Special Issue - Dialogues and transfers: The (po)ethical-practical rescue of the Digital Humanities

Newsletter

The Digital Humanities impel us to examine AI as a potential and conceptual aid to science and society. In this respect, they can promote a conciliation of languages, with a focus on the idea of ethically ‘outgrowing’ the definition of human societies:

“Thinking is not unifying or transforming an appearance in familiar. Thinking is directing one's own consciousness transforming each image in a privileged place.” - Albert Camus

When discussing Artificial Intelligence (AI), we seldom consider the enriching potentialities of the Digital Humanities as a conciliation of languages, but, as Claude Bernard reminds us “what we think we know prevents us from continuing to discover.” Indeed, AI can reveal overlapping folds of reality neglected by our own perceptions. This would work in similar ways as René Magritte’s art, where the artist ponders that ‘everything we see hides something else. We always want to see the hidden through the visible, but it is impossible.’ Writers such as Jorge Luis Borges could bring clarity in this quest by inviting us to see ‘History not as an inquiry into reality, but as its origin.’ In that respect, the language of the Humanities and the Arts, with all their intuitive variety and depth, could take us closer to a (po)ethical understanding of AI that is required for our ongoing societal dialogues.

Cristina Blanco Sío-López,

a personal account

Cristina Blanco Sío-López is a ‘María Zambrano’ Senior Distinguished Researcher at the University of La Coruña (UDC), Spain and Principal Investigator of the ‘FUNDEU’ project, financed by the NextGenerationEU framework. She is also the Principal Investigator of the EU Horizon 2020 research project ‘Navigating Schengen: Historical Challenges and Potentialities of the EU’s Free Movement of Persons, 1985-2015’ (NAVSCHEN). From 2019 to 2022 she was Marie Skłodowska-Curie Senior Global Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, USA) and at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice. She previously was Assistant Professor in European Culture and Politics at the University of Groningen and ‘Santander’ Senior Fellow in Iberian and European Studies at the European Studies Centre (ESC) – St. Antony’s College of the University of Oxford, where she remains a Senior Member. She was Chair of the North America Chapter of the MCAA, which received the ‘Best NonEuropean Chapter Award 2020’

Cristina Blanco Sío-López
Cristina Blanco Sío-López

Outgrowing the Technium and the Sensorium

So, how can the Digital Humanities help us? They could contribute by aiding us to reverse engineer from apparent ‘nothingness’ as critical analyses take heart in the elucidation of intentions, purposes and meanings. The Humanities also bring about the fundamental concept of ‘outgrowing’ into the future. This evokes Kevin Kelly’s Technium notion, understood as ‘a complex organism with its own motivations’ (Kelly, 2011). Taking into account this daring premise, the question arises as to how to build bridges with dialogues that involve human societies. And, also, could Digital Humanities provide a practical rescue before these challenges. David Eagleman maintains that ‘our sensorium is enough for us to live in our ecosystem, but it does not go beyond’ (Eagleman, 2016). One solution could be to transform problems and challenges into questions by allowing transversal perspectives. This could help us create new narratives with interdisciplinary languages of circularity.

AI for the common good?

Luciano Floridi’s OnLife offers answers from the field of Philosophy, centered around the pillars of Paideia, meaning education and knowledge and of Nomos, i.e., law and justice (Floridi, 2015). However, these basic pillars do not seem to be enough either, as there is a need for an AI ethical leadership. This is positively linked to the potential of a cooperative design of new languages of knowledge that are not excluding or exclusive.

Street Art mural illustrating AI design by bringing together Art and Science. 'Shoefitr mural' by Will Schlough in South Oakland, Pittsburgh. Photographed by Cristina Blanco Sío-López.
Street Art mural illustrating AI design by bringing together Art and Science. 'Shoefitr mural' by Will Schlough in South Oakland, Pittsburgh. Photographed by Cristina Blanco Sío-López.

Indeed, it is not so much about managing information online as it is about how we tell human stories. In this sense, AI languages could be ‘borrowing the future to offer opportunities to the present,’ in Floridi’s words. His OnLife implies a permanent connection, which begs the question of how to deal with the 4th Industrial Revolution in an authentically human way. This takes into account the challenges on how AI ‘separates action from understanding’ and how it is ‘reproductive and not cognitive’ (Floridi, 2015).

New questions for new languages

Considering the contributions of Philosophy, confronting these challenges would entail consciously researching technological human beings and human machines inhabiting our present-future. This new realm provokes newer questions: What new knowledge do we need to become cooperative and inclusive societies? What new pedagogies and policies are necessary to explain upcoming societal changes? In short, we are called to exercise a decision-making power that does in fact collectively empower us.

As Karelia Vázquez emphasized, it all comes down to ‘the self-esteem of the human’ in a way that we rescue a willingness to decide who we want to be. She also admonishes us not to ‘be infected by the voracity of the algorithm’ as humans are not an algorithm either (Vázquez, 2022). A way forward could then be defined by a commitment to stating our own rules and to reaffirm who we are - contradictory human beings, capable of lateral thinking and open to imagining parallel realities, as the Humanities invite us to consider.

Conclusions

Significant solutions for the challenges posed by this turning point can be based on algorithmic audit and transparency, as Lucía Velasco suggests (Velasco, 2023). In a similar vein, Peter Railton indicates that AI also carries significant risks of harm, discrimination and polarization (Railton, 2020). So, in order to minimize these risks, we must make sure that these partially intelligent systems become adequately sensitive to the characteristics of ethically relevant situations, actions and results, both in their relationships with humans and each other. In the end, it is up to us to create new inclusive languages of knowledge. More than a task, this will be a joyful gift of committed co-creation.

Cristina Blanco Sío-López
Senior Distinguished Researcher
PI of the NextGenerationEU ‘FUNDEU’ project
PI of the EU Horizon 2020 ‘NAVSHEN’ project
University of La Coruna (UDC), Spain
cristinabsiolopez@gmail.com
Twitter @CBlancoSioLopez
http://esomi.es/cristina-blanco

References

Eagleman, D. (2016). The Brain. The Story of You. Canongate Books, ISBN: 978-1782116615.

Floridi, L. (2015). The OnLife Manifesto. Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era. Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-04092-9.

Kelly, K. (2011). What Technology Wants. Penguin. ISBN: 978-0143120179.

Railton, P. (2020). Ethical Learning, Natural and Artificial. In: Liao, S. M. (Ed.), Ethics of Artificial Intelligence(pp. 41-53).Oxford University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190905033.003.0002

Vázquez, K. (2022). Un chute de autoestima para los humanos en la era del algoritmo. El País, 7th of May.

Velasco, L. (2023). La nueva revolución creativa se llama inteligencia artificial generativa. El País, 20th of February.

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