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Techno-Medusa: A modern myth for the posthuman era

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Techno-Medusa: A modern myth for the posthuman era

Similar to Medusa's gaze, the modern technology’s gaze possesses the ability to capture, manipulate, and control people.

Photo courtesy: DaviantArt

The global push to grant artificial intelligence citizenship is gaining traction, proposing that AI should be endowed with rights to safeguard against human abuse and held accountable for transgressions akin to humans. Yet, entrenched in a humanist mindset, the world struggles to fully grasp the concept. Humanism typically draws a strict line between humans and technology, viewing the latter merely as a tool or extension of human capabilities. This perspective overlooks how technology increasingly shapes human identity, relationships, and societal frameworks, rendering it inadequate in the 21st century.

Humanism often oversimplifies technology as morally neutral, solely molded by human intentions, disregarding its intricate impacts on human behavior and society. Ethical dilemmas surrounding privacy, autonomy, and the consolidation of technological power in a handful of tech giants are increasingly challenging humanist frameworks. These complexities not only hinder adaptation to new paradigms but also stymie societal progress, slowing global efforts to regulate advancements in AI.

Myth and metaphor in AI ethics

Francesca Ferrando, in her remarkable book The Art of Being Posthuman introduces the mesmerizing figure of the Techno-Medusa. This concept elegantly intertwines ancient myth with contemporary technology, embodying the transformative power of modern advancements. The Techno-Medusa masterfully captures the dual nature of technology, with its profound ability to both petrify and liberate, making it one of the most compelling ideas in her work. For instance, the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence and automation promises efficiency and innovation, yet simultaneously raises urgent concerns about job displacement, privacy infringements, and societal control.

The figure of Medusa from Greek mythology is a well-known tale, deeply woven into our collective consciousness. Renowned for her beauty and stunning hair, Medusa was originally a mortal woman. The goddess Athena punished her by transforming her into a monstrous creature with her hair turned to snakes. Medusa’s tale, characterized by serpentine locks and a gaze capable of petrifying mortals, continues to resonate as a potent symbol in mythology. Similar to Medusa’s gaze, the modern technology’s gaze possesses the ability to capture, manipulate, and control people. In Ferrando’s vision, the Techno-Medusa reflects this dichotomy within the realm of technology, illuminating the complexities and paradoxes that define our intricate dance with AI.

Gaze and power dynamics

Ferrando wields the Medusa metaphor with deft precision, delving into themes of gaze and power. She draws profound connections between the mythic Medusa’s petrifying stare and the omnipresent modern technological gaze. Embodied in surveillance systems, facial recognition technology, and the ceaseless eyes of digital cameras, this gaze holds an unprecedented ability to scrutinize and control. Just as Medusa’s gaze immobilized her victims, the technological gaze can render individuals powerless, ensnared by relentless surveillance and unyielding data extraction for corporate control.

In this reimagined myth, the Techno-Medusa weaves a tale of intricate dance between human vulnerability and technological omnipotence. The modern technological gaze transcends mere observation; it records, analyzes, and judges, prompting a profound reconsideration of our interaction with these marvels. How they mold our identities and freedoms becomes an urgent inquiry. The Medusa metaphor serves as a stark reminder of the perilous potentials latent in unchecked technological might, emphasizing the ethical introspection it demands. This narrative beckons us to confront the beguilement of technological promises and the chilling possibilities they hold, urging a deeper examination of the ethical terrain they shape.

Petrification and liberation

The dual nature of the Techno-Medusa—its ability to both petrify and liberate—mirrors the ambivalent essence of digital technology itself. On one hand, technological advancements can lead to a form of petrification, where individuals and societies become immobilized by their dependence on and subjugation to technology. This immobilization manifests in myriad ways: addiction to digital devices, erosion of privacy, and the dulling of critical thinking skills due to overreliance on automated systems. Social media is making our children unhappy, and mounting evidence links it to depression.

Yet, technology also harbors the potential to liberate. Innovations in medical technology save lives and enhance the quality of living. AI is inventing drugs that no one has ever seen before, and the Internet has democratized knowledge, empowering individuals with access to education and resources once beyond reach for the impoverished.  This reimagined Medusa compels us to reflect on the seductive promise of technology and its petrifying potential, urging us to scrutinize the ethical landscape it shapes.

Myth and modernity

The blending of ancient myth with modern technology is a testament to Ferrando’s innovative approach to posthumanist thought. Myths have long served as a means of understanding and communicating complex human experiences and values. By reinterpreting the Medusa myth through the lens of contemporary digital technology, Ferrando bridges the gap between past and present, showing how timeless themes can provide insight into navigating modern challenges.

The dual nature of the Techno-Medusa—its ability to both petrify and liberate—mirrors the ambivalent essence of digital technology itself.

This intersection of myth and modernity enriches the modern narrative providing a multi-layered metaphor that resonates on both an intellectual and an emotional level. It reminds readers that the issues we face today, while technologically advanced, are rooted in age-old human concerns about power, control, identity, and freedom. The Techno-Medusa thus becomes a powerful symbol for the ongoing negotiation between humanity and technology, a negotiation that requires both wisdom and vigilance.

Buddhist concepts: Interdependence and mindfulness

Exploring Buddhist concepts such as interdependence and mindfulness provides profound insights into navigating the human-AI world. Interdependence, a cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy, underscores the interconnectedness of all phenomena, including our interaction with technology, as emphasized by Ferrando. Meanwhile, mindfulness cultivates a keen awareness of the present moment. Applying mindfulness to our use of technology empowers us to harness its potential in ways that promote well-being and uphold ethical standards, rather than allowing it to dominate our lives. This perspective fosters a harmonious coexistence between humans and technology, prioritizing balance over dominance.

Embracing duality

Simply put, the Techno-Medusa emerges as a potent symbol in Francesca Ferrando’s book, deftly capturing the dual nature of technological progress. Drawing from the ancient myth of Medusa, Ferrando crafts a metaphor that illuminates the complex ethical landscape shaped by modern technology. Her exploration challenges readers to critically reassess their relationship with technology, advocating for a future where humans and machines coexist as equals in a highly advanced society, all the while safeguarding ethical integrity. This seminal work has sparked a new discourse on posthumanism, exploring the complex interplay between humanity and technology in our interconnected society. Among the myriad concepts Ferrando explores is the challenging dilemma of granting citizenship to AI, a topic that society must grapple with.