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Frontiers of Artificial Intelligence –
Philosophical explorations

Why do we need to put an end to techno-utopia?

1-2 december 2023


Certain movements such as long-termism, singularitarianism and transhumanism project a future in which the technological promises are multiplied by the development of artificial intelligence. These movements could be described as techno-utopian, in that they project a better world into the future, conditioned mainly by certain technological advances. However, some authors have questioned the very relevance of the concept of utopia. Whether it was Günther Anders (The Outdatedness of Human Beings, 1956), Hans Jonas (The Imperative of Responsibility, 1979) or Hannah Arendt (The Human Condition, 1958), these twentieth-century German thinkers strongly criticised the concept of utopia. So, for Günther Anders, we are already living in an anti-utopian world, in the sense that the complexity of our environment is already preventing us from understanding the present world. It’s not a dystopia, in other terms a world to be avoided but one that we can imagine. Our mental representations are already unable to keep up with changes in the present world, and it is even more unlikely that we will be able to imagine or anticipate other alternatives. This does not mean, however, that projects cannot be undertaken to improve current conditions, but a conception that is too all-encompassing, and above all places too much hope in certain technologies, to the detriment of other social aspects for example, proves to be illusory and even dangerous. For Hannah Arendt, utopia begins with Plato, who conceives of the world in terms of eternal ideas that are instantiated in the world. Utopia would be the transcription of this metaphysics, but would at the same time forget the complexity of human relations. For Hans Jonas, utopia remained harmless as long as humanity did not have the technical means to try to achieve it. Now that the means are available, the temptation to achieve it is strong, with the risk of subordinating human and living beings to the achievement of this ideal. This temptation is a challenge to responsibility, which is only supposed to be assumed for what it is possible to answer for, which seems impossible for applications with consequences beyond our reach. In the course of this presentation, we will link certain techno-utopian projects to the philosophical critique of utopia, to better understand the scope of what we can expect from future advances in AI.