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					Synthetic Environmentalism
3rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008
 St Catherine’s College                         luciano.floridi@philosophy.oxford.ac.uk
 Oxford, 2 July 2008                            http://www.philosophyofinformation.net/

Luciano Floridi
Research Chair in Philosophy of Information
School of Humanities
Department of Philosophy
University of Hertfordshire

Director, Research Group in Philosophy of
Information, University of Hertfordshire

Director , Information Ethics research Group,
OUCL & Philosophy, University of Oxford
Outline                                              2/25


 The Background
   The Classic Analysis of the Three Revolutions
   21st Century: the Information Revolution
   The Information Revolution as the Fourth Revolution
   The Fourth Revolution: Inforgs
   Re-ontologizing the infosphere
   Information as Ecosystem
   The evolution of inforgs
   Evidence of “inforgs inside”
   e-Learning
   Back to the Fourth revolution
 Conclusion
Introduction: The General Framework               3/25




Knowledge, Science, Technology have two ways of
changing our understanding.

1) Extrovert or about the world.
   “What have the scientists ever done for us?”
2) Introvert or about ourselves.
   (more radical than Einstein).
The Classic Analysis of the Three Revolutions   4/25


  Three revolutions that changed our
  self-understanding:
  Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543)
  Heliocentric cosmology displaces the
  Earth from the centre of the universe.
  Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)
  All species of life have evolved over
  time from common ancestors
  through natural selection.
  Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
  The mind is also unconscious and
  subject to the defence mechanism of
  repression.
21st Century: the Information Revolution                                            5/25

                                                            Since the fifties
                           Create
                          Generate
                                                            Computer revolution?
     Recycle
     Destruct.                                 Collect      Mobile, Internet (Web 2.0),
     Erasure
                                                            computers as
                          Digital                           communication rather than
  Consume                  ICT                     Record
                                                            computational devices,
    Use                                             Store   distributed interactivity
                                                            (GPS).
             Distribute
             Commun.                 Process                Digital revolution?
              Transm.
                                                            Amazon and the book
                                                            renaissance, more printing.

Information revolution: from things to energy to information.
What matters: changes in the life-cycle of information.
21st Century: the Information Revolution                  6/25


                               Extrovert interpretation: how
                               the world and our interactions
                               with it are changing.

           Digital             Information society: essential
            ICT                role played by intellectual,
                               intangible assets (knowledge-
                               based economy), information-
                               intensive services (business
                               and     property     services,
                               finance     and     insurance
 Perhaps the most radical      comm.),     public    sectors
 change is once again in       (especially education, public
 our self-understanding        administration and health
 (introvert interpretation).   care).
The Inf. Rev. as the Fourth Revolution            7/25


 Turing and the Fourth Revolution.
 Information is becoming our environment
 (infosphere).
 The information revolution is deeply affecting
 our understanding of ourselves as agents.
 We are becoming not sci-fi cyborgs but
 connected, informational organisms, inforgs.
 Most radical change brought about by the
 fourth     (information)   revolution:     the
 disclosure      of    human     agents      as
 interconnected, informational organisms
 among other informational organisms and
 agents, sharing an environment which is
 basically informational.
Re-ontologization of the infosphere                     8/25


 Two definitions

 Re-ontologize (from “re-engineering”) = radical form of
 re-engineering, that not only designs, constructs or
 structures a system (e.g. a company, or a machine)
 anew, but that fundamentally transforms its intrinsic
 nature (e.g. nanotechnologies and biotechnologies are
 not merely re-engineering but actually re-ontologizing
 our world).

 Infosphere (from “biosphere”) = the whole informational
 environment constituted by all informational entities
 (thus including informational agents as well), their
 properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations.
Re-ontologization of the infosphere                      9/25



 Three Theses
 a) digital ICTs are re-ontologizing the very nature of (and
 hence what we mean by) the infosphere
 b) the re-ontologization of the infosphere affects the
 nature of the agents inhabiting it and hence their moral
 behaviour.
 c) a + b are the source of some of the most profound
 transformations and challenging problems that we shall
 experience in the close future, as far as technology is
 concerned.
How information is becoming our ecosystem                  10/25

 Conceptualising our life online = a mixture between
 a) an evolutionary adaptation of human agents to a digital
 environment, and
 b) a form of post-modern, neo-colonization of the latter by
 the former.
 (a) + (b) probably a mistake. ICTs are as much re-
 ontologising our world as they are creating new realities.
 The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, off-
 line) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast
 becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of
 the latter as it is of the former.
 The digital is spilling over into the analogue and merging
 with it.
 This recent phenomenon is variously known as “Ubiquitous
 Computing”, “Ambient Intelligence”, “The Internet of Things”
 (ITU report, November 2005) or “Web-augmented things”.
A world of IT-entities                                      11/25

 Soon it will be difficult to understand what life was like in
 predigital times (to someone who was born in 2000 the world
 will always have been wireless, for example).
 The very distinction between online and offline will soon
 disappear.
 The infosphere is progressively absorbing any other space.
 In the (fast approaching) future, more and more objects will
 be ITentities able to learn, advise and communicate with each
 other.
 Good example: RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags.
 According to a report by Market Research Company InStat,
 the worldwide production of RFID will increase more than 25-
 fold between 2005 and 2010 and reach 33 billion. Imagine
 networking these 33 billion ITentities together with all the
 hundreds of millions of PCs, DVDs, iPods, and ICT devices
 available and you see that the infosphere is no longer “there”
 but “here” and it is here to stay.
A world of IT-entities                                       12/25


 The Independent, 13 January 2008:
 “Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable"
 microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of
 an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create
 more space in British jails.”
 These RFID tags able to carry scanable personal information
 about individuals, including their identities, address and
 offending record.
 Tags (spychips) already used around the world to keep track of
 dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage.
 In the UK, more than 17,000 criminals subject to electronic
 monitoring at any one time. But almost 2,000 offenders a year
 escape monitoring.
 In 2007 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that prohibits
 employers and others from requiring people to get RFID tags. It
 takes effect in January 2008. Wisconsin and North Dakota also
 have banned forced RFID implantation in humans.
A2A + A4A                                                 13/25


 Nowadays, we are used to considering the infosphere as
 something we log-in to and log-out from.
 Our view of the world is still modern or Newtonian, made of
 “dead” cars, buildings, furniture, clothes, which are non-
 interactive, irresponsive and incapable of communicating,
 learning, or memorizing.
 A2A (anything to anything) What we still experience as the
 world offline is bound to become a more interactive and
 responsive environment of wireless, pervasive, distributed,
 information processes.
 A2A works A4A (anywhere for anytime), in real time.
 The world as something “a-live” (a-rtificially live). Such
 animation of the world will, paradoxically, make our outlook
 closer to that of animistic cultures which interpreted all
 aspects of nature as inhabited by teleological forces.
Informational metaphysics                                      14/25

 Reconceptualization of our ontology in informational terms:
 a) the world as part of the infosphere
 not Matrix-like scenario (dystopian) but
 Ghost in the Shell scenario: evolutionary, hybrid, post-
 cybernetic.
 b) the infosphere: not a virtual environment supported by a
 genuinely real world behind; rather, the world itself interpreted
 informationally, as part of the infosphere.
 c) infosphere moves from being a way to refer to the space of
 information to being synonymous with Being. This is the sort of
 informational metaphysics we shall find increasingly easy to
 embrace.
 d) Matter may come to be seen as an interface: what comes in
 between two layers of information, the informational nature of
 reality and the informational nature of the mind.
 e) consequence: living in an infosphere more and more
 synchronized       (time),    delocalised   (space),   correlated
 (interactions) and de-physicalised (matter does not count).
The evolution of inforgs in the infosphere                15/25


 New species of agents in the infosphere:

 • 1st order artificial systems (automata, zombies)

 • 2nd order cybernetic systems (societies of agents, e.g.
 companies)

 • cyborgs (tech-augmented bio-agents, i.e. humans/animals)

 • GM homo sapiens (enhanced human agents)

 • artificial agents (enhanced robots, e.g. companions)

 • inforgs?

 These new agents already share the same ontology with their
 environment and can operate in it with much more freedom
 and control.
The evolution of inforgs in the infosphere                 16/25

 1) in the re-ontologized infosphere, progressively populated
 by ontologically-equal agents, where there is no difference
 between processors and processed, online and offline, all
 interactions become equally digital: “read/write” (i.e.,
 access/alter) and “execute”.
 2) our understanding of ourselves as agents will also be
 deeply affected. Not as a sci-fi “cyborged” humanity. Not as
 GM humanity. But as
 inforgs: connected informational organisms (inforgs).
 3) the moral status and accountability of both human and
 artificial agents will become an ever more challenging issue.
 4) When the e-migration is complete, we shall increasingly
 feel deprived, excluded, handicapped or poor to the point of
 paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are
 disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water.
Evidence of “inforgs inside”                                17/25

 Google IRL

 ITentities willl have finally arrived when you will be able to
 use a search engine to find them in the house (“where are my
 glasses?”) or in the office (“where is my stapler?”) in the
 same way that you already locate a book in a library through
 its electronic catalogue.

 Children of the PC

 For clear signs of digital migration in recent generations,
 some evidence can be gathered by looking at the evolution of
 the software game industry. For example, in the US, the
 average age of players is increasing, as the children of the
 post-computer revolutions are reaching their late thirties. By
 the time they retire, in three or four decades, they will be
 living in the infosphere full-time.
Evidence of “inforgs inside”                                    18/25

 Virtual assets
 • look for the emergence of a serious economy of virtual assets.
 • End User License Agreements (EULA) of massively multiplayer
 online role-playing games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft
 will allow the sale of virtual assets.
 • in many countries (inc. the US) acquisition of software already
 counts not as a current business expense but as an investment
 (= capital input that is repeatedly used in production over time).
 Spending on software now regularly contributes to GDPs. So
 software is acknowledged to be a (digital) good, even if
 somewhat intangible.
 • “virtual sweatshops” e.g. in China.
 • in May 2006 a Pennsylvania lawyer sued the publisher of
 Second Life for allegedly having unfairly confiscated tens of
 thousands of dollars worth of his virtual land and other property.
 • emergence of property insurances that provide protection
 against risks to them (from pets to avatars).
Evidence of “inforgs inside”                                   19/25

 The Embodiment of the Digital
  VeriChip is a human-implantable RFID (radio frequency
 identification) device implantable in the human body.
 • it correlates the user to information stored on a database.
 • first United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-
 approved human-implantable RFID microchip.
 • as of January 2006, 68 U.S. hospitals had signed up to adopt
 the technology in their emergency rooms. However, some have
 abandoned the trials because of lack of acceptance and privacy
 concerns.
 • Insecure: completely unencrypted, it can be read by anyone.
 • an implanted VeriChip was cloned in January 2006 as a
 demonstration. Instructions for cloning VeriChips are available
 on the web.
 • approximately 2000 people currently have a VeriChip
 worldwide. In Barcelona, the V(irtually?)IP customers of the Baja
 Beach Club can have a VeriChip implanted to identify
 themselves and to pay for their drinks.
e-Leaning after the Fourth Revolution                        20/25

Classic e-Learning
1. Applications of digital ICTs to learning/teaching
   processes.
2. Tele-didactic: distance teaching/learning (online courses).
3. Un-manned learning (software, computer-based
   learning/teaching).
4. ICT training.
New e-Learning
1. Interactions among different kinds of agents:
   convergence between machine-learning and e-Learning.
2. Interactions with onlife (online/offline) environments:
   a neo-manufacturing approach to information handling.
Learning to interact with Artificial Agents                    21/25

 Technologically successful: not AI, but the social equivalent
 of Deep Blue: successful at interactive tasks, with the
 intelligence of a toaster.
 e-Learning significant: address humanity’s needs and
 wishes, with serious impact on standards of life and related
 economic issues.
   Consider the pedagogical impact of Neopet, (online virtual
   pet game): ca. 154 million owners of ca. 227 million digital
   pets. (March 2008).
   In 2007, ca. $40.8 billion spent on biological pets in the U.S.
   alone. Saudi Arabia plans to invest at least $40 billion over
   the next 20 years to meet the kingdom's water needs,
   according to Reuters.
 Philosophically interesting: not Sci-Fi (Asimov’s robots, Hal’s
 children) so they posit very concrete, pedagogical
 challenges, which well-illustrate the fourth revolution.
Learning to interact with Artificial Agents                   22/25


   First time in history: people age 65 and over will
   outnumber children under age 5.
   ACs increasingly popular the more they can assist
   elderly users satisfactorily and cost-efficiently (Japan
   and parts of Europe). However: future generations of
   senior citizens will not be “e-migrants” but children of
   the digital era.
   Useful projections from the game industry:
   67% of American heads of households play computer
   and video games
   average game player is 33 years old and has been
   playing games for 12 years.
   ACs should be planned more for the digitally impaired
   than the computer illiterates.
Back to the Fourth Revolution                     23/25

 We are experiencing a wide and influential
 informational turn, a fourth revolution in the
 long     process      of   dislocation    and
 reassessment of humanity’s fundamental
 nature and role in the universe.
 We are not immobile, at the centre of the
 universe (Copernicus).
 We are not unnaturally detached and diverse
 from the rest of the animal world (Darwin).
 We are not Cartesian subjects entirely
 transparent to ourselves (Freud).
 We are not disconnected entities, but rather
 inforgs, sharing with biological agents and
 engineered artefacts a global environment
 ultimately made of information, the
 infosphere (Turing).
Conclusion                                                  24/25

 Important consequence: the moral status and accountability
 of both human and artificial agents will become an ever more
 challenging issue.
 We are accepting this new conceptual revolution with much
 less reluctance, as humbling, but also exciting.
 Great opportunity: developing a new ecological approach to
 the whole of reality. How we build, shape and regulate the
 new infosphere ecologically is the crucial challenge brought
 about by the fourth revolution.
 Future generations will find synthetic environmentalism
 unproblematic. It is going to be our task to ensure that the
 transition from our environment to theirs will be as ethically
 smooth as possible.
Synthetic Environmentalism
3rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008
 St Catherine’s College                         luciano.floridi@philosophy.oxford.ac.uk
 Oxford, 2 July 2008                            http://www.philosophyofinformation.net/

Luciano Floridi
                                                 This talk is based on: “A look into the future
Research Chair in Philosophy of Information
School of Humanities
                                                 impact of ICT on our lives”, The Information
Department of Philosophy                         Society, 2007, 23.1, 59-64. Available at
University of Hertfordshire                      www.philosophyofinformation.net
Director, Research Group in Philosophy of
Information, University of Hertfordshire         Many thanks to: William Dutton, Rosemary
                                                 Lawrence and the Staff of the Festival.
Director , Information Ethics research Group,
OUCL & Philosophy, University of Oxford          COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER – Texts, marks, logos, names, graphics, images,
                                                 photographs, illustrations, artwork, audio clips, video clips, and software
                                                 copyrighted by their respective owners are used on these slides for non-
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                                                 copyrighted material is not authorized without the written consent of the
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                                                 direct your correspondence to: luciano.floridi@philosophy.ox.ac.uk stating
                                                 your position and I shall endeavour to correct any misuse as early as
                                                 possible.

				
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