Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 1

My first new course for 2017 is Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine, a 10 week course at the University of Sydney.

In this opening week of the course we learnt what technology is, and isn’t, and had some interesting debates about driverless cars, human looking robots, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger and Freud.

So, what is technology?

Technology is any humanly created artefact, system or technique produced to achieve some human end or purpose. Technology is the manipulation of nature, which transforms or makes nature available for human use.

All human societies make use of different tools. The first primitive tools were used to manipulate nature in some way, such as to make fire, cook food and hunting. It is interesting to note that fire is considered a form of technology when it is produced and controlled by humans. As our use of technology has increased so our environment has changed dramatically.

tools

The word technology also means technique. An example being the control of fire is not an artefact, but its manipulation is a technique which alters nature.

Technology is not for itself, it is a tool used to achieve something. Using Martin Heidegger’s terminology, In Order To. Heidegger exempted art from his definition because it is For-Itself.

The word technology comes from the word technê. Technê is “the set of principals, or rational method, involved in the production of an object or the accomplishment of an end; the knowledge of such principles or method; art.” It’s aim is making and doing, orientated towards producing something.

aristotle

Ancient Greeks viewed art negatively and craft positively. The reason is craft is the practical application of an art, rather than art as an end in itself. Socrates and Plato also shared this view.

Another important feature of technology is that it either compensates for some lack in our own human abilities or enhances some human feature. A tool for breaking rocks compensates for our soft hands for example.

Heidegger also notes that tools are not independent entities, without their definition they are useless. All tools only make sense when connected to other tools and institutions. Heidegger’s example of a hammer which needs a workshop, nails, wood, things to build and reasons to build them.

One other really interesting point from tonight is called the uncanny valley. The concept of uncanny was developed by Sigmund Freud and means something that is familiar but is slightly strange. The uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost human like provoke feelings of revulsion and eeriness. The valley part denotes a dip in the observer’s affinity for the replica. uncanny_graph_blog.jpg

As the image above shows, the valley is shaded in grey. As realism increases so the empathetic response dips. The graph shows a few examples. This is why we don’t see more human looking robots, they just look weird and creepy.

This first week was really interesting and I think the next 9 weeks are going to further enhance my knowledge of technology and philosophy, can’t wait!