The wow factor involved with some of today’s emerging technologies is huge. Imagine, for instance, being able to start your car, operate your computer, or adjust the temperature in your home – simply by using your thoughts.
Brain-machine interfacing – the focus of a new research program at Capitol Technology University – is making that possible.
Revolutionary innovations such as these not only have the potential to transform our lives, but call into question the very meaning of what it means to be human. Suppose, for example, that it becomes possible someday to upload your consciousness into a machine – the way we install software on a computer. Would you still be a “human being?”
While engineers and technologists invent ways to expand our capacities, it is the job of philosophers to consider the implications. We asked Dr. Frank Scalambrino, a distinguished philosophy professor and author, and Dr. Jason M. Pittman, who is co-leading the Brain-Machine Interface program at Capitol, for their thoughts on how these disciplines intersect.
Frank Scalambrino: Within philosophy, the field known as Philosophy of Technology is primarily concerned with the social, cultural, and psychological effects of technology. The examination of such concerns may be said to center around "technological mediation" because, as history attests, our living in society, participating in multiple cultures, and experiencing various psychological realities is becoming increasingly more mediated by technology.
In in his essay, Can We Trust Synthetic Intelligence, Dr. Pittman states that “trust, particularly trust mediated by technology, is essential to what it means to be human.” The philosophy of technology has a good deal to contribute to the conversation regarding this question. To start with, we can articulate the philosophical context in which the question is being asked. Beyond that, we can explore further questions, such as what is technological mediation, how do we know what mediation is, and perhaps most germane to STEM, how should we interact with technology?
Jason M. Pittman: What we commonly refer to as “critical thinking skills” were developed over the centuries by philosophers. Socratic questioning, the “method of doubt” favored by René Descartes, and Pascal’s famous Wager are all examples of how philosophers apply reason to tackle questions about the nature of our existence. Today, technology is adding new urgency to these age-old questions – and also creating new ones. Where science (and technology) helps us find hidden truth, philosophy aids us in understanding what truth is. In addition, I would suggest that we all benefit from practiced, critical reasoning.
That’s my take on the intersection of the two disciplines and I’m excited to have a philosophical scholar of Dr. Scalambrino’s caliber illuminating what the truths are in our field. Perhaps we’ll even discover some untruths!
Dr. Frank Scalambrino has taught undergraduate and graduate-level coursework in the philosophy of technology, and his publications include an edited volume, Social Epistemology & Technology, published by Rowman & Littlefield International (2015), an anthology, Philosophy of Technology: A Reader, published by Cognella (2014), and an edited special edition of a journal of the Social Epistemology Review & Reply Collective (2017). While living in Paris, France, he opened his first social media account and, ever since, he has been interested specifically in the social and psychological effects of the use of technology to mediate life. His work explicitly engages philosophers such as Jacques Ellul, Jean Baudrillard, Ernst Jünger, Martin Heidegger, and Plato.
In determining his projects as an author, Dr. Scalambrino believes:
“Empty is the word of that philosopher by whom no affliction of men is cured. For as there is no benefit in medicine if it does not treat the diseases of the body, so with philosophy, if it does not drive out the affliction of the soul.” ~Epicurus, “Fragment #54.” Learn more about Dr. Scalambrino at https://www.linkedin.com/in/frank-scalambrino-ph-d-7b25165b.
Dr. Jason Pittman is a scholar, professor, and cybersecurity thought leader. He teaches in the cybersecurity program at Capitol Technology University and has earned numerous awards for his teaching and research. His interests include pedagogy and cognitive science issues related to cybersecurity education, as well as the evolution of computing systems in trans-humanistic scenarios. “I see the stars as our inevitable destination and work to do my part is helping our species get there,” Pittman writes.