I have been invited to participate to the workshop “Artificial Intelligence and Humanity”, organized in Brussels by the Joint Research Center (JRC), division Science and Art, of the European Commission. The workshop, on June 6-7, was held at the BOZAR Center for Fine Arts. It has been an interesting experience, that has put together different experiences in the realm of Artificial Intelligence and perspectives from the humanities. Also the discussions following the presentations have been very stimulating. The European Commission has decided to publish the proceedings.

The aim of the workshop was the follow, from the official presentation:

The idea is to organise an investigation into the cultural aspects of Big Data/AI/Digital Transformation, calling upon the Humanities to shed some light beyond the blind spot of technological progress, to help us out in avoiding mass delusions and close the gap with computational machines that are supposed to carry out their own embedded desires. It is therefore essential to re-evaluate the human influence in complex interactional systems, to better understand these systems.

In the background, an important misunderstanding that is commonly held: Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics are widely misunderstood to be the same thing. AI grew from the desire to make life ‘smart’ with the assumption that the world can be understood as it is – which presumes that knowing the world is both possible and necessary – a fallacy that could bring dire consequences in a commercial environment. Cybernetics, on the contrary, holds no such assumption of a knowable world, but states that it is only necessary and possible to be sufficiently linked to the world to achieve explicit goals. In other words, cybernetics establish a continuous feedback loop capable of correcting readings and actions to achieve a goal. As such, it is at once more neutral and more precise.

My presentation was entitled “Nature, Life, Data and Algorithms – Old and New Models to Shape the World”, and was dedicated on the algorithms that humanity has been using since the dawn of its existence in order to represent Nature and the living. Humanity has always represented the world of Nature and the living, through technologies, tools and techniques, like gestures, orality, images, writing, and so on. After discussing some examples of algorithmic representations my presentation was focussed to today’s applications in the fields of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, Internet of Things (IoT) and of Everything (IoE), which are rising both interesting and harsh issues. In this context maybe the comparative ethology studies could be of some help, as well as deepening the meaning of “privacy” in Nature and humanity.

What is apparent to me is that humanity has progressively externalized some functions and activities, putting them outside the human body: body parts, with tools and weapons; knowledge and memory, with pictures and writings; activities and labour, with machines and more or less automatic devices; some narrow reasoning and autonomous action, with Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Artificial Life. In the future the creations of human culture could become more independent, a process that I have indicated as a Third Life in evolution.