Technology will not save us

Image: Grant Taylor
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By ANDRÉ MÁRCIO NEVES SOARES*

Climate change portends that the relentless march of human progress is opening serious wounds across the globe

I begin by stating exactly this: technology is not, nor will it ever be, the Holy Grail of human salvation. If it were, we would have been saved a long time ago, as money itself is a technology. Furthermore: not even the impressive advance of contemporary digital money will be the final panacea of ​​human evolution.

In fact, every historical moment invented by human beings has a good and a bad side, be it political, economic, social, religious, or all of them together. For example, Athenian democracy allowed every citizen of Athens (male, adult and free) to participate in the city's political affairs. On the other hand, two hundred years of radical Athenian democracy were enough to demonize this form of government until contemporary times.

We can also give the industrial revolution as an example of the technological paradox. If, on the one hand, it has brought all sorts of progress that humanity is accustomed to today – from superfluous items, such as wireless devices, to important pharmaceutical products –, on the other hand, it has caused serious damage to our planet, as a result of unmeasured advancement. towards the perfectionism of a fully digital society. What is frightening is not knowing the limits and exact consequences of this journey, from which there is no return.

Take a good look, dear reader, and if you can, mark my words: the race for technological advancement will continue. Unless something extraordinary happens and accelerates the reduction or exhaustion of the planet's capacity for regeneration. Until that moment arrives, if it ever arrives, we will continue to advance on all the resources that exist on earth, whether animate or inanimate, in search of more, always more. Theoretically, we are still some way away from the extinction of the planet's resilience. Meanwhile, climate change portends that the relentless march of human progress is opening serious wounds across the globe.

It should be noted that there is no shortage of warnings from qualified scientists about the point of depletion of the natural reserves that make up our mother ship, which have been exhaustively explored by human beings. At the time of writing, all these warnings are being ignored, some more, some less, by the main countries on the planet, such as the members of the G8, in addition to the BRICS. This does not mean that other, less developed countries are promoting practical actions in favor of the planet. I mentioned the main ones, because I understand that the initiative to change the technological paradigm should come from them.

In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson published a book that became a classic about the technological race to exterminate the pests that have always plagued agricultural crops, through the use of the infamous pesticides.(1) Despite the success in quickly controlling some pests, Rachel Carson showed that the use of chemical substances through spraying and spraying on a large scale had already exacted, in little more than a generation, a very high cost for the health of many human beings, especially workers directly involved in handling these products.

In fact, Rachel Carson's study was the trigger for a series of debates in the United States about the responsibility of science and the limits of technological progress. The result of all these debates was the ban on domestic production of the chemical agent DDT and the intensification of popular movements demanding the protection of the environment. Unfortunately, Carson did not live to see all this, as she passed away in 1964, at the age of 56, less than two years after the publication of her work.

In her book, she tried to inform all interested parties, in very accessible language, of the harmful effects on the health of the entire biota, in the long term, of the exaggerated use of chemical products (and then organic ones too) in agriculture, with the catastrophic potential to destroy human beings themselves and their world. But she went further, denouncing that science and technology had become slaves to the chemical industry's race in search of profits and incessant control of the markets. She firmly believed that human beings would never have total control over nature, being only parts of it.

When presenting evidence that some types of cancer were related to exposure to these pesticides, Rachel Carson reflected deeply on the interaction between us and the environment, as she believed that all forms of life have more similarities than differences. Therefore, according to her, all the harm we caused to nature would, in some way, have repercussions on the quality of our life as a species.

More than six decades after the publication of Rachel Carson's book, we are faced with the fact that, annually, approximately 2,5 million tons of pesticides are used in the world, of which 300 thousand tons are applied in Brazilian fields.

On another front, British philosopher John Gray wrote a book at the end of the last century,(2) where it recalls the recognition of David Ricardo, a classical liberal economist and British politician of Jewish-Portuguese origin, at the beginning of the 19th century, that technological innovation could become a destroyer of jobs. In fact, for Ricardo, the modern idea about an increase in job vacancies due to the increase in new technologies was nothing more than a myth.

In his words: “The discovery and use of machines may be accompanied by a decrease in gross production and, depending on the circumstances, will be harmful to the working class, as part of it will be removed from employment and the population will become superfluous”. (Gray, ob. cit., p. 116).

In this vein, for John Gray, echoing David Ricardo, long-term unemployment in advanced Western societies is due to the introduction of new technologies and the insufficient professional qualifications of the largest portion of the population, as a consequence of inadequate formal education for workers. new Times. Although income inequality has grown in contemporary times, it is certainly part of the history of human progress, stimulated by the neoliberal policy of deregulating the labor market. The fundamental cause of the fall in wages and the increase in unemployment is the expansion of new technology.

And it is not surprising that the reduction in the employment guarantee is worldwide. After all, for John Gray, postmodernity for the most developed countries is nothing more than the perfect storm of rapid technological transformation with global freedom in trade and capital movement, the deregulation of the labor market in advanced societies and rapid growth demographic in peripheral countries, which stifled the power of organized workers.

By the way, the news of mass layoffs at technology giants, despite record profits last year, went almost unnoticed.(3) Indeed, the so-called “Magnificent Seven” – Alphabet (Google's parent company), Apple, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, Tesla and Nvidia – earned almost US$400 billion in 2023, 25% more than the previous year. The counterpart to this was the dismissal of 168.032 employees in these technology companies in the year 2023, in addition to the fact that, at the beginning of this year, another 32.000 worker dismissals had already occurred, if we add to the companies already mentioned above the other 122 main technology companies in the world. And the year has barely started.

The IMF's concern about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on global society seems genuine. In fact, in recent times this has been a recurring theme in the annual discussions at Davos. The IMF works with a scenario of a reduction in jobs of around 40% in the near future, and for the most qualified jobs this percentage could reach 60%. Therefore, the more technology is used in more developed countries, the greater the loss of qualified labor will be, worsening the already existing wage inequality and harming especially the so-called middle class. But the IMF still clings to the belief that if productivity gains are high enough, then income levels could rise for all workers.

However, this second giant wave of cuts has to do with three variables: the incessant innovation in the technological sector of large companies in the sector, especially the so-called “mega-caps” (megacapitalization technology companies), which already have enough Artificial Intelligence to replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs; the unstable scenario due to high inflation in the planet's main power and armed conflicts around the world; and the insatiable neoliberal model, which aims to ensure greater profits for its investors.

Considering this scenario, one can imagine that the agreement recently concluded between UNESCO and some companies with a strong technological reach – Lenovo Group, LG AI Research, Mastercard, Microsoft, Salesforce, GSMA, INNIT and Telefónica – is insufficient to guarantee the protection of human rights, when the financial interests of these companies are threatened.

Now, how to measure the breach of human rights in practice, in view of the first chip implant in the human brain carried out by Elon Musk's company Neuralink? According to him, the equipment called Telepathy “allows you to control your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking”.(4) The first narrative, as it could not be otherwise, is that this technology will be used on people who have lost the mobility of their limbs. But the official narrative to justify the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan was to put an end to the Second World War. Any similarity in the mitigation of objectives between the two narratives above, in relation to the true objective of each of them, is not a mere coincidence.

It is because of everything exposed so far that I have been insisting for some time on the aporia of the romantic humanism of a giant like Edgar Morin, in the face of a global society that is increasingly less attached to feelings. Despite his more than pertinent appeals about a “planetary medicine”, about the need to “humanize” cities and the need to rebuild hope, the volume of technologies existing in the world today will not allow what Edgar Morin calls a “ courageous initial struggle.”(5) How to restart something that has already been corroded by capitalism?

In this sense, Edgar Morin himself corroborates the feeling that the difficulties in supporting the hegemony of profit are increasingly greater. We are experiencing an increase in the types of servitude, inequalities and selfishness. Technology is replacing our true needs and aspirations based on the instant enjoyment of consumption. Although Edgar Morin still thinks that the “civilization of interest” can never annihilate what he calls the “oasis of life” – the loving, family, fraternal, friendly, supportive and playful coexistence – he calls for a reform of the conditions of work, which today produces the mechanization of behaviors.

Edgar Morin, perhaps more than anyone else, given his longevity, knows that consumption and technology are intimately intertwined in this “society of interest”. There is simply no way to reform consumption, given the avalanche of available technologies.

By believing that “humanism is given as respect for every human being”,(6) Edgar Morin seems to abstract for a second the fact that current civilization migrates to a type of society where the partial or total robotization of human life, depending on each person's consumption capacity, is already mature enough for the solidarity consciousness of the terrestrial community is just a chimera. It is no coincidence that he regrets that today we everywhere take refuge in ethnic, nationalist and religious particularisms.

In view of this, the warning from the history teacher of University College Dublin, Mark Jones, on the danger that 2024 will be as tragic a turning point as 1933, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany.(7) The disinformation technology that worked splendidly well to destroy Weimar democracy can perfectly serve the interests of the countless elites who will be gambling for their political survival in the upcoming elections across the planet, especially in Russia, the United States and the countries of the Union. European.

Mark Jones understands that we cannot make the same mistake as the influential men in Germany, who saw in Hitler and the Nazi Party the opportunity to promote a conservative agenda. For him, the prospect of yet another re-election of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump's return to power and the consolidation of an even more conservative European Parliament is so bleak that many refuse to contemplate it. Minus the capital itself, since, as he mentioned as an example, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, who has already started contacting Donald Trump.

It is incredible how excessive modernization has raised desperate warnings in recent decades. One of the most important is perhaps that launched by the Algerian philosopher Jacques Rancière.(8) Indeed, for him, real science is suppressing national limits through the unlimited expansion of capital and subjecting this unlimited expansion of capital to the limits of nations. The result of this, for Jacques Rancière, is the marriage of the principle of wealth with the principle of science, which underlies the new legitimacy of the oligarchy. Science began to be used by the tiny elites that make up global financial capitalism to exorcise the old aporia: governing without politics.

In the words of Jacques Rancière: “And, although it is possible to establish through statistical comparisons that certain forms of flexibilization of labor law create more jobs in the medium term than they eliminate, it is more difficult to demonstrate that the free movement of capital that demands increasing profitability the faster the providential law that will lead humanity to a better future. This requires faith. The ignorance that people criticize is simply their lack of faith. In fact, historical faith has changed camp. Today, it seems to be the prerogative of governments and their experts. This is because it supports their deepest compulsion, the natural compulsion to oligarchic government: the compulsion to get rid of the people and politics.” (ob. cit. page 103).

I end this text by citing yet another warning, this time in favor of the supreme technology of Armageddon, given by the British Secretary of Defense Grant Sharps, at the beginning of this year. For him, we are not in a “post-war” world, but in a “pre-war” world.(9) Grant Sharps understands that Britain's industrial-military resurgence involves new nuclear technologies, in a world full of multiple theaters of war that could lead to a new global conflict. He seems right. In fact, we have never been so close to the third world war, since the missile episode in Cuba, back in the 1960s. According to the Doomsday Clock, the Doomsday Clock, at the University of Chicago, in the United States, we are 90 seconds from midnight, the time that represents the destruction of the planet by nuclear war.

In another twist, the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – ​​CND –, Kate Hudson, also warns that, last summer, the number of nuclear weapons available for use had actually increased, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute . The signs, as we see, are there. In 2022, the nine states with nuclear weapons spent US$89,2 billion on this type of weapons. The United States alone spent almost half of that amount. Britain itself increased the nuclear warhead limit by more than 40%, rising to 260 warheads, in addition to stopping providing information on the subject to the press. According to Kate Hudson, “When heavily armed nuclear states confront each other, directly or by proxy, there is no such thing as a 'small' nuclear attack.”(10)

It's high time we pay attention to all these signs that the world is more dangerous, despite being more comfortable and with many technological facilities, for those who can afford it, of course.

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral student in Social Policies and Citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).

Notes


1 – CARSON, Rachel. Silent spring. São Paulo. Gaia. 2010.

2 – GRAY, John. False dawn – the mistakes of global capitalism. Rio de Janeiro. Record. 1999.

3 - https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/articles/c72grxw4wg0o;

4 - https://www.poder360.com.br/tecnologia/empresa-de-musk-faz-1o-implante-de-chip-em-cerebro-humano/;

5 - https://www.ihu.unisinos.br/636536-morin-diante-do-pensamento-socialista-em-ruinas-a-missao-do-intelectual-torna-se-uma-luta;

6 - https://www.ihu.unisinos.br/636539-o-novo-humanismo-artigo-de-edgar-morin;

7 - https://www.ihu.unisinos.br/categorias/636496-sera-2024-tal-como-1933-o-ano-da-destruicao-da-democracia-artigo-de-mark-jones;

8 – RANCIÈRE, Jacques. Hatred of Democracy. São Paulo. Boitempo. 2014.

9 - https://jacobin.com.br/2024/02/estamos-voltando-a-nos-aproximar-do-armagedom-nuclear/;

10 – Same.


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