Stage 1
Live Translation
Human Progress, Ethics and the Nature of the Digital

Short thesis

Have you ever thought about the fact that the digital material has its own nature? And that this nature brings with it ethically relevant value effects we should consider in its use? This talk ventures into the natural properties of the digital fabric and their implications for ethics and human progress in a digitalized world.


When we talk about any kind of material, say liquids (alcohol!) or tissues we normally know a lot about their properties. We know for instance that drinking alcohol creates a lot of positive values for us –conviviality, serenity, joy. But we also know the dark side of alcohol – drowsiness, addiction, unpredictability. We know these effects really well and how they are caused by the liquid material. But what do we respectively know about the digital material?

This talk will venture into some of the grand properties of the digital fabric: I will first talk about the degree of completeness that digital representations can have in comparison to the real world. Can digital representations ever be true “mirrors” of our existence? Or is the digital 0-1 fabric only a tidy illusion of reality that temps us to forget about the real world? Can this illusion be cured by forcing the real-world to give up its privacy? This first block of observations and challenging ethical questions will be followed by the discussion of a second digital property, which is its correctness or error-proneness. I show how software is always coming with built-in errors today and is thereby threatening human processes in a Kafkaesque way. I wonder whether today's error rates in software allow for using software-systems in any area where humans are seriously impacted by machine output. Finally, I venture into the matter of commercialization of the digital fabric and how this commercialization abuses the digital fabric to produce a Web of addictions, leading to a loss of freedom, of individuality, personality and humanity at large.

I close with a vision that counters the dark. Once we understand the digital fabric just as we understand alcohol, we can become more wise in dealing with it. We can start to truly master the digital without getting drunk by an illusion.