Technology will set you free

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"Work will set you free."

So read the sign at the entrance to Nazi concentration camps during World War II welcoming their tenants. The slogan borrowed from a program to end unemployment during the Weimar Republic, which has a literary origin (the homonymous novel by Lorenz Diefenbach), could not condense more cruelty and cynicism. Work, its obligatory nature, its conditions and its better or worse remuneration have been key to the perpetuation of social systems since time immemorial. Since the Industrial Revolution, these paradigms have continued to evolve, accelerated by the incorporation of new technologies. It is precisely these technologies that have made it possible to improve production by speeding up processes that were previously completely manual.

Today we are reaching curious and inexplicable paradoxes in our relationship with technology as a society. While theory sells us that automation can free us from both tedious and dangerous jobs, reality tells us that in order to enjoy the millions of electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers in the first world, tens of thousands of minors have to risk their lives daily by going into the infamous coltan mining holes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (where 80% of the mines of this coveted mineral are located). But the gruesomeness has its twist, as some of these mobiles (and not a few) will end up serving to entertain an adult in a mining game in which you are rewarded for extracting materials from the subsoil. But what would the 21st century be without its contradictions. Contradictions and uncertainties seem to be the signs of the times.

But let's move on. We are developing technologies that replace the human being, not only for physical tasks, but also for other assistance or personal attention. In some restaurants, having a robot attend to you is already a reality, but it is in the healthcare field where they want to be implemented to replace the human who had to spend years studying medicine. With the development of artificial intelligences, the aim is to overcome the last barrier, the one that perhaps makes humans the most peculiar of the animals that populate the face of the Earth, which is the capacity for artistic creativity.

In 2020, Nikolai Ironov's bold and original designs wowed his clients who had commissioned him to create logos and brand identities for their companies. Cafes, bars, influencers, youtubers, apps, consumer products, etc. all of them approved and ended up using his creations as a graphic designer, not knowing that this employee of the Artemy Lebedev studio had something special, that he didn't exist. At least not as a human. Nikolai Ironov was a fictitious name, in reality these applauded designs were the work of a neural network, an artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of analyzing the brand identity, the name, its slogan or the description of the services to which the company is dedicated, to generate images previously conditioned by the brief of the clients. But let's not abandon all hope... before showing the proposals to them, there is a human filter that selects and discards. The deception of Ironov's apparent humanity lasted for a year, during which time he kept on working and reaping success.

It seems that we have turned around the technoutopia in which humans created the technology that would free them from tedious work and that would allow them to dedicate themselves exclusively to the tasks that elevate them as beings, the top of Maslow's pyramid. However, it is 2022 and this does not seem to be the case. With the metaverse just around the corner, there are those who might think that these should only exist to do things that are not possible to do in the real world, so that they are not presented as a mere substitution of it, but would it not be equivalent to saying that literature could only be of fantastic genre and not realistic, or that the only valid art is surrealist or abstract, because for a faithful representation of reality there is already reality itself.

This is another of the dilemmas we will have to face in the near future, the use of virtual worlds that interconnect people, and their regulation.

At the moment it is unknown how far their implementation in society will go, but a company such as Facebook to make such a risky business move as changing its name to Metamakes us think that trends may be oriented towards this type of technology. Moreover, it is not just the brainy Mark Zuckerberg, other giants such as Google, Microsoft or Nvidia, are also betting on the Metaverse. Moreover, it would be unfair to ignore the fact that there are other smaller, dissident players who are proposing other ways of applying this technology in a decentralized manner. Perhaps the cinematic fantasies we saw in films such as 'The Surrogates' (2009) or 'Ready Player One' (2018) will not be so far away in a few years, although the development of devices that allow us to connect and interact with this new virtual reality in a fully satisfactory way is still pending. While senses such as sight and hearing have already been indulged by existing technology, for the rest -touch, smell, tastethere is still a long way to go. However, technology is socially constructed, there is no technological determinism where the development of technology is linear and cumulative, leading to progress. It is more complex and systemic than all this. There is a correlation of forces in the construction of technology; innovations are the result of the resolution of the tensions that arise between different conflicts of interest among a group of actors until a sort of provisional consensus is reached.

There is no doubt that some crucial years lie ahead of us in which human beings will have to know how to manage technology skillfully, not only in the pursuit of their well-being but also simply to ensure their own existence. We are at a critical moment in terms of energy and material resources, and immersed in a climate emergency, which should condition the course of technology. The younger generation is already aware that "there is no planet B" and that it will inherit a planet A that has been deeply flawed by the dynamics of its predecessors and an insatiable economic system that puts profits in the present before future sustainability. We do not know what role these or other technological advances will play, but we have no doubt that they will have their importance and that we will see how they take shape over the next decade.

About the Author

Javier Terrádez

Activista y creador de contenidos.

February 18, 2022 — Javier Terrádez

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