An argument in favor of finding a place for humans (and humanness) in the future digital economy.
In the digital economy, accountants, baristas, and cashiers can be automated out of employment; so can surgeons, airline pilots, and cab drivers. Machines will be able to do these jobs more efficiently, accurately, and inexpensively. But, Nicholas Agar warns in this provocative book, these developments could result in a radically disempowered humanity.
The digital revolution has brought us new gadgets and new things to do with them. The digital revolution also brings the digital economy, with machines capable of doing humans' jobs. Agar explains that developments in artificial intelligence enable computers to take over not just routine tasks but also the kind of “mind work” that previously relied on human intellect, and that this threatens human agency. The solution, Agar argues, is a hybrid social-digital economy. The key value of the digital economy is efficiency. The key value of the social economy is humanness.
A social economy would be centered on connections between human minds. We should reject some digital automation because machines will always be poor substitutes for humans in roles that involve direct contact with other humans. A machine can count out pills and pour out coffee, but we want our nurses and baristas to have minds like ours. In a hybrid social-digital economy, people do the jobs for which feelings matter and machines take on data-intensive work. But humans will have to insist on their relevance in a digital age.
Nicholas Agar is Professor of Ethics at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is the author of Humanity's End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement and Truly Human Enhancement: A Philosophical Defense of Limits, both published by the MIT Press.
“Nick Agar hopes that the Digital Age will be followed by the Social Age, because the preservation of humanity depends on it entering the Social Age. Agar's book points to this issue and is therefore of pivotal importance, while Agar`s argument is visionary. Whether his vision of the Social Age will be realized, is going to be revealed to the coming generations. Hopefully.”
Vojin Rakić, Director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics, University of Belgrade, Serbia
“With this book, Agar seals his place as the foremost philosophical defender of humanness in a robust technological age. Agar has now done for the digital world what he did for human biomedical enhancement, mounting a systematic defense of distinctively human values in the face of a technological revolution that promises to transform human nature and society in ways both imagined and unimagined. Agar makes a persuasive case for the unprecedented threat of artificial intelligence to the future of human work and agency. Rather than resorting to dire predictions, however, he lays out normative ideals worth fighting for in an increasingly digital world. This book epitomizes philosophy at its best, carefully integrating disparate threads from history, social science, popular culture, and contemporary philosophies of mind and morality into an eminently readable romp through the blooming buzzing confusion of our technological landscape, from social media to sex bots. It is a refreshingly sober antidote to the unbridled optimism and blinding panic that so often greets technological revolutions, giving us a glimpse of the way forward and offering concrete steps to humanize our technological future. Everyone who feels lost in the maelstrom of technology swirling around them, and all those who feel right at home in the digital age, should read this book.”
Russell Powell, Department of Philosophy, Boston University
“Thoughtful and informative. How to Be Human in the Digital Economy helped me understand the digital revolution and its impact on our societies. This book will be of great interest to a wide range of readers. While philosophically driven, the narrative is nevertheless easy to follow and accessible. The author has skilfully assembled a wide range of ideas and based his central arguments on many sources. I found the overall assumption that the digital revolution should be accompanied by a social revolution to account for the human factor to be very compelling. The topic will certainly receive a great deal of attention in the future, and not only from philosophers of humanism.”
Marius Turda, Professor, School of History, Philosophy and Culture, Oxford Brookes University, UK
“A clarion call to place the value of the human at the heart of the digital revolution. We ignore it at our peril.”
Robert Sparrow, Professor of Philosophy, Monash University, Australia