Human Being and Machine: Is Technology changing our Minds?


At no time in human history has the need for the examination of the underlying assumptions of science and technology been more relevant than today. Decisions we make in respect of technological development have profound effects upon the way our societies develop; how human beings relate to each other; the relationship between human beings, their environment and nature; and most importantly, our answer to the question of who we are. We live in the thrall of technology and our lives seem to be 'technologically textured for most of our waking moments' (Ihde, 1983, p. 3). We make our technologies and they in turn shape us.


The recent resurgence of interest in cognitive science and related fields could signal several breakthroughs that could be of great value to humankind (Güzeldere 1998, p.46). Artificial intelligence has historically aimed at creating objects that might improve human functioning by offering people intellectual complements. At first, these objects took the form of tools, such as programs for medical diagnosis. As further technologies were developed, the boundary between machine and human began to dissolve. Artificial intelligence technologies began to function more as a 'prosthetic' - an extension of the human 'mind'. In recent years, the machine comes even closer to the human body, and ultimately continuous with the body: the human person is redefined as cyborg.


The old AI debates of the 1960s-1980s in which researchers argued about whether machines could be 'really' intelligent were essentialist (Turkle 1984). The new technologies allow us to circumvent these questions. The main research question in this paper is not what computers will be like in future, but instead, what will we be like? What kind of people are we becoming as we become more intimate with machines? How does this new intimacy change our thinking in terms of the mind-body problem, and more specifically, how does it relate to our investigations of the nature of consciousness? The questions raised by relational artifacts relate to human being's fears and hopes about technology, and to the question of what is special about being human — what is the nature of personhood? In other words, how do these artifacts influence the way people think about human minds?


Ms. Catherine Botha
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Her main research interests are history of philosophy, especially Nietzsche and Heidegger; philosophy of technology and bioethics; as well as aesthetics of the performing arts.


Article published with permission from Common Ground Publishing and Ms.Catherine Botha


creation and the future


“In fact, when the period in which a man of talent is obliged to live is dull and stupid, the artist, though unconsciously, is haunted by a nostalgia of some past century….
With some, it is a return to vanished ages, to extinct civilizations, to dead epochs; with others, it is an urge towards a fantastic future, to a more or less intense vision of a period about to dawn, whose image, by an effect of atavism of which he is unaware, is a reproduction of some past age.”
Words written by J. K. Huysmansin the pages of À Rebours in 1884, which carry a resonance far beyond their time and beyond ours. Science fiction is often considered a territory of prototypes, but perhaps it is equally a land of archetypes, but archetypes unrecognized - until time has distilled and stripped them of novelty, then clothed them in nostalgia.
In that sense, Metropolis, despite the trappings of science-fiction, worn in the guise of skyscrapers, skyships and metal flesh, is another iteration of the eternal archetype of nothing less than creation itself.

Few things go out of style faster than the future. Some endure. Their roots are not in our past, but out of time.


John Howe
Conceptual Artist, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings