In 2045 it will be possible to cheat death. This, at least, is the future vision of Ray Kurzweil, engineer in chief at the Google Corporation, leading thinker of the transhumanist movement and eventually the most renowned researcher in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). In this techno-utopian vision, either ‘Nano-bots’ – minuscule robots circulating in our bloodstreams – will be able to fight diseases and help overcome the finiteness of human existence. Or the progress in AI-related research will push the amalgamation of man and machine and, in fact, allow humans “to be a machine” (O’Connell, 2017). The latter and most extreme end of transhumanist vision is closely connected to the upcoming of the computer age. As exemplified in robotic professor’s Hans Moravec early scenario, the dream is to upload the human mind into a computer (Moravec, 1988). A digital, meliorated copy of one’s self, an ‘upload’ of our own proper identity, would enable a life without dying in a disembodied space of immortality (Wiedemann, 2015).
Far from being a uniform movement (Loh, 2018), transhumanism also “in its more modest forms “wishes“ to supplement and augment human cognition and biology” (Danaher, 2015). In all of its varieties, the aim of transhumanism is to create a better than human being by way of physical, mental and reproductive enhancement. It is therefore closely connected to the age-old idea of (self-)optimisation (for an overview see Röcke, 2017), to today’s digital practices of self-tracking and life-logging (Lupton, 2014; Villa, 2012; Selke, 2014; 2016; Schulz, 2016; Lupton, 2016; Swan, 2013; Wolf, 2010), and the algorithmisation of late modern culture and late modern life in general (Beer 2016; Galloway 2006; Striphas 2015; Amoore & Piotukh, 2016).
The educational chances and challenges posed by transhumanism seem to be immense: Especially in societies which increasingly rely on “smart“ technologies, algorithms, big data and artificial intelligence, the techno-utopian visions and their consequences for learning, schooling and pedagogical conceptions are enthusiastically embraced as the ultimate possibility to overcome the fallibility, irrationality and unpredictability of human beings, thereby allegedly enhancing success, productivity and happiness of individuals as well as societies. But there are also critics who fiercely hold out against the supplementation or substitution of education as traditional cultural practice by science and technology. It is the fear of many that a new “technological totalitarianism” (Schirrmacher, 2015), a “smart dictatorship” (Welzer, 2016) or “the end of humanity” is near (Open Letter, 2015).
Both positions, however, are deeply rooted in (modern) humanist and anthropocentric conceptions of mankind. It is a hotly debated question whether or not they lack theoretically appropriate “instruments” to critically analyse the deep and fundamental changes of the educational and pedagogical field, sometimes deemed as “the end of education“ (Wimmer, 2014). In contrast, philosophical posthumanism(s), new materialism(s) and techno-scientific feminism(s) of all kinds seek to break with the modern line of thought by opening up spaces for conceiving of the technical as part of the human and vice versa (Haraway, 2016; Latour, 2017; Braidotti, 2013; Barad, 2007). These philosophical currents inspire a very important question: what if our educational discourses and practices in the face of challenges posed by transhumanism and rapid technological progress were ill prepared, because they are “human, all too human“ (Nietzsche, 1878)? The issue addresses this question by inviting scholars and public intellectuals to critically assess current technological developments in education (big data, algorithms, ”smart“ schooling), the pedagogical and anthropological conceptions (of man) associated to it, and the theoretical challenges posed to educational research and current philosophy of education.
We are looking forward to a lively debate and cordially invite our readers to comment on and reply to the essays of the second issue of on_education.
The Editorial Team
Amoore, L. & Piotukh, V. (eds.). (2016). Algorithmic life: Calculative devices in the age of big data. London: Routledge.
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.
Beer, D. (2016). The social power of algorithms. Journal Information, Communication & Society, 20 (1), 1–13.
Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Danaher, J. (2015): The automotion loop and its negative consequences. Retrieved from: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.de/2015/04/the-automation-loop-and-its-negative.html on 25.02.2018
Galloway, A. R. (2006). Gaming: essays on algorithmic culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble. Durham: Duke University Press.
Latour, B. (2017). Facing Gaia: Eight lectures on the climatic regime. New York, NY: Wiley.
Loh, J. (2018). Trans- und Posthumanismus (Zur Einführung), Hamburg: Junius.
Lupton, D. (2014). Self-tracking modes: Reflexive self-monitoring and data practices. SSRN. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2483549
Lupton, D. (2016). The quantified self. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.
Moravec, H. (1988). Mind children. The future of robot and human intelligence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1878). Human, all too human; A book for free spirits, tr. by Alexander Harvey. Library of Congress Online Catalog. U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved March 13th 2018.
O’Connell, M. (2017). To be a machine. Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers, and the futurists solving the modest problem of death. New York, NY: Penguin.
Open Letter (2015). Retrieved from https://futureoflife.org/open-letter-autonomous-weapons/ (last accessed January 29th 17)
Schirrmacher, F. (ed.) (2015). Technologischer Totalitarismus. Eine Debatte. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.
Selke, S. (ed.) (2016). Lifelogging. Digitale Selbstvermessung und Lebensprotokollierung zwischen disruptiver Technologie und kulturellem Wandel. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien.
Selke, S. (2014). Lifelogging. Wie die digitale Selbstvermessung unsere Gesellschaft verändert. Berlin: ECON.
Striphas, T. (2015). Algorithmic culture. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5), 395–412.
Swan, M. (2013). The quantified self: Fundamental disruption in Big Data science and biological discovery. Big Data, 1(2), 85–99.
Villa, P.-I. (2012). Die Vermessung des Selbst. Einsichten in zeitgenössische Formen der Körperarbeit. AVISO. Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Kunst in Bayern, 3, 14–19.
Welzer, H. (2016). Die smarte Diktatur: Der Angriff auf unsere Freiheit. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag.
Wiedemann, C. (2015, July 12). Transhumanismus. Bring mir den Kopf von Raymond Kurzweil!. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Wimmer, M. (2014). Antihumanismus, Transhumanismus, Posthumanismus: Bildung nach ihrem Ende. Kluge, S., Steffens, G., Lohmann, I. (eds.). Menschenverbesserung – Transhumanismus. Frankfurt a. M.: Lang, 237–265.
On Education (2018). „Human, all too Human?“ Transhumanism, posthumansim and the “End of Education”. On Education. Journal for Research and Debate, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.17899/on_ed.2018.2.0