Handling things that handle us
Things get to know who we are and tie us down to who we were
Gransche, B.: Handling things that handle us. Things get to know who we are and tie us down to who we were, in: Wiltse, H. (Hg.): Relating to Things That Relate to Us. London/ Oxford: Bloomsbury (im Erscheinen, vorauss. 14. Mai 2020).
zu Bruno Gransches Beitrag im Band
Bruno Gransche adds another riff on the main theme with his consideration of “handling things that handle us.” He sees the rise in autonomous systems as marking a new stage in human-technology relations, one in which humans shift from craftsman to conductor. The chapter carefully builds up the argument that human learning of skills in service of particular goals is progressively displaced, as technologies increasingly provide what humans need or want without requiring much effort or skill on their part. Eventually, this seems to lead to a situation in which even the setting of goals is handled by intelligent systems that know how to serve and handle their “users.”
What if we take another step and not only relate to things but partner with them? What if things could be designed to be partners in human activities? Is that possible, and what would it mean? [...] We can, of course, push this question further, for instance, by asking what would happen if things could learn in the same manner as humans, and even more so? How would that change the way we understand things? Gransche explores this in his chapter on what might happen if things develop the ability to really know who we are. One consequence could be that humans rely more and more on things that can form systems which, over time, learn everything about humans—and maybe more than humans can know. Gransche explores such a development and warns us that it could lead to a situation where things are no longer only our partners but our superiors. As a consequence, humans might be locked into certain roles that only the system can control and will allow. The interesting aspect of this may be not a final and possible dystopian future—we’ve all seen that in many sci-fi movies—but the idea that it will be caused not by extraordinary intelligent robots but by large numbers of things operating in collaboration with the best intentions in mind when it comes to the well-being of humans. This would mean that we should not fear an apocalypse brought on by the singularity and killer robots but rather a wealth of comfortable designs that work together to establish systems and mechanisms that provide people with all they need in a way that drastically lowers their ambition to critically investigate their own reality.
Several developments are contributing to a new kind of human-technology relation in which things (systems) gain technological autonomy and learn how to handle ‘users’. Thus, the role of human actors can gradually shift from active agents to passive participants of systemic processes.