and its enormous capacity to transform human life in a short time.
Philosophy must act as a catalyst of this reflection by integrating diverse knowledge and generating spaces for minute dialog where relevant questions about these challenges are put forward. There are many questions and they are not easy to answer. For example and without addressing all possible topics: What will be the consequences of having robots eliminate 70% to 80% of current jobs within 30 years, as forecast by experts? What would be the impact on the people affected and society in general? Can we survive without working? Does leisure make sense if we don’t know its opposite, business? Will the demand for leisure activities skyrocket? Will new needs be created for those without work, or will technology quickly meet these needs and make work dispensable once again?
Will mass implementation of technology generate a much more efficient productive network that leads to cheaper products and services? Will this, in turn, result in a gradual reduction of the world’s economy and its subsequent impoverishment?
What will be the effects on human life of the expected considerable increase in longevity? Will death become an option as some experts believe? If that were to be the case, would we choose to die? What happens to life when the horizon of death moves away? Isn’t death what adds tension to life and what, in essence, makes us act? What would the psychological, sociological and other consequences of this situation be?
What will human relationships be like? Without even realizing it, aren’t we placing technology at the service of avoiding relationships? If it is correct that, to some extent, we become “I” in relation to others, what would happen to what is called “personal identity” if we become increasingly more isolated? What is the role of the digital environment in isolating people and in the possible loss of definition of personal identity? Y What is the role of the loss of personal identity in our behavior?
- Have we adopted the instrumental logic of technology for ourselves to the extent that we see ourselves as means at the service of a series of ends rather than ends in and of ourselves?
- Is the concept of truth relevant at all in a world where technology makes it possible to amplify and endlessly repeat messages that prevail because of their ability to dazzle rather than any truth they may contain? How do you live in this world of post-truth?
- What will be the impact of all this on ethics or politics? Will we have to rethink fundamental political categories such as democracy, society, power, human rights, etc.? What can be regarded as society when people regularly interact with other people across the world but hardly ever see their next-door neighbors?
- How should we raise our children for a future of unknown characteristics? What should they study if we don’t know what jobs there will be or if they will even have a job?
These are just some examples of questions that we must ask and try to answer as a result of the challenges and opportunities brought about by scientific and technological development. And we should do it philosophically, i.e. carefully, even retreating, through hours of study that will allow us to properly describe the challenges of the future and through hours of rigorous dialog that stretch our imagination, sensitivity, intelligence and openness to what’s new. This dialog must include researchers from multiple areas to integrate their contributions into a philosophical perspective. The purpose of these efforts is to arrive at a forecast and prediction that enable us to leverage opportunities and mitigate the specific challenges of the future.
Gonzalo Mendoza Zabala.
Founder and Director of the School of Philosophy. Bachelor in Business Administration, Minor in Finance. George Washington University (Washington D.C.)