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What makes us human in a hyper-connected era?

Written by Darja Vrscaj

On 2 December 2014, the EP’s Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) organised a workshop on ‘Being Human in a Hyper-connected Era’, focusing on the definition of what makes us human in the modern world. We are living in a hyper-connected era, where technology has penetrated every domain of society and private life. The discussion followed the topics included ink The Onlife Manifesto: Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era, which will be published in 2015, but is currently available for free preview.

Technologies reshape us and we reshape them

As professor Charles Ess pointed out, technologies are not merely tools; they reshape us as humans and we reshape them. ICT changes our behaviour and our ethics. For example, Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek highlighted that ultrasound technologies enable us to determine the health of a foetus, thus providing parents with information they can chose to use to decide to terminate a pregnancy where, for example, Down syndrome is present. In the past we did not have such technologies. Thus, technologies might create new values, new needs and new rights, as well as new ethical dilemmas.

Yiannis Laouris pointed out that technology has penetrated and changed all domains of human lives, except for democratic institutions. The current system of representative politics is, in his opinion, an outdated way of doing politics in a hyper-connected era. The Director-General responsible for the Digital-Agenda for Europe, Robert Madelin, moderator of the session, stressed that we need philosophers to validate politics in this era, and to help us think about new forms of public engagement and democracy.

We need to design the future before it happens

The underlying rationale of the event was to adopt a more responsible framework for research and innovation by starting to address and anticipate the impact of techno-scientific developments before they evolve and completely change the structure of our society. Most of the speakers were philosophers who proposed a reflection on how to re-engineer, re-invent and re-implement our rights in a new technological culture. In other words, we need to design the future before it happens. Professor Verbeek proposed that we search for ways to ask ourselves how we can develop technologies that will support our common values and increase collective quality of life.

The workshop also addressed the EU data protection framework, because in a hyper-connected era everyone’s behavioural data is being collected, recorded, possibly saved forever, monetised, remanufactured, and exploited in often unexpected and uncomfortable ways. Professor Mireille Hildebrandt asked how we can create more responsible policy-making that will encourage industries to enable their users to envision how their private and behavioural information could be used in the future.

What is your opinion: is privacy going to become a lot more complicated in future? Is democracy as we know it reaching its limits? Do you feel lost in the hyper-connected world? Join in the discussion!

Watch the video from the workshop ‘Being Human in a Hyper-connected Era’

Find all the presentations from panelists here

European Commission, DG Connect, web pages on The Onlife Initiative

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