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Algorithms vs humans, today’s challenge

A book-interview by Miguel Benasayag suggests a way for readers to remain human in the presence of machines

Algorithms are driving everything, including our lives and all the social and economic systems that human beings can build. This modern edition of the man-machine challenge, the battle with the algorithms behind big data, is certainly the challenge of our time. It must be fully understood before it can be addressed, including in everyday life. It is therefore not just useful, but instructive and important, to read “The tyranny of algorithms”, the book-interview by Miguel Benasayag (the Argentine philosopher and psychoanalyst who taught us how to defend ourselves from the “sad passions” fuelled by our society). Written with Régis Meyran, it warns the reader about the risk of letting big data algorithms steer our democracies.

The book is just over 100 pages long and should be read with great care. The subject addressed is not so much the fact that all of us, and all our organisations, are impacted by the effects of algorithms on a daily basis, but rather an understanding of how we can exist as humans in such a world. This means ensuring that the special nature of living beings, their unpredictability and freedom, which cannot be reduced to a sum of information or the parameters of pure efficiency and performance, is not lost, despite the useful integration with artificial intelligence.

Benasayag’s reasoning applies on an individual level, as well as on a social and economic level. Benasayag makes it clear that even socially, politically and economically important decisions are now linked to the linear logic of machines. They are entrusted with calculations, the abnormal collection of data and the pseudo-rational management of a cause-and-effect relationship that does not take into account the complexity of individual and social “bodies” and that undermines our democracies.

Benasayag asks whether it is possible to take up the challenge of protecting the living, culture and good politics. The answer is not an infallible prescription, but a path of “creative re-appropriation” of the relationship with the artificial, a set of “singular solutions” of small dimensions and great human impact. In the here and now, they are able to build experiences and hybridisation practices with technology that respect the living and our freedoms.

“The Tyranny of Algorithms” is a must-read. The author does not always ask the reader to agree with everything they read, but to think about their own present in a different way.

The Tyranny of Algorithms

Miguel Benasayag

Vita e Pensiero, 2020