Of human measures - Chronicle of Saturday 15 October
It's midday on Saturday. There must be few of us who, after listening to the texts of Gabriel Ferrater, Joan Fuster and Blai Bonet, don't have a big "yes" in our heads. Because it's hard to think that no, that, after being soaked by their torrent of lucidity and sensitivity, we won't stroll through the sunny streets of Gràcia with our eyebrows clear, receptive to all latent life. Poetry is the can opener of thought, thinks the chronicler, the hoe that prepares the fertile soil.
In an event held in parallel in Valencia and Palma, the writers Carles Rebassa, Maria Callís and Àngels Gregori have borrowed their words to trace a journey through the life and work of these three referential authors. We are all flesh and bones, present. There is nothing more than the word passing through time. While a few banana tree leaves fall docilely on the Plaça Virreina, we recover the vision of a world that has survived from hand to hand.
A quarter of an hour into the reading, it is possible to feel the non-phantasmagorical presence of the three wise men. Their lucidity, their sense of humour: what can't you do when you are cradled by the word? We are without extensions, as Joan Fuster vindicates in the words of Àngels Gregori. We have created the microscope and the telescope, how marvelous, but these inventions have destroyed the human measure of the eye, said the man from Sueca. All scientific advances represent a victory of man over the environment that surrounds him, at the expense of sacrificing his measure. Forced to rely on authority or an expert, is reason not sacrificed? "The man of our time no longer has any measure: he has been overcome by his own machinations.
Fuster's sentence will echo in the same square when, in his first speech in the afternoon, the secretary and general counsel of the Neurorights Foundation, Jared Genser, begins to talk about the advances of neurotechnology and the dangers they entail: in China, says Genser, some schools have monitored the degree of concentration of pupils thanks to helmets with neurotransmitters. And in some factories, he says, it has been possible to detect, with the same technology, when and how workers' emotions change during the working day. A shiver down the spine.
Earlier, in another session, philosopher Darian Meacham and psychologist Manuel Armayones discussed how new technologies can contribute to improving public health. Meacham spoke above all of solidarity. Rather than emotional appeals in disaster situations, "solidarity", he said, "is a reciprocal willingness to bear a burden or assume a risk for another person. It has to hurt for it to be solidarity," he warned. In the field of digitalisation in health, the professor gave as an example of this solidarity the Covid-19 monitoring applications that advised people to take the test if they had been in contact with a positive person. With technological advances, he added, we can improve diagnoses by processing databases, but there are also risks: "the more uncertainty we eliminate, the less likely we are to be willing to share the risk". And who stores and processes all the health data we can collect? Not to mention the risk of increasing the digital divide among citizens, a topic that will be almost central to the last talk of the day.
Manuel Armayones, coordinator of the Behaviour Design Lab research group at the eHealth Centre at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), referred to the major public health problem that 50% of patients do not follow their doctors' prescriptions. How can technology help in these cases? Following the example of social networks such as Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, he said. "In Silicon Valley they know that willpower is not the most important thing: they have managed to generate a habit and a need that we satiate with pleasure through the effect of dopamine". Manipulation or persuasion? Armayones says that, unlike the aforementioned networks, "we want to change behaviour by working with patients to understand what their health goal is and help them achieve their goals".
However, the confrontation of ideas has arrived with the last debate of the Biennial in the Plaza Virreina. After Jared Genser's alarming intervention, Nnenna Nwakanma, recognised as one of the hundred most influential people in the world in digital government, questioned the audience: "Do you believe that technology is good for you, but not so good for your parents? Is the regulation we have today made in such a way that people are free in rights and dignity? This is the principle we need to apply to digitalisation. We need the right to access the internet to be considered a human right," he said.
On the other side of the stage, Nwakanma and Genser found two other participants keen to nuance the picture painted. For Ana Valdivia, a member of AlgoRace (De)racialising AI, the impact of the digital world on the climate emergency cannot be underestimated, nor can the colonialist bias that uses new technologies to control the entry of migrants into Western territory be forgotten. "Do we really need more laws, or do we need to change existing laws and put life at the centre? At his side, Chilean Ricardo Baeza-Yates, director of the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern University (USA), nods in agreement. He does not believe that the use of technology needs to be regulated, he says in reference to Genser's call to draft laws protecting new neuro-rights: "If we do that, in the future we will have to create new laws for successive new technologies," he said. "There are three billion people in the world without internet. But the first right to guarantee is the right not to have to use the internet for everyday transactions," Baeza-Yates said. The human measure.
At the end of the day, Fuster's words are distant and cold. That's why you pick up your mobile, and spurred on by dopamine and 4G, you reserve a collection of his articles in the library while you think about hopes and contradictions.
Jorge de Miguel