In the new European Commission report on “Humans and societies at the age of AI” written by two white (and probably heterosexual) males is a prime example of what goes wrong in the European Union’s narrative on Artificial Intelligence. The report is the reflection of a techno-deterministic, masculine and biased view on human life and society. This is highly problematic at a time of a climate emergency and growing social polarization, accelerated by a narrow understanding of Artificial Intelligence and its potential.

The report, published by the European Commission, starts with the revealing statement that “Artificial Intelligence (AI) will radically change our lives and transform our societies.“ While this may be a likely scenario if we continue as we do, it is, also academically, problematic in the sense that it states that technology shapes society and not (at least also) the other way around. This is called techno-determinism, meaning that we place such a high value on technology that leaves us forget that it is humans who create, with all their biases, technological systems that influence society.

Techno-determinism, and its brothers of singularity and transhumanism, ascribes an own value to technology as an own form of life. They ascribe human emotions and sensations to machines. This can be called a new form of animism as put by philosopher Miguel Benasayag. In the words of the authors “Many experts do (however) believe that machines will be able to develop some form of sensations, emotions, consciousness or intuitions in the future and that this will open new perspectives for AI”. As a proof for “many experts”, a few mostly little-known researchers are cited.

Interestingly, the authors also quote scientific work on emotions (Kahneman and Thaler). However, in just the next paragraph, they contradict their research by sharing the biased view that “humans are generally very bad at recognising their own emotions, and even worse at understanding the emotions of others.” This may rather reflect a biased view on emotions rather than the reality of many who do practice mindfulness and emotional intelligence. The works of Daniel Goleman have clearly shown that this is something that can be learned. Certainly, there is currently no broad scientific consensus on the “nature of intelligence” or “nature of consciousness”. Nevertheless, it is false to claim science has not made great improvements on these issues, in the fields of neurosciences, evolutionary psychology and many others.

How far and perverse the techno-determinist logic goes can be seen in the argumentation of Elon Musk (more about this logic in this Perspectivist blog post) when stating that we have to upgrade to become cyborgs in order to win the “race against the machines”. It is saying that we have to become machines in order to “beat” the machines we have created in the first place. It is not difficult to imagine that this kind of logic will actually lead to a dystopian future that the authors say they actually want to prevent. The opposite may be the case, hopefully unconsciously.

According to the authors, the added value of this clearly political report is to “have a longer-term approach on this topic.“ This is surprising to read since the report actually extrapolates a technologically dominated future based on their own techno-determinist bias of today. It is not human creativity at practice here that could envision how a truly inclusive, ecologically responsible and economically sustainable society could look like and be supported by AI.

The approach to the report is hardly surprising knowing that the European Commission pays millions of Euros to consultancies that advise them on implementing a digital agenda that benefits, above all, big tech companies. This is a challenge in a European economic landscape dominated by SMEs. A quite different approach is needed to technology development. An approach that starts with planetary boundaries and social needs while using technology as a tool and not a means in itself. The works on the commons economy and a regenerative and distributive economy are particularly promising alternatives.

If we don’t change track, we will see more strange argumentations as in this exemplary report. It’s not a new digital god that we need, but emotional, social and natural intelligence practiced. Also, we need more diversity – also of authors writing about AI.