*By Renata Baiao*

*  * *

Humans change the world around them, and their version of the world changes humanity. We have never interacted so much with the objects around us, and we have never been more susceptible to them.

Reflect, for a moment, about what the world was like 20 years ago, at the beginning of the Century. If you can, dive back 30 years ago, at the end of the last Century, and search your memories: what was communication like? Access to information? Means of transport? Life expectancy? Information about the inhabitants of a given territory?

At that time, mobile services were restricted to very few people in the world; faxes, pagers, and the like were the resources to increase speed in communication. The information was not so available and accessible: library cards denounced the delay in loaning books. Nowadays, most of the publications are available online, and services like book lending are available on electronic devices upon payment of a subscription.

The amount of information produced in digital media has never been greater[1], and so has life expectancy[2].

After 30 years and a pandemic, technological evolution has made processes faster, more efficient, and several of them have been optimized based on data collection and processing. In this regard, it has never been easier to obtain, combine and relate data in an automated way and conduct activities based on such information.

Despite all the inequalities that persist, we have never lived so well, so comfortably, and for so long[3]. This is also due to technological advances.

However, even humanity’s longevity, well-being, and everyday comfort were not achieved without the counterpart of adopting the innovations.

In addition to the risks involving the sustainability of human life on the planet, technological innovation brings new forms of work, education, leisure, interaction, and access to resources, with global consequences not yet sufficiently dimensioned.

Yuval Harari deals with the danger of technological evolution being so significant as to make a whole category of people irrelevant to the social bosom, demanding reflection on this matter (2018, p. 17).

The number of people without access to the Internet reaches 41% of the world population[4]. If access to the Internet provides access to so many benefits and utilities, not having the means to access it is already a natural obstacle to the advantages it offers.

The reflection about the effects of technological evolution shouldn’t take so long to the point of facing the consequences rather than risks.

Also, technological evolution changes humanity in its essential characteristics or, at least, those that make it a social being, reaching human behavior even before the community.

The above situations barely scratch the surface of the challenge proposed here.

In 1965, Moore’s Law predicted, with surprising accuracy, that computers’ processing capacity would double every 18 months (1965).

However, Gordon Earl Moore did not dedicate his studies to evaluate the speed of adaptation of human behavior, its changes, risks, and advantages of this movement.

Individuals are immersed in an invisible technological reality. They are permanently observed, and each step is closely monitored, inside and out. Certain behaviors are encouraged, while undesirable behaviors are hampered.

These aspects have not been identified recently and are the objects of study of cognitive technology.

On that matter, Frishmann and Selinger establish that cognitive technology stipulates this thesis: “Using a particular class of technology can actively shape how people think, and, consequently, this influence can affect how people act, including how they treat the very technology that alters their thinking” (2018, p. 87).

Although the universe of cognitive technology is much broader than the one to be focused on in the following discussions, it is crucial to be aware of these processes when leaving the surface on the search for answers — the nature of a task can be changed from the sequence of actions necessary to complete it.

Besides, according to Clark and Chalmers, humans are prone to extend their minds into the environment. The authors use examples involving notes in a notebook, which can be easily transposed to computers, mobile devices, and other information systems (1998).

In the end, the authors conclude:

“As with any reconception of ourselves, this view will have significant consequences. There are obvious consequences for philosophical views of the mind and for the methodology of research in cognitive science, but there will also be effects in the moral and social domains. It may be, for example, that in some cases interfering with someone’s environment will have the same moral significance as interfering with their person. And if the view is taken seriously, certain forms of social activity might be reconceived as less akin to communication and action and more akin to thought. In any case, once the hegemony of skin and skull is usurped, we may be able to see ourselves more truly as creatures of the world” (1998, p. 18).

Questions arise that compel the search for answers that refer to the origin of the devices, applications, technologies, and their own decision-making mechanisms, as well as the criteria used to choose desirable conduct over another.

The confrontation of ethical issues arising from technological innovation includes ethical aspects of the research carried out. In this regard, the need to consider whether “arguments can be used for immoral purposes” is assessed (HANSSON, 2017, p. 241).

Besides that, even the notion of the purpose of ethics is also a matter to be considered. Aristotle faced that challenge and, in simple terms, established that if happiness is the purpose of human action, ethics is the means to achieve it.

Human behavior is influenced and shaped in several ways.

Through elaborating its norms, the Law is a reasonably efficient tool in reaching the objectives initially intended by the norms, dealing with conduct in a permissive or prohibitive perspective.

The elaboration of norms and the construction of precedents has its origin in several sources. Except in extreme situations, it takes a long time to build those legal structures, which allow democratic interactions in their evolution.

Besides, the Law tends to look at the facts and establish the parameters of conduct, rarely performing a predictive, futuristic activity, if not concerning the consequences of the behaviors expected from the Law itself.

Technological innovation, in turn, also shapes human behavior. However, it happens due to the behavior sought by the inventor and is built from a series of decisions previously made by the developer. The implementation speed, in turn, is dictated by the market[5].

The final addressee — the individual — only participates in a limited series of decisions, mostly involving hiring a particular service or product purchase.

In fact, the individual becomes the object of analysis of the invention since the objective pursued is the adherence of human behavior to the creation and not the other way around.

As if that were not enough, technological innovation tends to be incorporated very quickly into the private daily life so that reflections on its impacts have never had to be done so fast.

In this growing symbiosis, imagine the world 20 years from now. Fast forward 30 years, if you can. How does your community look like? How has Society developed? Is it better than today?

We are open for discussion, and you are invited to join!

ARISTÓTELES. Ética a nicomacos. 3rd. Edition. Brasília, Editora Universidade de Brasília, 1985.

BULAO, Jacquelyn. How much data is created every day in 2020. Published on TechJury, on September 10th, 2020. Available on https://techjury.net/blog/how-much-data-is-created-every-day/#gref. Accessed on November 15th, 2020.

CLARK, Andy; CHALMERS, David. The extended mind. Published on Analysis, v. 58, n. 1, in January, 1998, by Oxford University Press. Available on https://www.alice.id.tue.nl/references/clark-chalmers-1998.pdf. Accessed on November 15th, 2020.

CLEMENT, J. Global digital population as of July 2020. Published on Statista, on October 29th, 2020. Available on https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/. Accessed on November 15th, 2020.

FRISCHMANN, Brett; SELINGER, Evan. Re-engineering humanity. Cambridge, Cambridge university press. 2018. Kindle edition.

GLOBAL HEALTH OBSERVATORY. Published in the World Health Organization website. Available on https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/mortality-and-global-health-estimates. Accessed on Nov, 15th, 2020.

HARARI, Yuval; GEIGER, Paulo. 21 lições para o século XXI. São Paulo, Companhia das letras. São Paulo: 2018. Kindle edition.

HANSSON, Sven Ove. The ethics of technology. Stockholm. Sven Ove Hansson. 2017.

JASANOFF, Sheila. The ethics of invention. New York. W. W. Norton & Company. 2016. Kindle edition.

LOUKIDES, Mike; MASON, Hilary; PATIL, DJ. Ethics and data science. O’Reilly Media. California: 2018. Kindle edition.

MOORE, Gordon E. Cramming more components onto integrated circuits. Published in Electronics, Volume 38, Number 8, April 19, 1965. Available on https://newsroom.intel.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2018/05/moores-law-electronics.pdf. Accessed on November 15th, 2020.

[1] According to Bulao, 1.7MB of data is created every second by every person during 2020.

[2] Life expectancy reached 72 years in 2016, according to World Health Organization data.

[3] Inequalities are not ignored and are a matter of concern. However, humanity has reached a level of knowledge according to which diseases have been eradicated with the consistent use of vaccines, food no longer needs to be hunted, and it can cope with changes in time with architectural solutions, for example.

[4] 4.57 billion people were active users of the internet as of July 2020 (Clement, 2020).

[5] Harari points out that engineers, entrepreneurs, and scientists have little awareness about their decisions’ political implications and that parliamentarians and politicians are not ready to assume them.