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  • 25th Anniversary Volume A Faustian Exchange: What is it to be human in the era of Ubiquitous Technology?
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Citizens and netizens: a contemplation on ubiquitous technology


In the era of ubiquitous technology, we ponder on whether we are slowly heading towards a data-driven future where the trend is to see our complex human systems, social, institutional, and organisational, as just cause–effect and input–output feedback data systems. Or are we still having the vision and nerve to shape emerging technologies, such as neuroscience, nanotechnology, biotechnology, cultural robotics, genomics, and disruptive innovations, for the benefit of humanity at large. These technological waves also raise questions about the impact of emerging technologies on society. Such questions should be of concern to the researchers who are ‘pushing technological boundaries’ and to those who are interested in their wider social, cultural, ethical and economic implications, as well as, to practitioners and policy makers. All share responsibilities of affecting and influencing broader technological policies and use environments.

In this anniversary volume, our authors reflect on many of these questions and present their own reflections on the 25th anniversary theme, ‘A Faustian Exchange: What is it to be human in the era of Ubiquitous Technology?’ The arguments range from art and computing, art and robotics, the new mind, to cultural dreams of technology, artificial wisdom, to being a body or having one, connections, computing and the self, and creative being. This volume explores the evolving nature of the ecology of media art practices and the proliferation of diverse epistemic cultures, and diverse technical, political and generational interests in such as ‘cyber-anarchist’ networks and sheds light on the economy of knowledge in recent media arts and technology communities of practice. Contributing to the mind–brain–body debate, we get an insight into how the evolving mind–brain debate from ‘internalism’ to ‘externalism’, ‘New Mind’, is marking a historical shift in our understanding of the mind, and what could be the implications of this shift in areas such as art, culture, technology, and the science of consciousness. The anniversary debate expands further into the realm of cultural robotics, and in what ways the emergence of cultural robotics gives rise to a paradoxical condition of robotics vis-à-vis artificial intelligence, provoking the reconsideration of notions of (machine) intelligence and cognitivist paradigms. In continuing to broaden the horizons of the cognitive machine, the discussion investigates how artists envision cultural robotics, and how modern and contemporary experimental artworks look for poetic, aesthetic and functional possibilities to bring computer systems to the sensitive universe of human emotions, feelings and expressions.

Drawing upon the wider societal issues and the implications of technology on society, the discussion leads us to observe how seeing technological worlds as cultural visions enables us to reflect on the paradoxical process of viewing technology as both hope for a more sustainable and human centred future, and an apocalypse of surveillance, violence and catastrophes. At the same time, we wonder whether we are witnessing an historical re-materialisation within the new digital economy, dominated by the culture of standardisation and technological determinism, resulting in cognitive and material divisions. In a more positivistic perspective, the argument makes us contemplate the idea of computer-aided wisdom in the sense that embracing the collaboration between artificial intelligence and ‘Contemplative sciences’, an interdisciplinary approach to mind, may prove fruitful in designing computational systems that can model at least some relevant aspects of human wisdom. From cultural visions of technology and contemplative sciences, we enter into the automated home and contemplate how the growing automatisation of daily life, automated technologies in the home, affects our perceptions of personal autonomy and identity, and how it promotes a rethinking the notion of the self as it is shaped and reshaped within the home as these new technologies assume a growing role in everyday domestic life. Moving from the automated home to cyberspace, a question is posed as to whether the netizens being connected in the cyber world may cultivate and define a new popular culture in the era of ubiquitous technology. It is also legitimate to question whether these connections can be sustained without human action and risk taking, given the dynamics of uncertainty and incompleteness of information. Such arguments lead us to reflect on how self could be perceived in the ubiquitous environment, and whether selves distributed across the information network could essentially be constituted through information, and what that implies for any boundary between the self and the other. Is it reasonable to argue that humans as creative being should be able to steer technologies, in whatever form these arise, to nurture the human dimension? Would it then also be reasonable to ponder on the assertion that to be human is to be creative, and on how technological tools can be used to cross-appropriate the socialisation process and motivational procedures so necessary to cultivate, enrich and service human creativity.

The arguments and reflections in this volume subscribe to the very essence of knowledge, culture and communication debates being facilitated and supported by AI&Society. As part of the celebration of the 25th birthday anniversary of AI&Society, we are bringing out a special volume of the journal on this theme. On this 25th anniversary occasion, we pay special tribute to our authors, reviewers, readers and well-wishers the world over, who continue to support AI&Society through their writings, review comments, critical observations and constructive suggestions. Special thanks go to our authors of this volume, Xin Wei, Simon Penny, Riccardo Manzotti, Robert Pepperell, Tania Fraga, Lauge Rasmussen, Ismo Kantola, David Casacuberta, Michele Rapoport, Richard Ennals, Soraj Hongladarom and René Víctor Valqui Vidal, who have risen to the challenge of articulating and reflecting the theme of the anniversary volume, insightfully and thought provokingly beyond the traditional academic horizons.

Rooted in the humanistic tradition of science and technology, AI&Society continues to promote and facilitate reflective, argumentative and even opinionated debates on art, science and society, with its hospitality to accommodate the plurality of rationalities and cultural diversities.

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Correspondence to Karamjit S. Gill.

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Gill, K.S. Citizens and netizens: a contemplation on ubiquitous technology. AI & Soc 28, 131–132 (2013).

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