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Human Infrastructure over Digital Infrastructure

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Today’s technologies influence not only who we are or how we get socialized but also our understanding of reality or metaphysics. As Oxford Professor Floridi mentioned in his Onlife Manifesto, the distinction between virtuality and reality get blurred in the following ways:

  • the blurring of the distinctions among human beings, nature, and the machine;
  • the reversal from information scarcity to information abundance;
  • the shift from the primacy of entities to the primacy of interactions.

Perhaps, in this interconnected era, we should speak of ‘becoming human’ rather than ‘being human’, given these blurring distinctions between the individual, nature and the machine. According to Fuller, drawing such a line might cause a moral problem. Fuller stated that while the Turing test provides behavioral criteria to be fulfilled in order to be counted as a human being no matter what the physical composition might be, it might also have provided in fact an abstract version of performance standards to be met by an individual in comparison to a ‘non-human’. Given his assertion, Fuller also suggested the use of ‘non-carbon’ instead of silicon-based androids.

On the other hand, although no one would deny this blurring of distinction among the digital, physical and biological spheres, it would be unfair to contribute this cause only to the technologies given the trend of gene editing in our age. Perhaps, a better term to be used might be the forces of technology or, as we prefer to say, following Castells and others, ‘informationalism’. This mutual interaction of information and biology is being referred to as ‘bio-digitalism’, where forces of biology and information come together in mutually interactive ways. This should not mean that human beings can be conceptualized as being equal to Artificial Intelligences (AI), nevertheless, some scholars such as Latour asserted that there needs to be no longer a distinction between humans and non-humans as all phenomena should be treated equally, regardless of biological or artificial nature. According to Latour and his followers, the reason underpinning this equal treatment would go back to values.

In his book, How We Think: Digital media and contemporary technogenesis, the author Hayles delves into how humans and technologies are co-evolving and asserts that as a result of our “thinking through, with, and alongside digital media” there might arise crucial biological, neurological and psychological consequences in addition to the impact of these technologies upon economic, social and political conditions. Given the increasing impact of the fields of bio-, nano-, and neuro- technologies on humanism, one of the terms that became popular is ‘post-humanism’ which refers to the meaning of being a human in this digital age with regard to the following aspects (Hayles):

  • Our technological essence,
  • Our biology that impacts our relationships:
  • to ourselves,
  • to other species,
  • to the intricate web of nature.
  • The concept of the individual being in a dynamic state of ontological becoming,
  • The worldwide shift from an ‘analog’ ( book or text-based) to a ‘digital’ (data or information-based) socio-economic system,
  • A shift from an ethics based on free will and self-determination to distributed ethics in which individuals are in a dynamic and collaborative interaction.

Digital infrastructures may connect human beings to each other more closely than ever with the consequences of the small perturbations leading to more disastrous effects within our current socio-technological ecosystem. Yet, what should we bear in mind is the fact that human infrastructure has always shaped the way we live and will do so no matter how much digital technologies take this shaping process one step further and let us question what it means to be and to become a human being.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bogazici University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including IEEE Internet of Things Journal, Journal of Network & Computer Applications (Elsevier), Journal of Information Hiding and Multimedia Signal Processing...etc. She has also played the role of the guest editor of several international journals of IEEE, Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Moreover, she is one of the organizing chairs of several international conferences and member of technical committees of several international conferences. In addition, she is an active reviewer of many international journals as well as research foundations of Switzerland, USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley and works for Google in Mountain View.

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