Extending the body into digital technology: an evolutionary perspective

September 3, 2020 8:30 - 10:00

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Covid-19 has been a wake-up call on the urgency to understand the key role of intelligent technologies to plan a sustainable future. They are being proposed to monitor public health and environment, to predict extreme weather events and pandemic peaks, to implement smart work, manage transport and optimize energy efficiency. On the other hand, intelligent algorithms and  digital networks can be used for social and political control. An evolutionary perspective is necessary to understand their impact on individuals and society. The biological mechanisms behind our particular “prosthetic capacity” and pro-social behavior are useful to understand constraints and potentialities of our relationships with digital technologies. Paleoneurological studies suggests that Homo sapiens underwent an expansion of the brain cortical regions involved in visuospatial integration, visual imaging and body cognition. These functions are directly involved in brain-body-environment coordination, including body-tool, eye-hand and hand-tool management. Technologies are readily integrated into body schemes and incorporated into the cognitive process. Some of its components are thus exported into out-of-the-body elements, offloading the information flow to devices entrusted with physical, sensorial, storage and computational functions. Human self-domestication, via the retention of juvenile characters and embodied aspects of language, are examples of the large-scale evolutionary developments involved. Which effects can be envisaged on our individual and social cognition? How can we evaluate the impact of invasive deep machine learning on economic, social, political and ethical issues? By relaying on our 'social intelligence' to oversee the process, the extension of our bodies and minds into digital technologies need to be carefully monitored.

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